Mining the Web for MS Resources

By: Matt Cavallo 

**Disclaimer: For any new or worsening MS symptoms, please contact your doctor immediately**

The internet is full of good (and not so good) information about multiple sclerosis. There are trusted sources, personal blogs, and social support groups regarding MS. Like everything else in life, when seeking more information about the disease, you must consider the source. The following blog will discuss some online traps that I have fallen into and how to avoid them.

In my mind, a good site for healthcare information should never promise a miracle or solicit patients for money. For example, I was following a very compelling Facebook thread posted in an MS support group linking to the story of a patient. I’m a sucker for a good story, so I started reading about this person and how they overcame all of their MS symptoms. At the bottom of the page, there was a link to their “miracle treatment,” and it brought me to a multi-level marketing website ad for some vitamins.

They drove me to the site with a good story, but their promise of a cure for MS was way off base. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition with no known cure, so to promise the people who click on this website a cure is false advertising. Be skeptical of buying any supplement that is either not prescribed to you by your doctor or that you have not discussed with your doctor prior to purchasing. This goes for assistive devices, as well. Before considering any assistive devices, contact your doctor or insurance company to see if the device is approved. You may get an idea from a website, but by going through your doctor and insurance company, you may find that the device, or a similar device, is covered.

As for trusted information, my favorite site is MSAA. In fact I like them so much, I am a contributing blogger for them. I found MSAA because I was looking for educational material to help explain MS to my young boys. What I found was a free picture book that I read to my boys that helped explain daddy’s condition. I found other resources, like their online Relapse Center. Every resource on the MSAA website is evidenced-based and peer- reviewed, so I know that the information is coming from a reliable source.

Another source for MS information that I trust is Healthine.com. Healthline takes complicated medical terms associated with MS and other chronic illnesses and puts them into slideshow format in words that are easy to understand. They also have great weekly columns from fellow MSAA blogger Jeri Burtchell and provide links to MS resources. MSAA and Healthline are my two personal favorite websites to find objective, clinically reviewed information about MS.

Social media is also a great place to find MS support groups and information about the disease. I belong to several social media support groups where members interact online. If you are going to engage in these activities, you must keep in mind personal biases. Participate in an online support group for support, but not for medical advice. These groups are great when you are having a bad day and want validation from your fellow MSers, but I have also seen solicitations or treatment recommendations based upon personal bias. Remember, you and your doctor should make all treatment decisions together, and what you read in an online forum may not be entirely accurate.

The internet is a great place to mine MS resources. There are trusted sources, like MSAA and Healthline, great personal MS blogs, and social media support groups. Just remember to be aware that some of these sites may be trying to solicit, not support you. Any research-based article will say something to the effect of “clinically reviewed” or have a clinical reviewer in the credits. Any website that promises you a cure is a red flag to stay away.

As a person living with MS, the best thing you can do is educate yourself to the disease and others’ experiences living with the disease. The internet is a great place to find resources, but make sure that you can trust the source. Let me know if you come across a good MS site that I haven’t mentioned. Happy mining!

MS Web Resources:
MSAA – http://www.mymsaa.org/
MSAA Relapse Resource Center – http://relapses.mymsaa.org/
Healthline Multiple Sclerosis Center - http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis

*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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It’s all relative.

rsz_african-american_female_doctor_counseling_distressed_young_female_patient

Sometimes it may seem like things are spiraling. Maybe the bills are piling up, the stress level in managing home life or work is rising, and you are worried that you are headed for an MS Relapse if you keep going at your current pace. When things feel like they are outside of your control, it is easy to “cycle”  or consistently think of the negative aspects of what is going on. The whirlwind of negativity can affect not only your mood and health, but also your relationships and ability to accurately read cues from others and be empathetic.

When your co-worker is acting totally checked out and you are annoyed that she hasn’t helped you with a joint project, you might think she is acting uncaring, but maybe she didn’t tell you her brother is very sick in the hospital. When the dentist office calls for the third time to cancel your appointment and you just feel like screaming at the scheduler, you may not know that she is stressed out because other office staff keep flaking out on their scheduled appointments and making her job harder.

