Getting My Act Together: Staying Organized Despite MS

By: Jeri Burtchell

It’s easy to let fatigue be my catch-all excuse for why things are in disarray around here, but if you’ve known me for more than 16 years I’m not fooling you. Actually, I prefer my mother’s excuse for why I’m not very organized…

“You’re an artist, Jeri, and artists tend to be messy because their minds are busy creating.”

Sometimes, though, it seems my messy ways have only created more headaches and hurdles for myself — something I seem to have less patience for as time goes by.

I’ve decided to try a new tactic, though. It’s called “be kind to yourself.” So now, when I see self-made obstacles to stress-free living, I try to take off my blinders and correct one small thing at a time, making my living space – and my life – more “Jeri-centric”.

Case in point: Every time I need a pen I head for the three side-by-side pen cups on my desk. They are overflowing with pens I’ve collected on trips out of town and harvested from the copper-rich soil of pennies at the bottom of my purse, where together they perpetually weigh down my every move.

In what has become an exasperating ritual, I select a pen, begin to write, only to run out of ink three strokes into my thought. Frustrated, I put the pen back in the cup and select another. I’m often doomed to repeat this process four or five times before chancing upon a pen that can outlast my need for ink.

When my brother recently visited, he noticed this ritual, and asked me why I didn’t just toss the ones that don’t work. Such a simple, logical question and yet it had never occurred to me. Most likely because tossing the pen meant being near the trash can and required additional physical exertion. Yet in the grand scheme of things he was right.

Immediately I took all three cups to the kitchen counter where, one by one I assessed their capabilities by scribbling on a notepad. If it didn’t produce, it faced instant death by trash. In the end I had one pen cup full of pens that write, and had freed up two coffee cups.

I felt so good about that accomplishment, (and the way I am rewarded with ink every time I grab a pen to jot a note), that I’ve decided to see where I can make other small adjustments to be kind to myself. Here are a couple other ideas that I came up with. They might seem like “no-brainers” to a more organized person, but to me they were epiphanies that keep on giving, making me appreciate each day how thoughtful I was to make these small adjustments in my recent past.

● I went through all my spiral notebooks I keep around for work and ripped every page out that had anything written on it. Then I created project file folders, sorted all the notes for each project, and filed them. Now I no longer spend half an hour leafing through notebooks frantically trying to find minutes of a certain conversation.

● I went through a couple of piles of “chronologically filed” papers I’ve been meaning to go through and made three stacks: 1) Important/Save, 2) Needs Action and 3) No Longer Relevant/Trash. Things like the deed to the house and my passport went in the first stack, bills to pay went into stack two, and expired coupons, magazine subscription offers, or grocery lists from a month ago went into stack 3 (a.k.a. the trash can).

It’s amazing how easy it is to stay up on paying the bills now that I know where they are! And when it was time to take my son to get his Learner’s Permit at the DMV, I knew without a doubt where I could find all the necessary proof of ID for both of us.

My new hurdle is maintaining this level of order. But I’ve discovered that if I spend a little time at the end of the day making sure my work area is organized and the papers are filed it’s amazing how easy being kind to yourself can be.

Herding all the pens back into the cup corral at night and leaving myself a to-do list for the next day makes waking up the next morning a whole lot easier. It’s like I’m finally working with myself instead of plotting my own destruction.

So be kind to yourself and spend just a little time organizing a bill-paying station or home workspace with all of the things you might need. Cutting back on clutter-induced stress can have lasting benefits. Now if the bills would just pay themselves I’d be all set!

*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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The first “Ask Me Anything” on MultipleSclerosis.net!

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You may have heard of one of the latest trends in social media discussion forums, called “Ask Me Anything”, or “AMA”, popularized by websites like Reddit. An AMA is a common chat topic or general discussion forum thread in which people ask someone who is an expert in a certain area questions relating to his or her life or expertise. Last month, MultipleSclerosis.net hosted our first AMA event on our Facebook page, and it was amazing! The event was hosted by our team of moderators in honor of MS Awareness month, with the goal of providing a set time where members of our community could ask our team anything about MS symptoms (our chosen theme for this particular event). The results were tremendous! Our first AMA prompted over 240 posts in just one hour – including questions, comments, and replies – which averages out to about 4 posts per minute!

