Stress and the Holidays with MS

Can you believe it’s already that time of the year again for the holidays? With everything we have going on in our lives and tacking on multiple sclerosis with it, it can be very hectic.

The holidays are meant to be a time to be with family and enjoy ourselves, not stress over shopping, hosting parties, cooking, etc. Then you tack on the crazy weather we have been having on top of everything else, it’s just down right insane.

(Now maybe some of y’all are used to the cold weather, but it’s a bit of a shock to us down here in the South.)

So I thought I would share some of the things that I do, so that I’m not adding stress to my already stressful life. It’s hard to be completely stress free, so I’m not even going to attempt to say something like “stress free.”

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything that we need to get done, completed.

For me, when the day is coming to a close, I feel like it’s family time and time to relax. Not to run around ‘till I’m exhausted getting Christmas shopping done, etc. I don’t have the energy and/or strength to stand in lines, to fight the crowds, and everything else that comes along with holiday shopping.

Many sales aren’t just limited to ‘in-store’ purchases, but are also online. One thing I’ve done in the past – and will do this year as well, is shopping online. I know it’s not the same thing as actually going to the store and buying things, but it’s better for me and my MS, so that’s what I’m taking in to account. I don’t want to run down my body or cause my MS to flare-up trying to shop for the holidays. Where is the fun in that?

You would be surprised on what all is offered online. I love shopping at Amazon, because they seem to have almost everything available because they have outside vendors. Plus, a lot of the time when you’re shopping online certain stores offer free shipping if your total price is over a certain limit. Even if you have to pay for shipping, I think that the same amount would go towards gas if you’re actually driving around and shopping.

Now, whether you are shopping online or in the store, see if they offer gift-wrapping. This is a very big problem for me. I have spasticity in my hands, so if I’m trying to wrap multiple gifts at a time, my hands start giving me issues, and then the wrapping isn’t so pretty.

If you enjoy doing your own gift-wrapping, try and make a schedule out of it, so that you aren’t wrapping everything at once. I’ve done that before, and it wasn’t nice at all.

I know that it can be annoying that we have to make certain changes in our ‘routine,’ but I feel that those changes are worth it personally. By doing some simple, small changes, I can make sure that I’m not going to ‘pay for it’ from my MS in the future.

If you’re hosting a holiday event at your house, kudos to you! I don’t think I could handle all that. But if you are one of those people, don’t feel like you have to do ALL of the cooking for the gathering. Ask family/friends to bring certain dishes. Have a little sign-up sheet online, Google Docs, or something.

Something I have come to absolutely love is my crock-pot. This way it prevents standing for a long period of time cooking certain things. I can throw things for a recipe in to my crock-pot and turn it on, and it’s one less thing to worry about.

I love getting recipes on Pinterest and similar websites. If you just Google search “Holiday Crockpot Recipes,” I’m sure there will be plenty of results to choose from.

One last note… If you are going to make a run to the store to get your ingredients for a recipe, or anything else for that matter, have a list put together. I like to organize my list by section; this way I don’t have to scan through the entire list every time I look at it.

Most importantly, have fun with your family and friends. This is a time to spend time together, and be thankful for what we have been blessed with. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s okay to allow someone to help you out. There is no shame in asking someone to help out with simple tasks.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Ashley Ringstaff

MSWorld Volunteer

www.msworld.org    

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Air Travel Tips for the MS Community

By: Matt Cavallo

As the holidays approach, many of us living with a chronic illness are fretting holiday travel. Maybe you would like to travel to see friends or loved ones, but are hesitant because of your illness. You are not alone. 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. Compound traveling with the upcoming holiday lines and ticket prices and it may be enough for you to forego holiday travel and just stay home.

If you need to travel during the holidays and you are living with a chronic illness, there are several steps that you can take to ensure your airport experience doesn’t exacerbate your illness. The following steps will ensure that your holiday airport experience is as smooth as possible:

Five Steps to Stress-Free Air Travel for People Living with MS

1. Book your travel early. As a rule of thumb, booking your ticket fifty days in advance will get you favorable ticket prices, preferred seating (unless your airline has open seating like Southwest) and better flight time selections. Business travelers typically book fourteen days in advance, so if you wait to the last minute seating will be limited, as will flights, and the price will be higher.

