New MSAA Guest Blogger

Meagan Freeman

I am thrilled to join the MSAA organization as a guest blogger, and I would like to introduce myself. My name is Meagan Freeman, and I am a licensed family nurse practitioner, blogger, MS patient and mom of 6 from Northern California.

I was diagnosed with RRMS in 2009, after experiencing dense numbness of my right torso. This was numbness like no other I had felt, like my torso was not even a part of my body. I was in the middle of my Bachelor’s program in Nursing, working as a full time ER nurse, and a mom of 6 at this time. The diagnosis was devastating, and demotivating. Quitting school was something that I thought about almost immediately, and over and over for months. I tried to ignore those demotivating voices in my head. The ones that say, “you should just stop now. What is the point? Take the easy road, forget it.” I was halfway through my Bachelor’s program, should I quit? I was just going to end up in a wheelchair. Bedridden. Nonverbal. Just like my grandmother. What was the use of finishing school? What was the use of doing ANYTHING now? Images of my grandmother raced through my mind. My maternal grandmother was incapacitated in my memory, due to a long battle with progressive MS. These images were terrifying to me, and I pictured myself in that same state.I thought about quitting school many times, but fortunately I continued.

I finished by Bachelor’s degree in 2010, and began my Masters in Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner program that fall. It was the greatest challenge I had faced since diagnosis, and I would not be allowed to take “short cuts” because of my MS. This was the first time in my life that I realized that my disease would not grant me any free passes. I would have to achieve and complete this program purely on my own, despite any illness.

An important lesson I learned during the 3 years of higher education I pursued as an MS patient was that we are capable of self -defeat. It would be so much easier to quit, right? On those difficult, painful, fatigue ridden days? It is so tempting to give in and take the easy road, and many people succumb to this path. It doesn’t require MS, either; many individuals find any excuse to give up and take the easy road. You must find that voice that encourages rather than discourages. Find that voice that will carry you through those days. Nothing worth doing is ever easy, so make the choice to be the hero of your own story. You have the ability, now you just need the psychological strength.

On my graduation day, in May of 2012, there was light. Spring, warmth, and brightly colored flowers surrounded me like a renewal, out of the cold winter and into the sun. Every detail of that day is frozen in my memory, never to be erased. The smell of the freshly cut grass, the slow march into the ceremony, the smiles. Like a wedding or the birth of a new baby, this was a day that would live in my mind for the rest of my life, though there was a sense of disappointment along with the accomplishment. There was a pre-graduation let down, and I knew that with the completion of this goal, I would need another. Yes, this was a successful endeavor, but what would be next? For now, I could not focus on anything but that moment. This was a day to spend celebrating, laughing, and feeling a sense of pure joy and relief. Why trouble myself with the future today? Today was a day just to be present.

After graduation, I began to practice in a primary care office as a nurse practitioner. I saw many patients during my day, managing chronic illnesses and performing physicals. I experienced the irony of being both a healer as well as a patient, and some days were not easy. I also began to write more frequently, which was always my lifelong passion. I started to blog, and it was incredibly therapeutic to get feelings down on paper. Today, I have the opportunity to blog weekly on my website, and guest blog for several wonderful organizations. I am happy to be able to pursue these things, and with the support of my husband and family, I hope to continue for many years to come.

Being the “hero” of your own story is the theme of most of my writing today, and I encourage every MS patient to think of life as a story that will someday be told. You have the power to make that story whatever you want it to be, so make it incredible, powerful, and positive. Make that story one that will inspire generations to come. You have the power to achieve anything and everything, regardless of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis.

*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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From Junk Food Junkie to Health Food Nut: My New Year’s Resolution

By: Jeri Burtchell

Happy New Year! I don’t know about you, but I’m starting fresh, determined to make this year better than the one before.

I try not to make unrealistic promises to myself in January since I’m not so “resolute” when it comes to my resolutions. Instead, I set the bar low so I can cross it–even if I have to trip and fall to make it over.

This year I chose only one goal: to eat better. I figured if I can do that, maybe there will be side benefits like losing weight or feeling better.

I confess I’ve been a junk foodie in the past. I use air quotes when I say the word “food” as some people would beg to differ. Yes, I’ve eaten leftover french fries from the bottom of a McDonalds bag a day later. Am I ashamed of that? You bet.