Though the main theme of the AMA was MS Symptoms, a wide variety of topics were discussed, including rights at work, discontent treating physicians, how to provide support to relatives and loved ones who have MS, how to manage fatigue, what it means to have secondary progressive MS, and what to do upon first receiving an MS diagnosis.

Our moderators and team answered the community’s questions based on personal experience as well as the wealth of articles on MultipleSclerosis.net. Here is a brief summary of some of the topics that were discussed!

I’m unhappy with the treatment I’m receiving from my current neurologist. One place to start is by taking a look at a registry of MS experts here. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society may also be able to provide recommendations for practitioners in your area. Additionally, attending patient meetings can be very helpful for coping with many aspects of having MS, and they also serve as a great source of information like names of good doctors.

What can I do to manage my MS fatigue? Believe it or not, exercise actually helps some people with MS manage their fatigue. – It stimulates certain chemicals in the brain to make us feel better. Working full time while taking care of one’s family is exhausting for MSers. Another idea would be to try meditation or yoga for its calming and healing effects.

What are my rights at work with regard to disclosing my condition, and receiving the support that I need? The ADA requires an employer to provide assistive equipment/aids so someone who is disabled can continue doing his or her work. It also prohibits the employer from firing someone for being disabled, but does not protect you from termination if the employer cites other reasons. It is also important to contact someone in your Human Resources (HR) department if your company has one. Those who work in HR are experts in this subject. Our expert, Cathy, also wrote a great article about helping those who are disabled look for work.

How can I be helpful to a loved one who has MS who lives far from me? One of the best ways to provide support is to be there for loved ones when they need to talk, and show an interest in how this is affecting her or her life. Ask her how she’s doing, and listen to her response.

What is secondary progressive MS? Secondary progressive MS is a type of MS. While relapsing-remitting MS is the most common type of the condition, secondary progressive MS impacts many in the MS community. Here is some more information on SPMS.

What does it mean to be in remission? Being in “remission” doesn’t necessarily mean that your symptoms completely disappear (some people will return to feeling exactly as they did before the exacerbation began). Stephanie wrote a very comprehensive article on relapses and remission in her MS 101 on understanding relapses.

Where should a person who was just diagnosed with MS start? You should start with a request to see a neurologist– preferably one who specializes in MS – and have a complete workup of your history and an MRI. Unfortunately, it can take a long time to find answers.

We truly appreciate all of our community members who participated in our first AMA, and of course our amazing team of moderators who were feverishly responding to all of the questions during a very exciting hour! We will definitely be hosting more AMAs in the future, so we will keep the community updated when we have the next one scheduled!

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Worth Fighting For

By: Matt Cavallo

There was a touching moment at my last neurology appointment. You see, I have been with my same neurologist since moving to Arizona in 2009. Throughout the years, he has been by my side through good and bad times. This time was different. He seemed less like my neurologist and more like he was proud of me.

In 2010, I was suffering from severe spinal stenosis due to a bone fragment that had chipped from my C6 vertebra. I required emergency neck surgery or faced the risk of being quadriplegic. After surgery, I fell into a state of depression. Relapse after MS relapse building to a surgical climax, I just felt like my quality of life was never going to be what it was before having MS.

I was ready to give up on myself. Not only that, but I was ready to give up on my MS treatment, as well. And I did. I was required to stop my treatment prior to surgery. Post-surgery, I didn’t want to restart my treatment. I had had enough. I was sick of feeling like a science experiment or a pin cushion. It seemed like even though I was on a treatment that another debilitating relapse could strike at any moment.

One month passed post-surgery and I was feeling OK. A little tired, but OK. Then a second month passed with no treatment. Now, unbeknownst to me, I started to forget simple tasks around the home and office. A third month passed and I was dragging my left leg, had blurry vision in my right eye and couldn’t follow simple instructions. However, due to the brain fog I was in, I convinced myself that nothing was wrong.

That’s when my neurologist stepped in. I didn’t tell him anything, but you see I worked for a neuroscience clinic that was associated with his practice. One of the nurses called him and he made a special trip down to the neuroscience clinic to check on me at work one day. As a result of his visit, I found myself in an MRI followed by the news that my brain and spine were blossoming with active lesions. He ordered me a round of solu-medrol and a follow up with him the next week.