2. Fly during off hours or off days. Much like morning traffic, the airport has rush hours too. My preference is to get the first flight of the day, even if it means being at the airport before the sun comes up. Airports are generally running once the sun goes up until the sun goes down. Whatever you do, avoid the last flight of the day, especially if you have a connection. If you are on the last flight, you have a greater likelihood of missing connections and then being rebooked on a flight the next morning. Mondays, Thursday nights and Friday mornings are business travel days. Sundays can be busy as well. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are light traffic days and typically have cheaper flights.

3. Notify the ticketing agent or gate agent of your condition. If the airport and airline staff are aware of your illness, you can get wheelchair or transportation service (if necessary), medical clearance to get to the front of the TSA screening line and pre-boarding status at the airline. If you have trouble standing or waiting in line, be sure to tell the agents or TSA that you are a fall risk and have weight-bearing precautions making you a risk to stand in line for long periods of time. The number one goal at the airport is the safety of passengers and if you are a fall risk they will make every effort to prevent you from falling.

4. Limit carry-on luggage. Checking a bag is an extra cost (on most airlines), but that cost is well worth it. Check the TSA website for the items that they allow to get through screening. Make sure that if you have to pack liquids in your carry-on, they are a size that meets the TSA standard. They will confiscate any items that are prohibited for travel. Also, if you have limited strength or range-of-motion, it can be difficult lifting your carry-ons to the overhead storage.

5. Relax. The stress and anxiety of flying has many components that are out of your control. Stressing over the things you cannot control during air travel can be enough to make you sick and ruin your trip. If you follow the four preceding steps, you will be able to minimize most stressful airport situations. Unforeseen stressors like weather delays, mechanical failure and gate changes are situations that you cannot predict. If you can relax and take these steps into mind, knowing that whatever unforeseen delays are out of control, you will feel much better both during and after travel.

I fly a lot. Four out of my last six flights have had some kind of issue. I was delayed three hours on a one hour flight to Palm Springs. They loaded the plane, only to unload it and switch us over to a new plane after the delay.

Another time, I arrived in Detroit with plenty of time to make my connection to Akron, but there was no gate available. They said they notified the gate agents, but when I finally arrived at my transfer gate after a half hour delay, the gate agent had just shut the door. And even though four of us were standing there, she refused to open it or hold the plane per policy.

In this case, I didn’t take my own advice. I was on the last flight of the day and they couldn’t get me to Akron until 3:00 PM the following day. I had a speech in the morning, so I had to drive overnight and got to Akron at 4:15 AM. I was tired and groggy, but luckily able to caffeinate myself enough to give a great speech. Even though it worked out for me, the stress and delay were not worth going through that again.

As always, my advice comes from my mistakes. As a seasoned travel, I understand the do’s and don’ts of air travel. I hope that these steps help to make all of your air travel stress free. Safe travels!

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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MS Clusters – How many of your friends and/or family also have MS?

There has been a great deal of research examining the role of genetics in the development of multiple sclerosis over the years. The current understanding is that MS is not directly inherited, however, genetics appear to play a role in increasing a person’s risk for developing MS.1 Experts currently believe that those who develop MS have inherited something in their immune system that makes them more reactive to whatever is causing the immune system to attack myelin. It is possible that something in our environment, potentially viral or bacterial, triggers the autoimmune response that leads to MS in a person who has an inherited susceptibility in their immune system. Because so many questions remain, we decided to ask our Facebook community if they are a part of an MS “cluster,” where multiple friends and/or family members have MS. Over 170 people responded, and here’s what many of them had to say!

