About Samantha Schech

I am a Client Service Specialist here at MSAA. I have my Master's Degree in Social Service from Bryn Mawr College, a school just outside of Philadelphia. Originally from the Baltimore area, I am a huge Baltimore sports fan and am often heard cheering for the Ravens and Orioles. In my spare time, I enjoy cooking, traveling, and playing kickball with my friends in an adult sports league.

Summer Planning and Travel Resources: An MSAA Blog Re-cap

As planning begins for summer vacations or trips, many are left searching or wondering what resources may be available to help with planning. MSAA guest bloggers Matt Cavallo and Jeri Burtchell have written over the years to provide some helpful tips for the travelling MS community.

In Air Travel Tips for the MS Community; Matt, a seasoned traveler, provides his Five Steps to Stress-Free Air Travel for People Living with MS. Matt writes, “Travel is stressful for everyone. Airports are big, busy and fast-paced. Security lines can be long and the thought of standing, unpacking, and repacking at TSA is enough to unravel even the most seasoned traveler”.

Often times the smaller details are those which are overlooked when planning a trip. Those small details such as the size of your carry-on, or the snacks packed in your bag can often make or break a trip. In Jeri’s Summer Travel Tips for Flying with MS Part 1 and Part 2, she identifies some of those smaller details that should be thought of ahead of time in order for smooth sailing….or flying in that matter.

We often learn through the experiences of others. Please share your flying or travel tips in the comments below.

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Cool Summer Activities

As most schools around the country end their school year, many parents are finding themselves searching for activities that will preoccupy their children, but that are also accessible for the whole family. While many folks may opt for the parks or playgrounds in the warmer weather, individuals with MS may have to get creative to try and find activities that can be taken indoors during those warmer days to help avoid some of those heat-related symptoms.

But how can you entertain your children, before they tear through every cabinet in the household looking for something to do? Parents magazine provides some online fun activities that can be modified for any age group. Thinking about, or having a list of activities on hand may be helpful for days where MS symptoms are present, or fatigue has taken a toll.

Local programs are also available to children during the summer months. Many of these activities can be completed indoors to help beat the heat. Local libraries may have reading programs or special events; often they post these on their social events calendar or on a bulletin board in the lobby. Stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot or Joann Fabrics have free workshops available for families or children; you can call around to local stores to see if a calendar or events listing are made available.

Get creative this summer and see what fun activities you can find that can be completed indoors. Do you have any cool plans this summer?

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Communicating with Employers and Co-workers about MS

While The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees and applicants with disabilities, it is often a challenging or difficult subject to bring up in the workplace. Individuals may fear that by asking for an accommodation, they may be judged or viewed as unable to complete the work at hand.

Navigating this process can be difficult, but there is a resource to help. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is an organization of employment experts that can provide confidential guidance around accommodations, or employment related issues.

On their website, they provide information about various conditions and offer helpful information about accommodations that have been used in the past for a number of different scenarios. To speak to someone directly, you can also reach the Job Accommodation Network at (800)526-7234 if you would prefer a more personalized one-to-one approach.

When it comes to discussing MS with co-workers, there are no set rules or regulations to follow. Just know that once the information is out there, it cannot be taken back. Opening up at work is a very personal decision and should be evaluated on an individual level. If you choose to disclose, prioritize who you feel should know about your MS (supervisor, direct team members, co-workers, and office staff).

Do you have any experience asking for accommodations at work? How was that experience for you?

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Building a Relationship with Your Healthcare Provider

Not long ago, patients expected their doctor to tell them what to do about their health and doctors expected patients to follow orders. With the growth and expansion of technology, individuals are given an opportunity to read medical journals, watch health-related television, and visit information sites regarding their specific condition.

With the expansion of medical knowledge, there has been a shift in the doctor-patient relationship. Patients are now expected and encouraged to ask questions and have medical discussions about their care. Some doctors are more open to this relationship than others, so how do you build a relationship with a doctor who may not be as open to this type of relationship?