During that follow up, he wanted to know why I was acting the way I was. Why was I going against medical advice? I told him I was done fighting and that I had already been through too much. He spent the rest of the appointment helping me decide that I was worth fighting for. That my multiple sclerosis would have periods of relapse followed by periods of remission and that I needed to use the available tools to fight it with all I could. And I did.

Good Times: Last week, I walked into his office feeling like Norm on Cheers. I got to visit with old coworkers and acquaintances and catch up with old friends. Then, it was time for the appointment and this appointment felt a little different. He did his protocol tests and talked to me about lab results from a recent blood draw. Then he took the conversation in a different direction.

“Matt,” he said, “How are your travels? I worry some time that your life on the road is going to wear you down.”

“You know me,” I responded. “I want to use my story to go make a difference in the world.”

“When I think back to when I first saw you, to where you have come, despite the challenges.” He paused. “I’m just…I’m proud of you.”

Given where we have been and reflecting back on the past five years together, the good and the bad, I was speechless. This is a revered neurologist, that has been practicing MS in Phoenix since 1978 and he is proud of me.

At first, I was speechless then I responded, “Remember when you told me I was worth fighting for? Well, I believed you.”

I believe that all of you who are reading this are also worth fighting for. The question is, do you believe it too?

*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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Managing Cognitive Difficulties

By: Meagan Freeman

When we think of spring, we think of renewal, spring-cleaning, organization and clarity. We think of new growth, birth, refreshment and a new beginning. This can be especially difficult for patients struggling with memory loss and multiple sclerosis. How do we achieve organization when we have a difficult time recalling why we walked into a room?

How many times have you misplaced your keys? Lost your phone? Forgotten someone’s name?

Cognitive difficulties brought on by MS are an incredibly tough thing to accept, especially in the very young. We aren’t supposed to experience memory loss like this in our 40s, 30s and even 20s. When that familiar face says “hello,” on the street one day, you know you recognize this person…but you think: “what was that name again?” Embarrassing to say the least.

Like any MS symptom, these changes are caused by lesions and brain atrophy over time. Medications used to treat MS symptoms may also be responsible for causing cognitive issues. Pain medications, anxiety medications, and muscle relaxants may cause patients to become sleepy, fatigued, and even confused. We should all be cautious when using these types of medications, especially when driving or doing other dangerous activities.

What can be done about these issues?

Occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, and neuropsychiatrists can perform a specific battery of tests to determine the severity of the cognitive impairments. Then, computer-assisted tools such as memory aids, and other forms of cognitive rehab can be used to improve memory and learning. The other key point is that lesion load, or the number of lesions seen on MRI, can correlate with cognitive problems. Therefore, it is natural to assume that staying on a disease-modifying drug is important in keeping the lesion load low.

In my own life, I have experienced a great deal of cognitive decline over the last few years, and I am only 40! I began to notice that I was forgetting the reason I entered a room, where I put important things in my home, where I set my keys, and even names. I was horrified when I noticed these changes! Some of these things can be blamed on normal aging, stress (6 kids!), and perhaps lack of sleep/rest. However, I am quite sure that MS has a lot to do with it. All we can do as patients is educate ourselves, educate our families, and be aware. Communication with our providers is important as well, and we need to be sure that we are receiving every available treatment. Don’t ever assume that nothing can be done for you. Training your brain by reading, writing, and continuing to learn are excellent ways to keep the mind working! “Use it, or lose it,” as they say!

Use your spring-cleaning time to organize your life. Keep things in specific places that you will remember clearly. Label things, and use a pill sorter to remind you to take your medications, if needed. Write everything down, and set reminders in your phone. If we prepare for those moments of memory loss, we will find them less worrisome. Happy Spring!

*Meagan Freeman was diagnosed with RRMS in 2009, at the age of 34, in the midst of her graduate education. She is a Family Nurse Practitioner in Northern California, and is raising her 6 children (ranging from 6–17 years of age) with her husband, Wayne. She has been involved in healthcare since the age of 19, working as an Emergency Medical Technician, an Emergency Room RN, and now a Nurse Practitioner. Writing has always been her passion, and she is now able to spend more time blogging and raising MS awareness. She guest blogs for Race to Erase MS, Modern Day MS, and now MSAA. Please visit her at: http://www.motherhoodandmultiplesclerosis.com.