Several people in my family have MS

  • My sister had MS. I have it now. She had PPMS and I have PPMS. There were 7 MS cases within 2 blocks of where I grew up. I have heard that genetics loads the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.
  • My dad and his brother and sister all have MS; that’s 3 out of 5 siblings.
  • My sister and I were both diagnosed with MS this year, one month apart. Interestingly my sister is adopted, so we are not genetically related. We both want answers. It’s so tempting to blame something environmental. No one else in family has ever had it, and my twin brother is fine.
  • I have two kids and two cousins with MS!!
  • Two of my maternal grandmother’s cousins, my mother, her sister, my father and now myself. We all live in Victoria, Australia, which is quite cold and has higher rates of MS and Vitamin D deficiency than almost all the rest of the country. ‪None of the neurologists we see had ever come across such a “cluster” before
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  • ‪I’m the 6th cousin on my father’s side of the family to be diagnosed with MS.
  • My dad, his sister, my sister, my half sister and I all have MS. That’s 3 of 5 kids (2 boys, 3 girls) with the same father that have MS.
  • My aunt has it and my great grandmother died from it. I believe my lifestyle in my 20’s was the ultimate trigger. But eating a mostly vegetarian diet and drinking tons of green tea has helped me in more ways than I could have hoped for.
  • I’m the third generation in my family to have MS.
  • I have MS, was diagnosed in ’87, but in retrospect I’m pretty sure I’ve had it since my early 20’s. In 2005 my daughter was diagnosed at 25. My family was puzzled that it isn’t supposed to be hereditary! Then in 2007 my husband and her father were diagnosed. He and I both grew up in the same town; maybe its genetic and maybe environmental?
  • I have 2 cousins on my mom’s side that also have MS. I’m the 3rd to be diagnosed.
  • I am the 4th in 3 generations that we know of.
  • I’m 55 and I’ve had it since age 30. We think my grandmother on my dad’s side had it, but she passed away in 1983. Now one of my daughters has it and one of my nieces has it; that’s it for now.
  • My daughter was diagnosed at age 16 years old, and 5 years later I was diagnosed as well.
  • My mother’s cousin, first born, had it. Her brother’s first born had it, and I, her first born have it; my brother’s first born has it. All were/are males except for me. Is there a first-born child link?
  • My sister and I both have MS, and we are the third generation to have this in our family.
  • My friend has 69 first cousins, and 19 of them have MS.
  • I have MS, my mother has MS, and her mother had MS and died from complications when she was 46 years old.

There are a lot of people who live near me who have MS

    • There isn’t a “cluster” in my family, but there is in my neighborhood. The house on left, house on right, house across street, and me – each has someone with MS. That is my whole block.
    • My sister had MS, but no one else in the family going back 10 generations had it. HOWEVER, a woman on the next farm had MS and now a young woman on the closest farm to ours has been diagnosed with MS; that’s in a community of 40 people.
    • I’m the only one in my family. Three of us from a very small country town who went through primary school together have it.
    • My co-worker had MS, then I had it, then another co-worker got diagnosed…all while active duty Air Force serving in same building. It’s a very interesting connection.
    • There’s a cluster here in northern California.
    • I grew up in the town of Tonawanda in Western NY. It’s located in between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Many people I went to school with have MS.
    • I don’t have a family cluster, but 3 of us, all female, same age, lived on same block within 4 houses of each other, have MS. There could be more that we just were not in touch with after moving away. We were all diagnosed in 2005.

I’m the only one in my family who has MS

      • No one in my family on either side has MS.
      • I have it, but I’m the only one in my family. I was told that MS wasn’t hereditary.
      • I am the only one with MS. Diagnosed at 33 and I am 40 now. Praying no one else in my family ends up with it.
      • I am the first in my family. We went way back and couldn’t find anyone.
      • My dad was the first and only in our entire family.
      • I am the only one in our huge family.
      • I was told that MS is not hereditary?
      • I was told that MS runs in the family, but usually skips a generation; I am the first on both side of the family to ever be diagnosed with MS. I was diagnosed in 2007 when I lived in CO – which has the most people to be diagnosed with MS.