It’s hard to be a freelance writer covering MS and ignore my own bad habits. The latest news regarding the gut microbiome and how it can influence a whole host of diseases has been in the news and on the internet so much I can’t help but feel guilty hoisting a Coke to my lips as I look on and take it all in. Maybe there’s no definitive proof that diet influences MS, but if I can control what goes in my mouth on the off chance I might feel better, don’t I have an obligation to do that?

So enough was enough. I slurped up the rest of my Wendys frosty and pledged to tighten up my definition of food. I mentally stationed a miniature bouncer at the corner of my mouth who only lets the good foods pass.

I wish this bouncer had a wallet full of cash, though. My first stop after I (loosely) defined my resolution was the grocery store. Who knew eating only organic whole foods and raw honey or cold-pressed virgin coconut oil was only a pastime the rich and famous could afford?

The upside to taking out another mortgage in order to eat right is that you are hyper-aware of expiration dates and the gradual decomposition of your quality fruits and veggies. If I wanted everything to turn to compost in the vegetable drawer I would have cut out the middleman and simply buried my hard earned dollars in the back yard.

Not everyone in the house is on this health food bandwagon, however.

My teenager hates vegetables and my 91 year old mother is set in her routine, and she’s in great shape. “She’s earned the right to eat what she likes,” said her doctor, and I swear I saw Mom stick her tongue out at me.

Even though this is my resolution, I’ve found myself asking “every day??” when I think about how often a person is supposed to eat like this. For a terrible cook (another confession), eating things that aren’t ready to “microwave and enjoy” has been a huge challenge.

So I started out with something easy. We all like shakes, and smoothies are like shakes, right?

I got out the old Hamilton-Beach blender and blew the dust off. I looked at all the fancy stuff I’d bought at the grocery store and began flinging in a handful of this, a spoonful of that. I topped it all off with a generous heap of kale (because you can’t toss an Oreo cookie without hitting a story about how good kale is for you), and I set the blender spinning.

It looked…disgusting! The green of the kale, combined with the red of the strawberries gave the concoction an overall brown color. Even though it looked kind of like a chocolate shake, my teenager wrinkled his nose, well aware there had been no chocolate involved in the making of his mom’s new drink.

Ignoring my own urge to pinch my nose closed before gulping it down, I sipped mine and smiled, nodding to him to give his a try.

It turns out we both loved it so much it has become our daily ritual–and the uglier the better. We throw every healthy thing we can find in there.

Besides the smoothies, I cut out processed foods, refined sugar, and carbs. I have no clue how–or if–it affects my MS, but I can tell you this: in the 22 days since I began, I’ve lost 5 lbs., I don’t need afternoon naps, and my brain fog seems to be lifting.

I can’t wait to see how I feel a month from now. Unlike past resolutions, I think I just might be able to keep this one!

*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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Do What Makes You Happy

Happy. It’s such a simple word that carries with it so many huge notions and feelings. It is strived for and achieved every day and thought of as an important goal by many. People wish to be happy. I think there is an innate characteristic that many people hold that strives to make other people happy also – to obtain their approval, to have others’ needs be granted and satisfied too. It is human nature to put other’s needs ahead of your own at times, especially in close and supportive relationships. But I think too often people tend to ignore or forget their own needs and their own paths to achieving happiness. It’s not through any fault of their own; when we care for others it sustains us and creates rewarding and happy feelings that tend to satisfy us. But what about the things you can do for yourself that make you happy?

Ok, so realistically life can be crazy and hectic at times, so who has the extra time to spend to do all of the things that ultimately make you happy? Challenges arise, life gets complicated, and things get in the way so it’s hard to focus at times. But sometimes it’s about the little moments, the small fragments of time where you can step away from the obstacles and do something that makes you happy, no matter the task. Life is too precious and too valuable to not do the things that you enjoy and that will bring you happiness and moments to treasure in the days ahead.

It doesn’t have to be every moment of every day, but when you can, take some time to think about what it is that makes you happy, what you would enjoy doing or something new you’ve wanted to try. We’ve again stepped into a new year where people can start things fresh and reflect on their wants and needs. So why not start these new beginnings by doing something that makes you happy?

dental

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Monday is a Day of Service

by Kimberly Goodrich, CFRE, Senior Director of Development

In 1994, Congress declared the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King to be a day of service. Each year, citizens all across the country honor Dr. King’s memory by participating in acts of service that benefit their community. This Monday, January 19th, we encourage you to help improve lives today for the multiple sclerosis community as your act of service.