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Community Thoughts on Missing the Way Things Were

For people living with multiple sclerosis, it’s easy to dream of the life we had prior to being afflicted with this condition. So much of our everyday lives is shaped by MS, we often find ourselves missing the way things were. One of the amazing contributors at MultipleSclerosis.net, Marc Stecker (also known as the Wheelchair Kamikaze), wrote a poignant piece on missing his former self, called “I Miss Me”. We shared his article on our Facebook page and received a tremendous amount of feedback from our community about what it’s like to miss the “old you”. Here is what some of our community members had to say:

I’ve said the same thing to others!

  • Funny, I said that to my neurologist shortly after I was diagnosed last year.
  • I just said something similar to my sweetie the other day…that I would like to have my life back. I feel as though it’s been taken from me.

I thought I was the only one!

  • And I just thought it was me.
  • I really miss me!!!!!! I didn’t know there were others who felt this!
  • I despise that I “miss me” BUT am relieved that I’m not the only one “Missing”.
  • I always have moments of missing the old me. Glad it’s not only me thinking this way.
  • I say this so much, but when I try to put things on my page or try and explain how hurts, even my family ignores it. I was glad to see this and know I’m not alone. I say to myself every day I miss me.

I Miss Me too!

  • I miss me a lot!!
  • What a well-written blog which perfectly describes the life so many of us live. Or should I say have lived. I am amongst the very elderly whose future time on this earth will be very short. You too, will adjust constantly to your new normal.
  • I mourn and miss the old me. I can’t believe who I’ve become; however it’s a new challenge and who knows what I can be and what new experiences lie ahead that I would never have had. Stay positive guys.
  • I shared with a friend recently, “I miss me, who I used to be.” Her reply… “No, now that person is still down in there somewhere.” I’m exasperated. People really don’t know!!!
  • I just want the old me back!
  • Wow! This is the first time a tag line has smacked me in the face! Even though I’ve been very lucky, as I pondered this “I Miss Me,” I suddenly felt very sad. I do miss me. Even though I haven’t been “obviously” affected by MS, there are so many hidden things, the fatigue, weakness, ability to think quickly, balance, and stamina, that yes, I am not the “me” I once was. I do miss ME. Thank you for a great article.
  • What I miss about the old me is being able to do ANYTHING I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it!! Now, I have to accept the help of others, where I was the one always volunteering my abilities to those in need.
  • ‪I do miss most of the old me!!!! But I have welcomed most of the new me, with very few regrets.
  • I was missing for 15 years. I felt myself slowly slipping away, more and more the last 5 years though. It’s awful.
  • I understand just how you feel. I miss dancing a lot! Stay strong
.
  • I miss myself so much! I just want to be able to be normal again and go to a ball game and climb up the bleachers and just walk around the yard without tripping in a hole and fix a meal or brownies without getting exhausted!
  • I miss me! I miss being able to bounce out of bed, being able to run, to dance to skip/hop/jump whatever! . I miss the reality of being able to chase my dreams. I miss me.
  • I have to believe that everyone misses the earlier version of himself or herself as they age, too.
  • Thank you for sharing. I say this a lot. I miss what I used to be able to do and can’t. I don’t even know who “me” is anymore. My identity was through my work and my child and all the things I could do for others and now I often wonder, “who am I?”
  • I am beginning to hate the new me!!!
  • I get so depressed if I start to think about original me.
  • I miss me like crazy!!!!! I say that to myself EVERYDAY
.
  • I want to run, even though I was not a runner!
  • I read his blog, it’s so insightful. My every move is fraught with thought. I miss the “me” that was.
  • Great article! It’s depressing to think about what MS stole from me but I know there are others who have it worse than I do and I try to stay positive. Keep writing it helps to know I am not alone.
  • I want me back, but I don’t see that happening.
  • Just learning to accept there is a new me but so hard to let go of the old me.
  • Things that seemed so simple are now a struggle. Thanks MS–NOT!
  • I miss being me. Feeling like I can do anything. I miss having a job, and making money.
  • Wow, this is so powerful! I miss me and have been missing me for 16 years now! I don’t know how many times I say I want my OLD life back!