There are multiple autoimmune or neurologic diseases in my family

    • My mother has Crohn’s Disease. My youngest son has Type 1 Diabetes, my eldest has allergies, and I have MS.
    • I’m the only one with MS, but I also have neurofibromatosis (NF). I have over a dozen family members with some type of neurological problem. I have a nephew who has NF and Parkinson’s, and several family members who have epilepsy. I am 58 and was diagnosed with MS about 14 years ago. I’ve had NF all my life. I passed it on to my son and daughter.
    • I am the only one in my family to have MS, but my sister has Lupus.
    • My father’s three cousins (MS), his sister (ALS), he (peripheral neuropathy), my husband (MS), our daughter (MS – diagnosed at 10!)!!
    • As far as we know, my middle child, my daughter, is the only one to have it. My mother’s family all came from Sweden, which is a hotbed for MS. I don’t fully understand a lack of Vitamin D being a factor. We live in PA where we do get a lot of sunshine.
    • Four out of 6 of my siblings have MS, and my mother died from ALS.
    • My grandma had MS, my aunt has Lupus, and I have Neuromyelitis Optica.
    • I was diagnosed a year after a maternal cousin was diagnosed with MS. My cousin’s mom had severe RA, and my mom’s fraternal twin has Lupus.

Reference:

1. Aronson KJ. The epidemiology of multiple sclerosis–who gets MS and why? In: Kalb R, ed. Multiple Sclerosis: The Questions You Have – The Answers You Need. 5th ed. New York, NY: Demos Health; 2012:21-27.

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Having a Stress-Free Holiday Season When You Have MS

By: Jeri Burtchell

Each year, I judge how well prepared I am for the holidays by the way Halloween plays out. When I saw my son donning the same scary mask we bought several years ago, I realized I’m as ill-prepared as ever. We’re lucky it still fits, I think to myself as holiday dread settles squarely on my shoulders.

The problem with his costume is not that we aren’t creative, it’s just that life is busy and time slips through our fingers like greased marbles these days. We end up making last minute plans and this Halloween was no exception: get the plastic pumpkin off the top of the fridge and start searching the house for that mask (two hours before Trick-or-Treat officially kicks off). I’m not creating the perfect childhood memories for my son, I fret to myself as I look under the bed for the face from Scream.

The limitations that my MS fatigue and reduced walking ability have placed on me are showing. I’m not looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas with the same enthusiasm as I once did. I’m filled with angst as part of me wants the ultimate “joyful” experience, while the other part just wants it all to be over.

But the holiday season is stressful for everyone. The difference is some people thrive on the stress, which they call “anticipation.” But others like myself are filled with dread. Ever since I was diagnosed with MS in 1999 it seems like I stopped looking forward to the time between Halloween and New Year’s Day. I think it’s because I worry about stress triggering a relapse. And then part of me feels guilty because the children in the family aren’t getting the full “magical” experience.

While I do face physical challenges, my MS isn’t the only factor shaping our family holidays. Mom is 91, and though she’s still undeniably the sharpest knife in the drawer, she doesn’t get around as easily as she once did. Still other family members are living with everything from lactose intolerance to diabetes which influences the dinner menu.

But we are managing. Together our family is learning to adjust to our new collective “normal”. We’re redefining what our get-togethers look like. The emphasis is on comfort and ease while downplaying commercialism. So what if the tree isn’t up or we don’t have a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings? We can define the celebration on our own terms.

The holiday dinners will be potluck so that we can each focus on one dish and prepare it ahead of time. Nobody will be banished to the kitchen and make-ahead dishes can be prepared when the cook (or baker) is feeling up to it.

With dinner prepared in advance, we’ll be free to enjoy each other’s company. The conversations, the laughs, the squealing children, and the photo ops will fill our memories of the day.

If Mom has to take a nap or I have to go lay down for a while, that’s okay. Everyone knows we both have our limits.

At Thanksgiving we’ll draw names for Christmas gift giving. Everyone ends up with a present but only shops for one person instead of ten. With a $20 limit and the convenience of online shopping, we can eliminate the stress of holiday crowds. We’re trying to make it more about the get-together and less about “what-did-I-get?”