MLK 2015

Start volunteering today!

Need some ideas to help the MS community?

1. Donate your time by creating a fundraising event to benefit MSAA.
2. Participate in Swim for MS.
3. Make a purchase from a company that supports charitable causes.
4. Make a monetary contribution.
5. Sign up for our Street Squad program and begin spreading the word about MSAA.
6. Perform random acts of kindness for someone in your community.

We would love to hear how you are spending your Monday. Let us know what fun activities you’ll be doing either here or on our Facebook page.

MLK Day infographic

*About Kimberly

I am the Senior Director of Development at MSAA and have worked in the nonprofit arena for over 15 years. I love reading, running, theatre and the Green Bay Packers. I volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans teaching outdoor sports like skiing and kayaking to injured veterans and find that I receive much more from them than I am able to give.

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We need a clean-up on aisle 7…

Sometimes it is easy to decide when to let something go. When a child outgrows his/her clothes or toys it may be easy to identify that those items would better serve someone else and then look to donate or trash/recycle the items based on their wear.

Other times it may be much harder to identify what needs to stay and what needs to go such that the clutter and chaos of too many “things” begins to build. It might be the clothes you were hanging onto in case you lost/gained some weight, not knowing which financial statements or receipts are important to hold onto, or it might even be the gifts and knickknacks which looked so cute when they were received but have never found a home on your shelves. For many people it is a combination of different types of clutter which may cause of sense of dread or feeling of being overwhelmed with not knowing how to get started with the clean-up.

Whatever is muddling up your life try the following tips to get started in clearing out the clutter:

1. Create a list. Compartmentalize where the problems lie so you can create a plan of action for how to deal with them.
2. Identify why you have held onto the items. Sometimes items hold sentimental value, monetary value, or serve a specific purpose and must be retained (i.e. tax papers).
3. Decide which task to tackle first and set a timeline.
4. Ask for help (sometimes it takes a helping hand to sort things out).
5. Get to work! Start on your first goal area with a keep, organize/file, and trash/recycle pile.
6. Don’t beat yourself up if the clean-up isn’t happening as quickly as you wanted.

Taking pro-active steps to clear out the clutter can help in the long run to reduce stress levels and help you to live a simpler life.

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Winding Down from the Holidays

As the holiday season comes to a halt, signs of the New Year are all around us. While families are taking down and storing away decorations, stores are preparing for the next holiday. Windows and aisles are filled with red and pink candies, hearts, and flower holding bears. With all of the displays and reminders about Valentine’s Day, it’s hard not to be swept back up into another holiday.

January is typically the month of New Year’s Resolutions, with everyone vowing to make changes or set goals for the new year. January can also be a time for a re-set. Before jumping back into another holiday, take some time to focus on you and do something that you enjoy, or perhaps have put off over the last few months.

Changing the mentality of getting a jump start on the new year to one of sanctity and calm, may be beneficial for people who find themselves getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and forgetting to care for themselves.

Take some time during the day, even as little as 10 minutes, to do something that makes you happy. Sometimes even just sitting in a quiet space and taking a few deep breaths can calm you and prepare you for your next task. It is OK to take time for yourself. By doing so, you are allowing your best self to come forward.

How do you plan to care for yourself this year?

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Here’s to a New Year!

Proof-V1-2014-MSAA Holiday Cards14It’s time to celebrate a new year again, and with it, new hopes and goals for the upcoming months. A new year symbolizes many things but one of the most aspiring qualities it holds is promise. Things can be changed, new strategies can be created and thus new journeys can begin during this fresh start. No matter the venture, people can make choices and set goals that work to accommodate their needs and wants to make the year a memorable one.

Though each New Year represents the passing of time, it also ignites new beginnings and reminders that time is precious and to make each moment count. Resolutions are a common theme this time of year and one of the most popular items to add to one’s agenda. If you create resolutions for yourself make them attainable so they’re something you can commit to and strive for within the year. Form resolutions and goals that you’re passionate about so your interest in them remains strong. The New Year is just that, new, so take time to learn what the year has to offer and what you can obtain from it.