What about you? Do you miss a previous version of yourself? Please share with us in the comments!

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Nurturing Your Roots

By: Shannon Loftus

I have MS. While I am many things, a wife, a stay-at-home, work-at-home, home-schooling mom, it is that last word that reigns supreme over me. I am a mom. I am a mom who has MS. So, this month, I want to share with you how I made it over the hurdle of educating my son about my illness, and my personal thoughts on educating our children, particularly our little ones, when it comes to our MS.

I was diagnosed, finally, when my little guy was 3. I am of the opinion that my health issues are mine, and mine alone. I believe that there is no reason to burden my little guy with my dealings with MS (or the epilepsy, or the spinal stenosis). So, I had made the choice to not tell him until he was old enough to understand what it all meant. I never hid it, but I never went out of my way to chat with him about it. He is my son, not my “bestie.” He looks to me for leadership, and he does not want to be my sounding board. He wants the strength of a parent, not the venting-session of a buddy.

I had had this discussion with a member of our local support group, who always seemed to want to know when and if I had told my son. I always said no, not yet. He came to group with me, and still does, but pretty much spends his time in the venue’s play area. In 2012, at the age of 7, I attended a group meeting and was deep in discussion with another member. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this person (the one interested in my telling of MS to my son), talking to my boy, and giving him a coloring book. I thought nothing of it. On the way home, he starts asking me; Mommy, are you going to die? What is MS? Why do you have it? Will I get it? I asked him why he was so upset (he was crying by this time). Then he shows me the coloring book. It is a coloring book/activity book/educational book, for children, put out by another organization, and while a fine product, well-written and engaging, I did not think it the right fit for my family, particularly given my son’s age, so I had foregone its use as an “educational tool” or “discussion starter.” I was mortified that another adult had taken it upon themselves to introduce my son to my illness, and in such an impersonal manner (yes, I addressed it with that person).

So, my cresting of the “discussion” hurdle, when it came to educating my son about my MS, was not some heroic event, but rather more of a giant face plant, courtesy of another person’s interference. My son, husband and I made it through what became a mud-run obstacle course of questions and answers, crying, full of hugs, and a little guy being scared his momma was gonna die. He is now just shy of 10, and he does not know all the details of MS. That will come with, according to his interest in learning about it, and ability to understand the science behind. Right now, he just knows mommy is ok; mommy is sick and some days her legs don’t work right, or her eyes hurt, or she is really tired and hurting, and she is definitely forgetful, and sometimes she needs her cane, or even her pirate eye patch. With that latter one, I can still get him to wear one, and it helps to take the edge off of his nerves and we laugh ourselves silly.

You see, I had read the children’s book before, and I knew it was inappropriate for my son, at that age, and what my husband and I were then forced to deal with went beyond MS education or simple family discussion. It became crisis management. Not the desired “teaching moment.” I find tools like that to be a one-size-fits-all approach, and let’s face it…how many times has the one-size ever fit you? It is always too big, too small, too short, too long, and never just right.

Children are like trees to me…they need strong roots to support them as they grow. So, teaching your child about your MS, really needs to be like watering that tree. It needs to be done with care. You don’t just turn a hose on a tree and walk away. You can drown it. Or your hose might be defective and your tree thirsts to death. Our children are the same. You can overwhelm them with too much information that they cannot adequately process in terms of their emotional maturity. You can underwhelm just as easily and then they may think you are keeping something from them (like the water for the thirsty tree).

I still sometimes stress out about my MS and discussing it with my boy. He still has questions. I stress out about not being the physically active mom that I dreamed of being. I look at other moms and dads playing hard with their kids in parks and I am not capable of that. I relayed to my husband once about how much it hurt that I couldn’t be a normal mom of a young boy. He looked at me, and he said, “But you are. You are his normal. You are what he knows, because you are all he has ever known as a mom.”

Those words were priceless. He was right. So, I now relay them to you. You are your children’s “normal.” Given that, you know what information your child needs, wants, and can handle about your MS. You may need to have a talk with them now, or you may not. The children’s book might be the perfect tool for you, or it might not.