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve come to learn a lot about managing my MS. I need plenty of rest, I need to eat right, and I need to exercise. But it’s just as important to reduce the stress in my life. Not only is it bad for MS, but for everyone’s health in general. By reducing the amount of effort (and stress) it takes to pull off a family gathering, we’re really looking out for our health.

The holidays should be about family, love, togetherness, and appreciation for every positive thing in our lives.

So when next year rolls around and my son is reaching for the same old scary mask at Halloween, I’m going to go a little easier on myself. The mask can be a new tradition, a symbol of how we can let go of society’s expectations. It will signal the start of a stress-free holiday season and–with the help of my family–I know we can do this!

References:
http://www.healthline.com/video/managing-multiple-sclerosis

*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of Healthline.com. She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.

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Remembering the MS Support People

By: Sheryl Skutelsky

I’ve personally switched MS medications 3 times over the 14 years since I was diagnosed. It was a little over a year ago that I went for monthly infusions.

I would walk into the infusion center, and no matter how hectic it seemed at times, there was Kristen always smiling. Especially in the beginning, this was a place of fear for me. My veins saw a needle coming, and they would literally slide to the side. Kristen had the patience of a saint, and the most amazing bedside manner.

Unlike so many, I wasn’t doing well on the medication. I began to experience severe joint pain, and I finally had to give up and move on to the next medication.

However, I will never forget the difference it made in my life to have a nurse like Kristen. She cared about each and every one of us, and I swear she could do 20 things at once and get them all right.

To this day whenever I visit my neurologist, and he says that I need bloodwork done, I’ll patiently wait until Kristen has a free moment – not just because she’s the only one that can find my vein on one try, but because her smile can light up anyone’s bad MS days.

*Sheryl Skutelsky, diagnosed in 2001, has learned how to live positively with multiple sclerosis. Sheryl’s passion has always been graphic design. Her symptoms have become an inconvenience to her work, so she now uses her skills and creativity to reach out to others about MS. Sheryl is a patient advocate speaker for Biogen Idec. She also writes for Healthline.com, and she is an Internet radio host with her own show, Fix MS Now. Check out her Fix MS Now page on Facebook which has more than 10,000 followers. You can help raise MS awareness one “like” at a time by visiting: http://www.facebook.com/fixmsnow.

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MS in America – The Use of Oral Therapies for the Treatment of MS

In our September article we shared some of the key findings from The MS in America Study (MSIA), highlighting some of the ways that multiple sclerosis (MS) impacts the everyday lives of those with this condition. In addition to collecting information about the impact of MS, we also asked people with MS to tell us about their treatment, including what they’ve tried, if they were satisfied, and what they are currently taking for their MS. Because oral therapies are relatively new to the treatment armamentarium, we decided to take a closer look at the use of oral therapies for MS in our community.

As one would expect, infusions, interferons, and other injectables are still used by a majority of MS patients. However, results from MSIA, which was completed by more than 5,000 eligible respondents, demonstrated that oral medications for MS are used by nearly one third of patients who have relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), and more than 50% of people using injectables are considering switching to an oral medication!

We asked all survey participants how long they have been on their current therapy, and as one would expect, those who were taking oral medication for RRMS reported being on that treatment for a shorter period of time than those who were on other treatments (like injectables or infusion).

Lenght-on-time-MS-patients-have-been-on-therapy05

Interestingly, the vast majority (80%) of people who had ever taken an oral therapy for MS reported that they were still taking an oral MS treatment.

We also asked participants several questions about switching therapies. Most of those who reported switching from injectables noted that they did so due to needle fatigue and/or issues of tolerability. Other reasons included seeking better efficacy, convenience, safety, and cost, among others.

Reasons-why-MS-people-switch-to-oral-medication08

Many MSIA participants who had not recently taken an MS treatment reported that they had started anew with an oral medication due to a variety of reasons, including dislike of needles, and disease progression, among others.