Communication in any relationship is a key factor; having a discussion with your doctor about what you are and are not comfortable with is very important. By having this conversation, assumptions about what you may or may not know about your disease, or the treatment options is avoided. You have a right as a patient to receive appropriate medical care and the right to have your voice heard.

Just like any relationship, if you do not feel comfortable or feel as though your voice is not being heard you have two choices, leave the relationship or work to change it. Have you had to have a conversation with your doctor about your relationship? What was that like for you? Do you have any advice for others?

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Making Friends and Finding Support

Making friends as an adult can be a challenge. Often the friends we have as adults are those we have grown up with, either through grade school or college. Sometimes those friendships change and we find ourselves looking for new friends, or friends that share a common interest, skill, or lifestyle.

Individuals diagnosed with MS may be looking to make connections with others that are diagnosed, but have a hard time meeting people face to face. There are several opportunities available to promote friendships and support to those diagnosed and their family members.

Social media can be a great way to get connected, just be comfortable knowing that your diagnosis or personal information can be shared online. Facebook groups allow individuals throughout the world to connect and share information; search in Facebook ‘multiple sclerosis’ and find a number of private or public groups. Online message boards such as MS Connection or MS World can also be an effective way to find individuals who are interested in a certain topic.

If online communication is not your thing, MS Friends, a program organized by the National MS Society connects individuals with MS through a telephone service. You can contact 1-866-673-7436 and speak to an individual with MS. MSAA also offers a Networking program, which can connect individuals through letters or e-mails.

With so many options to get connected, how do you stay in contact with others?

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Getting Off to a Good Start

There’s a philosophy about first impressions that states within a few seconds of meeting an individual we can evaluate who that person is and create an instant opinion about that person. As a social worker, I have never really understood that philosophy. Sure, by evaluating body language, tone of voice, or physical appearance we can get a sense of the person and what they may be experiencing at that moment. But it is not fair to cast judgement and say that the way a person presents in that moment is who that person truly is.

Isn’t everyone entitled to a bad day? It is impossible to be on point every moment of every day. The same can be said for individuals with multiple sclerosis. Individuals with the relapsing forms of the disease who experience periods of heightened symptom activities will experience good and bad days. Are you just supposed to stay out of the public’s eye during those bad days with fear of being judged in that moment?

As a society, we need to be more forgiving and open to learning about an individual before making a snap judgement. MS education can play a valuable role during this period. While an MS diagnosis does not define an individual, offering more information about how you are affected may help in providing some sensitivity and awareness to others about living with chronic illness.

As an individual, how do you come back from a bad day and present yourself again?

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Tips for Staying Organized

Organization is a personal character trait; to some it comes naturally, to others it is a struggle. One thing is certain; organization is about finding a system that works for you. There is no need to justify something that works to your benefit, regardless of other opinions of that system.

Consistency is one of the more important factors when discussing organization and managing one’s life. They say it takes 21-days or three weeks to make a habit. This may be true for some, but it is stressful to think about counting down 21 days just to find some level of consistency in a routine.

For those who struggle with being organized, or feel that they need more organization to help with day to day activities, the following suggestions or tips may be helpful:

Sort at the Source:
Stay on top of mail and paperwork as it comes through the door. Sort through the junk mail and place it in the trash or recycle bin. Place bills or other important documents in a space that is meaningful for you, and where you will know where to find them when needed.

Put it Away:
It sounds like something you would tell a child, but this simple step can help those who seem to misplace items. You are more than likely to remember where something should be, but is it in its place when you go to look for it? When you are done with an item, put it back in its place. When items get left out of place, they can easily be lost.

Allow Plenty of Time:
When we are rushed, mistakes can happen or things can get lost. Allow yourself plenty of time to complete a task and complete one task at a time. Time management and organization often go hand in hand.