Most importantly, don’t not talk to your children. Educate them, make them aware, but do it on your terms, and look to what your “normal” is. In this way, your leap over that hurdle will be magnificent and filled with a sigh of relief. It will not be an echo chamber of a collective gasp of horror. Trust me.

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March is MS Awareness Month, & I’m More Aware Than Ever


By: Jeri Burtchell

I don’t know about you, but life with MS makes “awareness” unavoidable for me. I start the day with a symptom check, happy when I can make it out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. As I progress through my day, I’m constantly reminded of MS at every turn. It might be the alert on my phone that reminds me to take my medication or a check-up for the clinical trial I’m in. It may even be my drop foot that trips me up and sends me into a catbox face plant. And every once in a while it’s a wistful sadness as I take stock of all this disease has robbed from me. I try not to dwell on things I can’t change, but still I am “aware”.

March is MS Awareness Month–when we draw others into our world, giving a glimpse into what our new reality has become, in order to build understanding and compassion. Very few of us who have MS need our own awareness raised.

Sometimes sharing with family and friends can be awkward. I catch myself feeling like I’m whining or complaining when really all I’m trying to do is explain what life with MS is like. Just trying to raise awareness. Sometimes I close up and choose not to share, simply because it means I’m forced to think about it myself when that’s the last thing I want on my mind.

But during March I feel an obligation to “do my part”. I want more heads nodding in understanding than noses wrinkling quizzically at the mention of “multiple sclerosis”. I want more people saying “guess what I heard about a new breakthrough for MS!” The only way that’s going to happen is by all of us sharing our stories, or drawing people in somehow.

We might not have an ice bucket challenge on our side, but there are things we can do besides just posting pictures of awareness ribbons. And there are ways to work in a little levity so people aren’t just awkwardly trying to move on after your conversation has left them feeling sorry for you, or worse, confused. I’ve been giving this some thought and here are some ideas I’ve come up with…

If you’ve lost sensation in your hands, you could ask your friends to put mittens on and try to make it through their morning routine (all except for shaving or pouring coffee, maybe). Tell them you can’t feel things or control your movement as well as you once could. For some people with MS it feels like wearing gloves or mittens.

jeri blogOr how about a “Sit-N-Spin for MS”? Do they still make that toy? Get grown adults to challenge each other to spin like crazy while someone takes a video. When they get up to walk they’ll be walking like we do with MS, stumbling around and bouncing off walls.

When others are forced to experience things that closely resemble symptoms of MS, sometimes they are profoundly moved. “I get it, now!” is something I hear a lot.

If your family and friends aren’t up for the MS experience, maybe recording your thoughts on living with MS in a video would help. Things that are hard to say face to face can be easier to share in a video sometimes. Healthline.com has launched a campaign called “You’ve Got This!” where those with MS are encouraged to submit a video of their experience, giving hope to the newly diagnosed.

Each time you share your experience, whether with your friends at home, through posts on social media, or even videos enlightening and encouraging others, you are building awareness and drawing the attention to the bigger picture.

To end this disease we’re going to need a lot more research, and that means a lot more funding. When people understand how MS can impact our quality of life, the awareness spreads. When you use your own story to engage others and spread the message, it can be a very empowering experience.

Not only will you be helping others to understand what we live with every day, but you will gain so much satisfaction from feeling like you’re doing your part as well. We might not be able to cure MS ourselves, but we don’t have to sit back and passively take what this disease dishes out in silence. Compassion starts with understanding. Understanding comes from communication.

Be the voice of MS, if only for one month, or week, or even a single day this year. You won’t regret it.

Resources:

http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/youve-got-this

Photo credit: oddharmonic

*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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March is MS Awareness Month

By: Ashley Ringstaff

I know there are a lot of questions many people with MS ask themselves… and some of those questions are based upon being involved in the MS Community. How can we get involved? How can we make a difference?

I thought I would try and share my thought on this subject, for the month of March, which is recognized by many as Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. There are a lot of events that you may see online, on social media, and many other places. But how can we get involved?

I do a lot of advocacy for multiple sclerosis all year round, and I don’t usually attend huge MS events in order to do so. I do small, but meaningful things to raise awareness about multiple sclerosis.