Yes, it is okay to have a bad day or a bad week. It is okay to not put on a “fake it ’till you make it” smile when you feel like nobody understands what you are dealing with, but when you start to get caught up in the negativity tornado and are on the borderline of snapping, remember that everyone is dealing with something. Yes, some of those “somethings” are more manageable than others, but they all impact and make a difference in the lives of the people living them. Focusing on the idea that everyone is living their own journey with different successes and challenges can help us to maintain balance; we are not alone for the ride. When things start to spiral, try to remember that everything is relative.

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Identifying Community Resources for Individuals with MS

Working on the MSAA Helpline, we receive a wide array of calls asking for assistance locally within the community. Whether it is for in-home services, help with transportation, or housing assistance, the Helpline specialists work with the client to find a local group that can be of assistance. While it is challenging to find an MS-specific organization in the area, there are some local organizations designed to assist those living with a disability to keep them living independently in their homes.

One of the more common programs Helpline Specialists refer to is the Centers for Independent Living. These non-profit centers are consumer-controlled and located right in the community or surrounding area. These centers are staffed by individuals with disabilities and provide a variety of independent living services.

Fifty-one percent of staff, as well as the Board of Directors, within the Centers for Independent Living are individuals with disabilities. These centers provide four core services: information & referral, independent living skills training, individual and systems advocacy, and peer counseling.

While not MS-specific, the Centers for Independent Living understand the challenges faced when living with a disability and can make suggestions or provide direct programming to improve the quality of life of those living within their regions.

Search for your local Center for Independent Living and reach out to learn about the opportunities and assistance that may be available to you and your family. It can be challenging to reach out for help and support, especially if you are not quite sure of the need you may have. Start by talking with one of the peer counselors or support persons; in talking with them, you both may be able to clearly define some of the needs you may be having.

Have you reached out to community resources in the past? In which ways were they helpful to you?

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Communicating Effectively with MS

By: Matt Cavallo

One barrier to accepting that you are now a person living with multiple sclerosis is communication. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, it seemed that every conversation I had ended up being about my MS. Whether it was family, friends or co-workers, inevitably during the conversation the person I was talking to would pause and ask, “So, how do you feel? You look great.”

While these conversations were well-intentioned, no one picked up on the fact that I didn’t want to talk about my disease. All I wanted was to do was have regular conversations about sports, work or the weather. The kind of conversations we would have before I was diagnosed. More and more I found myself avoiding conversations rather than reliving my diagnosis over and over again.

This was causing a tremendous amount of stress in my life and that stress was affecting all the relationships in my life. Whether it was at work, friends, family or my wife, all these relationships were suffering as a result of the breakdown in communication. I then realized that I wasn’t going to be able to control the way the people talked to me about my disease. If I wanted to end the stress of talking to people about MS, I was either going to have to cut everyone out of my life or change how I communicated my illness.

For me, change does not come easy. One of my 7 Steps to Living Well with a Chronic Illness, is Learning to Communicate Effectively. I believe that when you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, like MS, you go through five stages of grieving: denial, anger, fear, grief and finally, acceptance. Learning how to communicate effectively is what helped me go through these stages. Instead of losing relationships because of my MS I started to make changes that allowed me to accept my MS.

Excerpt from 7 Steps to Living Well with a Chronic Illness
Rediscovering My Purposematt blog

I remember sitting in my doctor’s office in the spring on 2007. I had previously shared with her a draft of my memoir, The Dog Story: A Journey into a New Life with Multiple Sclerosis. She loved the passion in which I describe my writing. She said that I had an articulate, succinct way of telling my patient experience story. She also said that there was an opportunity to share my story at an upcoming patient support group meeting. Without thinking about it, I agreed to speak at the meeting.