What tips or suggestions do you have regarding organization? Have you found a process that works for you?

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Preparing for Spring

Welcome April! We here at MSAA are looking forward to April and the wonderful blog posts scheduled. When thinking about spring, it is difficult not to think about spring cleaning. It’s a time to (hopefully) put away some of those winter sweaters and fuzzy socks and breakout the shorts and sandals. This period of transition is also a great time to think about organization and cleaning.

Did you know there are several suggested origins for spring cleaning based on religious and cultural practices? One is traced to the Jewish celebration of Passover. Prior to the celebration, the home is cleaned in order to rid the home of any bread that is leavened with yeast. Another suggested origin states that prior to the Chinese New Year, the Chinese sweep their floors and clean their homes to rid it of bad luck and misfortune that may have accumulated during the previous year.

Spring cleaning origins also date back to prehistory, and represents the time when it was easiest to conduct a good cleaning of living spaces. Extra light allowed people additional time to truly see the messy state of their caves, or huts.

In preparation for this month’s topics, we have linked below several blog posts that have been written highlighting organization and cleaning. This topic will continue throughout the month of April, please feel free to leave a comment under the blog with personal tips or suggestions.

Please note: MSAA offices will be closed Friday, April 3rd.

Enjoy these pieces over the holiday weekend:

Get Organized: Tips for starting your new organized lifestyle.

Spring Cleaning: The concept of spring cleaning can represent anything you want it to.

Keeping Track of your MS: “Tips” on how I keep track of my MS.

Resources:
http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/household-hints-tips/cleaning-organizing/spring-clean-in-spring2.htm

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Beat the Heat this Summer

Spring has sprung, or so they say; and while the first day of spring brought some cold weather and snow to some parts of the country, others are starting to think about the warm weather months. It is known that individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) can be affected by the heat. The slightest increase in body temperature can intensify MS symptoms.

For those with this type of heat sensitivity, the spring and summer months can be a challenge. While family and friends start planning outdoor events and activities, individuals with heat sensitivity question what they will do all summer long.

Cooling products are designed to be used during these warmer months. Ice pack style cooling products allow an individual to place specially designed ice packs into a garment that is worn on the body. Through cooling technology, the body is provided with a safe cooling temperature that helps to reduce overheating.

MSAA offers a program for those who are income eligible to provide these ice pack style cooling products and accessories. For more information regarding this program, please visit the MSAA website at http://mymsaa.org/msaa-help/cooling/.

For those who may not be eligible for assistance through the MSAA program, the manufactures of these cooling items provide products and accessories that can be purchased. Visit Polar Products and Steele Body Cooling, and remember to let them know that MSAA referred you. There may be a discount offer available!

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Health Insurance Marketplace: Special Enrollment Period

As individuals prepare their taxes for the 2014 year, many who did not purchase or enroll in a qualified health plan may be facing the penalty fee. According to the HealthCare.gov website, if you did not have health insurance coverage in 2014, you will be responsible for the higher of these two amounts:

1% of your yearly household income. (Only the amount of income above the tax filing threshold, about $10,000 for an individual, is used to calculate the penalty.)
$95 per person for the year ($47.50 per child under 18). The maximum penalty per family using this method is $285.

On February 15th the Marketplace closed for enrollment in 2015 plans, leaving those who did not enroll to face a penalty again when filing taxes next year. The Health Insurance Marketplace is providing individuals and families who owe the fee when they file their 2014 taxes with one last chance to get covered for 2015 to avoid a future penalty for the 2015 tax year.

While the fee for the 2014 year cannot be avoided, this special enrollment period offers individuals another chance to possibly avoid a future fee.

For those interested in enrolling, visit The Health Insurance Marketplace website at https://www.healthcare.gov/screener/. This special enrollment period is only available through April 30th.

References:
https://www.healthcare.gov/fees-exemptions/fee-for-not-being-covered/

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