The obvious one, is that I blog… but before I even started writing; I became a volunteer with MSWorld.org where I am a part of an Online Support Group for MS Patients & their Caregivers.

However, I feel that advocating really needs to go BEYOND just the MS Community, and advocated to the general public. When I have been out in public, someone will ask me what MS stands for, because I was wearing an MS t-shirt. So I explained to them what it was. Just passing along information to a few people can spread the word. Once you have given the person information, they will probably relay it to someone else they know.

I use my social media outlets to raise awareness about multiple sclerosis. I’ve done lobbying before; I do as much as I can. However, we can’t just depend on a few people to raise awareness for MS. We ALL need to take part in some sort of way.

Do you remember hearing/seeing about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? I saw a lot of people with MS wanting to do something like that, to bring awareness for MS. While it’s a good idea, it’s very hard to ‘copy cat’ an awareness project. But ALS is also a neurological illness with no cure, so the research being done for ALS, is most likely going to benefit the MS community in some way or another.

I’ve seen videos online of people at the mall putting up a booth, and having people who are shopping at the mall, “Try on MS”. There are so many things being done to raise awareness for MS around the World. I don’t feel like we all have to have a ‘theme’ to raise awareness, just spreading the word can do a lot.

However, I will be contacting my local news stations, letting them know that March is MS Awareness Month – and if they can do some sort of coverage on it. I’m going to make a shirt that says, “Ask me about multiple sclerosis” … original right? But it will get people wondering. Even if they don’t come up and ask me, more than likely, they will look it up on their phone.

Get involved with your local organizations group… whether that’s with MSAA, NMSS, or just something you and others you know with MS in your area get together once a month. Discuss with each other how you can make a difference in your community.

At MSWorld, we made a campaign to “Live Beyond MS: Breaking the Silence”. When I speak to people that have MS as well as their loved ones, they all want to know when a cure will be available for us. That’s a good question… but I’m not going to sit around and just wait for researchers to give me the answers we are looking for. Why? Because the bottom line is, the more people who know about multiple sclerosis, the more funding we will get for research, the closer we are to a cure, re-myelination, Stem Cell… the list goes on and on.

So, what is the conclusion to this article? Don’t wait for someone else to do something to bring awareness to MS… start doing it yourself, every bit you do makes a difference, whether you believe it or not.

xoxo
Ashley Ringstaff
MSWorld Volunteer
Diagnosed in 2010
Blogger for MultipleSclerosis.net
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MS Awareness Month: A Chance to Make a Difference!

By: Meagan Freeman

Every March, we have the opportunity to share our own stories and participate actively in spreading awareness about multiple sclerosis. The possibilities are endless, ranging from the MSAA “Swim for MS” fundraiser, MS biking events, MS walks, read-a-thons for our children in schools, and any other activity that might assist in spreading knowledge about our illness. This disease continues to be poorly understood by many, and it is still considered rare, with an incidence of 1 in 1000 in the US currently. The need for awareness has never been greater, and we can all have a hand in educating others. If we each take on the task of sharing information with those around us, knowledge can spread like wildfire.

Many patients find that they are unable to participate in these activities to support MS awareness. Many fundraisers are physical, such as running, walking, biking, and swimming events. Sometimes, the thought of participating in an event like these can be daunting for those with physical disabilities. Some patients might think, “How can I possibly participate in these?” There are a myriad of options for those who may not have the ability to actually take part in a physical event, however.

Fundraising while a family member or friend completes the physical part of the event is a wonderful option. I have had several friends participate in local MS “muckfest” and running events, while I took on the task of raising donations. I helped advertise and share information, while my runner friend completed the event. We managed to raise $2000 together last year alone. No amount of money raised is too little, and no one should feel like they cannot make an impact.

Another option is to spread awareness through blogging, speaking and writing. My personal contribution to MS awareness continues to be my blog. I started this blog with the goal of sharing my own personal experiences with MS in order to educate, and to ensure that no patient ever feels isolated or alone. The simple act of sharing your story may have a greater impact than you ever imagined. The thought of helping others simply by sharing your story is incredible! You never know who needs to hear your experience at that very moment.