What will you be doing in the New Year?

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Wishing You a Safe and Joyous Holiday Season

MSAA_Holiday_Cards8There is still time to share holiday greetings and raise awareness about MSAA! Please visit support.mymsaa.org/holidaycards to send a holiday or New Year’s eCard to everyone on your list!

PLEASE NOTE:  MSAA’s offices will be closed Wednesday, December 24th, through Sunday, December 28th. 

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High Performing Charity

by Kimberly Goodrich, CFRE, Senior Director of Development

In our continued quest to show our donors the impact of their support, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) has been working with the various charity watchdogs to ensure that we are doing our best to communicate that we are worthy of your donations, and that we are working to meet our mission. The most prominent charity watchdogs (GuideStar and Charity Navigator) are working to update and enhance their rating systems to focus less on ratios and more on the impact an organization is having on those who need its services.

America’s Charities is also recognizing those charities that meet the top standards of the different watchdog agencies through their High Performing Charities Initiative. This new program recognizes those nonprofits that have reached the highest levels of accountability, transparency and impact as set by the leading charity rating agencies.

MSAA is proud to announce that we have been recognized as a High Performing Charity by America’s Charities. To earn this distinction we have reached the highest levels as determined by each of the charity rating agencies.

1. We are a member of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance having met all 20 Standards for Charity Accountability in the areas of governance and oversight, measuring effectiveness, finances, fundraising, and informational materials.

2. We have achieved Gold level status with GuideStar for our commitment to transparency. This site also includes our current impact goals and progress toward those goals.

3. Charity Navigator has awarded MSAA with a three star rating based on their assessment of how efficiently we use resources to fulfill our mission, how well we have sustained our programs and services over time and our level of commitment to being accountable and transparent.

Last year your support led directly to helping more people improve their lives. Our toll-free Helpline assisted 6% more people compared to the previous year. We provided ongoing MRI assistance to 9% more people, and diagnostic MRI assistance to 70% more people than the year before. Thank you for being a part of the conversation over the last year and helping us to refine how we communicate our impact. And thank you for trusting MSAA to turn your support into services that directly improve the lives of those living with MS.

Support from our donors is always appreciated! If you would like to donate to MSAA, you may do so here.

 *About Kimberly

I am the Senior Director of Development at MSAA and have worked in the nonprofit arena for over 15 years. I love reading, running, theatre and the Green Bay Packers. I volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans teaching outdoor sports like skiing and kayaking to injured veterans and find that I receive much more from them than I am able to give.

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Creating New Memories this Holiday Season

“What if Christmas, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Growing up, one of my favorite activities in school was around learning and exploring new cultures and how they celebrate holidays. Being so young and not yet having a chance to explore the world around me, I found it fascinating that people were different from what I assumed was the norm.

For example, in Germany, December 6th is St. Nicholas’ Day and “der Nikolaus” comes to the home of small children and brings gifts, such as sweets and chocolate, and puts them into the shoes of the children, who place them by their doors the night before. Then on the night of December 24th, Father Christmas brings presents to the children.

In Argentina, families celebrate starting Christmas Eve with a large family meal following with a fireworks display at midnight, toasting to Christmas. Many families stay up late into the night meeting with friends and family, then they will sleep all of Christmas Day.

To celebrate the New Year, people in Greece hang an onion on their door to symbolize rebirth and in the Philippines, women wear polka dot dresses and men carry coins in their pockets to symbolize prosperity and happiness for the new year.

The purpose of sharing these variations of holiday celebrations is to show that no matter how you choose to celebrate a holiday this year whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, remember that it is OK to be different. Value time spent with family, not the gifts that are given, or the decorations that are hung. Create new memories this season and don’t be afraid to veer from the holiday norm. As the Dr. Seuss quote illustrates, the holiday spirit cannot be bought from a store, the holiday is what you make of it.

If you are looking for some inspiration from other countries on how to add some new culture to your holiday, check out the Why Christmas webpage to learn more about Christmas Around the World or 123 New Year to learn about New Year’s Traditions and Customs.

How do you plan to make new memories this holiday season?

References:
http://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/
http://www.123newyear.com/newyear-traditions/philippines.html
http://www.businessinsider.com/new-years-rituals-around-the-world-2013-12#in-greece-people-hang-an-onion-on-their-doors-3

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