Finally, of the MSIA respondents who were still taking injectables to treat their RRMS, nearly half (48%) said they have considered switching to an oral therapy. While much remains unknown about the long-term use of oral therapies for MS, it is clear that oral medications for MS play a critical role in how this condition is treated. For more results from the MSIA special report on oral treatments for MS, click here.

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Continued Success after Therapy

By: Matt Cavallo 

Earlier this month, I wrote a personal story of my positive outcomes with therapy. I utilized Physical and Occupational Therapy, along with Speech Language Pathology to aid in my recovery from neck surgery. This was a scary time in my life, and I was extremely thankful to have each line of therapy to help me overcome my deficits. My personal challenge became what to do once I no longer qualified for therapy visits?

The best way to relate my therapy experience is to talk about my gym membership. I have a family gym membership and make my annual gym appearance sometime in January. Then, I don’t go for the rest of the year. I offer any number of excuses to my wife and kids as I watch them drive off to the gym each Saturday.

The truth is that the only way I would utilize that gym membership would be if I had a personal trainer – someone to look over my shoulder as I exercised that I paid for. Paying for the service holds me accountable and forces me to keep my appointments. I also prefer to work out with a trained professional, who understands my limitations and can design a routine where I won’t hurt myself. The problem becomes I get on a good routine with the trainer, but as soon as I stop using a personal trainer, I stop working out.

This is my same relationship with therapy. While I am actively participating in therapy, I do great. As soon as they give me home exercises, I don’t follow through. I know that the homework given by a therapist is specifically designed to help me functionally, but I just don’t do well when left to my own devices. The problem is that my lack of follow through is detrimental to my health. My neck surgery forced me to change my behavior. Here are a couple of tips that helped me have continued success after being discharged from therapy:

Tips for Continued Success after Therapy:

1. Request clear, written discharge instructions. Your therapist will develop a plan of care that you can continue on your own after you finish all your therapy appointments. Make sure that you get a copy of those discharge instructions at your last appointment.

2. Get a copy of your Home Exercise Program (HEP). Your therapist can provide you home exercise instructions with pictures. These instructions provide a handy reminder of the therapist recommended exercises, as well as a visual reference for how to safely perform the exercise.

3. Make sure you get your questions answered. During your last appointment, make sure that you have a list of questions for your therapist. You will want to make sure that any concerns you have are addressed. There is truly no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to your health and well-being. Even if you think your question isn’t appropriate, you may have a legitimate concern that the therapist isn’t thinking of. I always have my questions written on a piece of paper and take detailed notes.

4. Follow through. Where I am lacking is in the follow through. For my neck, I still have my HEP and discharge instructions. When it tightens up, I know exactly the stretches that help and reference the pictures to make sure I am doing it right. The problem is that if I consistently followed through and strengthened and stretched my neck, then I probably would feel consistently better – just ask my wife!

Therapy is a great start for managing your MS symptoms. Continuing to follow through after you finish therapy is the key to success. Following these steps may help to ensure that you are prepared for life after therapy. Continuing your home exercise program post-discharge will put you in a better position for continued success.

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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A Personal Story of Positive Therapy Outcomes

By: Matt Cavallo

I had one goal for after my anterior cervical fusion surgery: work as hard as I could to return to normal so I could be the dad I always wanted to be. This was not going to be easy. I had a serious neck injury with bone fragments cutting and flattening my spine with every movement. The pain I experienced was intense. Electric shocks shot up and down my body, freezing me in place whenever I tried to move. Instinctively, I held my shoulders tight together when I moved in order to take the pressure off of my spine, but it also made me look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

This was no way to live. My sons were only three and one year old, respectively at the time, and I feared that I wouldn’t be able to be the active, involved dad that I always wanted to be. In my deepest, darkest moments, I was afraid that I would become quadriplegic. Unfortunately, my doctors agreed with my fears and recommended immediate surgery. They said my neck problem was related to an earlier MS exacerbation I experienced of Transverse Myelitis and that even picking up my babies the wrong way could leave me damaged for life.