Whether you choose to donate to an MS organization such as MSAA, to participate in an MS event, or simply share knowledge and educate through writing or speaking, you can make a difference. If every MS patient takes on the challenge of increasing awareness about our illness, we are capable of making sweeping changes. Let’s work together during the month of March (and beyond,) to increase knowledge, share our stories, and have a personal impact on finding the eventual cure for multiple sclerosis.

*Meagan Freeman was diagnosed with RRMS in 2009, at the age of 34, in the midst of her graduate education. She is a Family Nurse Practitioner in Northern California, and is raising her 6 children (ranging from 6–17 years of age) with her husband, Wayne. She has been involved in healthcare since the age of 19, working as an Emergency Medical Technician, an Emergency Room RN, and now a Nurse Practitioner. Writing has always been her passion, and she is now able to spend more time blogging and raising MS awareness. She guest blogs for Race to Erase MS, Modern Day MS, and now MSAA. Please visit her at: http://www.motherhoodandmultiplesclerosis.com.

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Runaway MS Train

By: Matt Cavallo

I remember as if it were yesterday: January, 2007. I was sitting in my neurologist’s office after suffering my third relapse in eighteen months. At that moment, I felt that my MS was a runaway locomotive barreling down the tracks and I needed to somehow find the emergency brake.

My neurologist at the time was new to my case because my previous neurologist took a new position as a stroke specialist at a Boston hospital. I was in to see my new neurologist because I needed to switch medicines due to an allergy I had developed to interferon.

Prior to this visit, I had researched a breakthrough new treatment that had only been on the market for six months. This treatment had been voluntarily removed from the market due to unforeseen deaths during clinical trials and had just received FDA approval for a re-launch in the summer of 2006. Despite the risk associated with this treatment, it showed potential to be the emergency brake that I needed to stop the runaway MS train.

I took control of the conversation in my neurologist’s office right away, “Doctor, I have been reading online about the available options now that I can’t take interferon treatments. After comparing the two other options, I want to try Tysabri.”

There was a long, uncomfortable pause. Then he leaned forward and pushed his glasses up his nose towards his brow and said, “Matt, while I appreciate your research there is not enough published data on this new treatment. There were complications during clinical trials. I am not comfortable prescribing this treatment at this time. Not when there is a safe treatment option with a proven track record still available to you.”

I felt like I just took a gut punch and got my wind knocked out. I sat slumped for a minute in disbelief. He leaned back in his chair and continued, “I am going to write you a prescription.”

“Doctor,” I interrupted, “with all due respect, it is my body. I am in charge of what I put into it. This new treatment is showing great promise and I want to try it.”

“Well Matthew, I am not going to write you a script for it. You still have a platform option that may work equally well. Let’s start you on that.”

“Doctor, I am not going to start that treatment until I get a second opinion.”

Now, his demeanor changed. I could tell he wasn’t used to that kind of patient response. He recoiled, “Very well Matthew, if that is your decision I respect your wishes.”

With that, I left his office and after some more research, I found an MS specialist in Boston. I called her office and she said that she wanted to evaluate my case. I just needed a referral from my primary doctor to go and see her. So, I went to visit my primary care doctor and asked her for a referral.

“No,” snapped my primary doctor. “Our doctors, in our system on the South Shore are every bit as good as the ones in Boston.”

No? Why was everyone making this so hard on me? I didn’t understand what I had to do to get the treatment I wanted and was frustrated that everyone in the healthcare system was seemingly against me.

I called up the Boston MS Specialist again and broke the news that I couldn’t get a referral.

“Matt,” said the MS Specialist, “I am going to reach out to your primary doctor directly and ask for a one-time second opinion referral. Then, you are going to come in and see me and we will find you a new primary doctor that will refer you to me.”

This was eight years ago this month in February of 2007. That month, I started that new treatment and applied the emergency brake to my runaway MS train. This eight year anniversary also marked my decision to be my own healthcare advocate. It took a lot of courage to say no to the doctors, but in the end I felt like I took control of my own health. Today, I have great open relationships with my healthcare providers and we make decisions together as a team.

**Disclaimer**
The previous blog is the author’s real life experience and his personal treatment decision. This is not an advertisement for any particular treatment. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another person. Please consult with your doctor to decide as a team what treatment option works best for you.

*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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