I was scared. I didn’t want surgery, but I also didn’t want the alternative. In September of 2010, I went under the knife. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was also working for a rehabilitation hospital at the time and received a lot of good advice prior to surgery. When I woke up from that surgery, I followed that advice.

First, I had an evaluation with a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP). While many people know that SLPs can work on cognitive and language deficits associated with multiple sclerosis, many don’t know that SLPs can also help with swallowing issues. My SLP coached me how to adapt my swallowing techniques while wearing a hard neck brace. These strategies helped me adapt during my recovery. My SLP also set expectations about what it would feel like to swallow with the titanium artifact in my neck. Without these compensatory strategies learned from my SLP, my recovery would have been much more uncomfortable and I probably wouldn’t have received the proper nutrition. As a side note, I did consult a Registered Dietician about liquid nutrition options before switching to regular food when I was first out of surgery.

Next, I had an Occupational Therapy (OT) evaluation. Learning to adapt with a hard collar wrapped tightly around your neck is difficult. Trying to dress or clean yourself up after going to the bathroom was impossible for me. My OT worked on activities of daily living (ADLs) including dressing and toileting. These strategies allowed me to remain independent with my ADLs post-surgery. Feeling independent with grooming, toileting and dressing helped my confidence. My wife was already having to dress and change my kids’ diapers. I didn’t want her to have to do the same to me. My wife did really step up and help me when I needed her the most, but my OT gave me the strategies to be as independent as possible during my recovery.

Finally, I had a Physical Therapy (PT) evaluation. First, my PT worked on my neck range of motion, turning from side to side, and rotating my shoulders back into place after all the atrophy associated with being hunchbacked. Then, my PT worked on strengthening my shoulders and neck to ensure that my range of motion and shoulders remained intact after therapy. My PT also gave me home exercises designed to keep the area strong and maintain the progress I made from the therapeutic interventions.

It has now been four years since surgery, and I am happy to report that I have achieved my goal. My quality of life is better now than it was prior to the surgery. I believe that I would not have experienced as much success without the help of my therapists. My PT, OT, and SLP each contributed, not only to my recovery, but also, to the strategies that I learned through therapy which I continue to use today. Most importantly, I am able to be the dad that I always wanted to be. I appreciate every day that I can go out and play with my boys.

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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MS Means Managing Your Energy

SherylBy: Sheryl Skutelsky

It’s Football Season! So, what does that have to do with MS? Well, in my case an unexpected wonderful opportunity to travel to meet my son to see my very first live NFL game. This opportunity truly once again brought to light the ways in which I have to live my life a bit differently from everyone else.

My dad wanted a boy, but instead he got me, an only child. So, I was placed in front of the television from as early as I can remember to watch the Jets play. I was taught every rule and regulation.

I’ve lived my entire life in New York, but for some reason my son had been a Packers fan from as early as I can remember. He dreamed of getting tickets to Lambeau Stadium for over 20 years. He finally had tickets for the Packer’s first home game against the Jets, but he broke up with the girl that was supposed to accompany him.

I get a call from my 31 year old son, now living in Houston, asking me if I would like to meet him in Green Bay for my birthday to finally get to see my Jets play live. Instantly I was ecstatic and panicked at the same time!

MS means managing your energy to avoid overwhelming fatigue. I didn’t have enough warning to rest all week for this trip. I also remember my son telling me that as a teenager he often felt that I wasn’t there for him; I was always too tired. I hadn’t been diagnosed yet, and my son rationally understands now why I was always tired, but I didn’t want to let him down this special weekend.

Well, the Packers beat the Jets, and I came home a Packers fan, but more importantly, my son and I had such a special weekend together. He had tattooed the MS logo on his ankle for me several years ago which meant a lot, but this weekend he also showed me that he truly understood how I had to live a little differently with MS.

My son did all the driving, took care of me, kept me out of the sun as much as possible, and made sure I got time to rest. We had such a great time together in Wisconsin, and my son told me how proud he is to tell people how his mom doesn’t let MS stop her from enjoying life. After all, what more can a mother ask for?

*Sheryl Skutelsky, diagnosed in 2001, has learned how to live positively with multiple sclerosis. Sheryl’s passion has always been graphic design. Her symptoms have become an inconvenience to her work, so she now uses her skills and creativity to reach out to others about MS. Sheryl is a patient advocate speaker for Biogen Idec. She also writes for Healthline.com, and she is an Internet radio host with her own show, Fix MS Now. Check out her Fix MS Now page on Facebook which has more than 10,000 followers. You can help raise MS awareness one “like” at a time by visiting: http://www.facebook.com/fixmsnow.

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Inside My Bubble, Prepared for Anything

By: Jeri Burtchell

I like to think of myself as a planner. Now, before those of you who know me collapse into uncontrollable laughter, let me explain. I don’t plan as in “wedding planner” or even use a “day planner.” In truth, I’m a perfect candidate for one of those intervention reality shows.

I never said I plan in a structured, well thought-out manner. No, I’m motivated by more of a panic-driven, deeply troubled, “what-if” thought process I learned from my mother. I have cultivated an emergency response for every possible scenario that could come along in life. I have prepared for catastrophic events that may or may not ever happen.

Mom and I have our fire season evacuation box, our hurricane season supply stash, and when I travel I have a whole suitcase packing ritual designed to make life easier in the event that things go wrong. When connections are missed or there are bathroom emergencies, I know I can count on the contents of my purse or roller bag to rescue me.

I like to think of this as part of my MS Bubble. Since I was diagnosed in 1999 and have come to realize how unpredictable it can be, one small thing that gives me solace is having my MS Bubble.

Jeri blogIt’s a sort of invisible force field I’ve visualized that surrounds me. Inside I have everything I might need to deal with unpredictable events. Things that define my comfort or bring me joy are always close at hand.

Others might say my bubble is nothing more than my “comfort zone,” and in the classic sense, I guess it is. When I’m working, it’s right here at my desk. In my bubble/comfort zone, I keep the necessities of life. I have everything from a box of tissues to device charging cables.

While others look at my workstation and see a chaotic mess, I see a symphony of bubble-friendly instruments, each playing a part in bringing me comfort. I choose to forgo the aesthetic appeal of minimalism. I’d rather have clutter, as long as it’s purposeful clutter. Who can say I won’t need that thermometer mere inches from my keyboard?

My sweater stays on the back of my chair, always at hand in case I get chilled. Slippers are close by.

My smartphone is the most indispensable tool in my bubble. It connects me socially, delivers my mail, reminds me to take medications, tells me what the weather is like outside, and will distract me with games if I let it.

The point is, I have made my life as comfortable as I can, given the unpredictability of MS (and of life itself!). Although my bubble does not appear to be in any semblance of order to the untrained eye, it works for me.

I haven’t “planned” my bubble this way as in planning-a la-Martha-Stewart. It is only an ever-evolving collection of habits and things that aid me in everyday life. So I am soothed by the knowledge that, even when my MS symptoms are acting up, my MS bubble is always there, ready to comfort me.

Perhaps it’s eccentric of me to imagine this “bubble,” but visualization is a coping mechanism that works for me. I once got through the claustrophobia of an unmedicated MRI by imagining I was at the beach. My “vacation” was so enjoyable I was almost sad when the MRI ended. The protective “bubble” just works for me.

If you can develop coping strategies – whether or not they involve visualizing your own bubble – whatever works to keep you calm, centered, comfortable, and in a joyful state of mind is all that matters. So think about your situation and what things bother you the most. Then go about “planning” to deal with them ahead of time.

Create your own comfort zone, your own MS Bubble.

And if you’re a friend or family member of someone coping with MS, you might want to consider memorizing these 12 things you should never say to someone with a chronic condition.

But please add one more: Never say, “I took the liberty of cleaning up your desk. Hope you don’t mind – it was a real MESS!”

Why, that would just burst my bubble!

References:
Photo credit: Jeff Kubina, used with permission under the Creative Commons License
http://www.healthline.com/health-news/ms-12-things-not-to-say-022814#1

*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of Healthline.com. She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.

 

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