Then on my way home, a rush of anxiety and fear overwhelmed me. What had I agreed to? I had never given a speech. I didn’t know what to say or where to start. When I got home, I talked to Jocelyn about the upcoming speech. Given all that I had been through with my disease process, she thought that it would be good for me to attend the support group in general. She also thought that I would be good as a speaker. I was skeptical…

… I put on a blue blazer, a button down white shirt, a pair of jeans and some blue tennis shoes. My cousin came with me to film the event. As we drove, the butterflies started to mount in my stomach. I walked into the hotel lobby and followed the signs to the meeting room for the support group.

In an instant I had forgotten everything that I was going to say. I started sweating and paused for what seemed like an eternity. All eyes were on me and the projector beam was like a white hot piercing spotlight in an interrogation room. The doctor introduced me and I walked to the front of the room, raised my right hand and waved.

“Good afternoon everyone!”

I collected myself and began again. Eventually I started to feel my rhythm. The sweat was no longer pouring and I found my confidence and timing. The crowd even erupted with laughter when I interjected a joke. I was surprised. It was a subtle joke, but they got it. When that happened, the words started rolling off my tongue and I told my story better than I ever had rehearsed it. The audience loved it. Everyone came up to me afterwards and said how much my talk meant to them. I was touched.

Looking back, standing up in front of that crowd and sharing my story changed the way I felt about communicating my MS. Up until that point, I was not comfortable talking about MS at all. And it wasn’t because I was sharing my story in a front of a room full of people that caused the change in me. It was everyone in the audience who shared their story with me after the talk that helped me understand that I wasn’t alone. People shared similar experiences and how hard it was to talk about their illness. Since that day, I have made it my mission to spread the word about living with MS.

If you are going through difficulty with you MS or having a hard time accepting your diagnosis, it is OK. You are not alone. Learning to communicate your story of living with MS will help you in accepting your condition. Once you learn how to effectively communicate your story with MS you will find that you are not alone and that you really do look great!

*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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Change and the Impacts on Your “Self” When You Have MS

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
-John F. Kennedy

By definition, the word change means to make or become different. But in what ways do we change? When I reflect on my life, I don’t think of my current self as any different from my past self. Certainly I have learned from my mistakes and have adapted, but I still think of myself as the same person I was many years ago. Maybe my taste in music or my physical appearance has changed, but morally and ethically I don’t think I have changed much.

Sometimes a chronic illness like MS may impact an individual’s views of themselves. By focusing only on the past and how MS may be impacting the present, like John F. Kennedy stated, you may “miss the future.”

I think that this quote is pretty powerful and allows for the opportunity to really think of who we are and what attributes of our “self” we consider important. In certain ways, all people may change over time, but focusing on the positive attributes of your life allows you to honor them and your sense of “self” and will guide you into the future.

What parts of your self have remained un-changed? In what ways are you honoring your self?

 

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Getting Graphic When You Have Multiple Sclerosis

Young couple looking distressed or angry

Sometimes when you try to communicate with others, your point may be misconstrued, or something may be lost in translation, or you feel that no matter what you are saying the other person just doesn’t “get it.”

In my role here at MSAA, I have heard from many people who are frustrated or disappointed that someone close to them, be it a family member, a friend, or even a close co-worker (someone who they know cares about them), just doesn’t “get” MS. They may not understand the daily or even hourly ups and downs of MS, or the invisible or hidden symptoms you are trying your utmost to manage, or maybe it’s just an expectation that everything should be the same as before your diagnosis, when for you it feels like the whole world has shifted.

No one wants to feel that our friends, family, and supporters are clueless, unhelpful, or uncaring…after all you KNOW they care about you, and that’s why you include them and want them to be a part of your life, and that’s why it feels so wrong when you can’t express your needs or they don’t seem to “get” what it is you are dealing with, or struggling with, or needing.

When words aren’t enough, get graphic…and not in the style of an R-rated movie, but instead embracing that sometimes a photograph, picture, or artwork can help support what you are saying. Even a visualization can sometimes be helpful, for example, “Sarah, I know that you are trying to help, but when you say that it makes me feel like you’re asking me to put a bag with a smiley face on my head…can you picture that? ” If you picture it, a person with a smiley face bag is being asked to hide their true emotions, or even if they express those emotions they cannot be seen by others. Sarah may picture that bag the next time she wants you to turn your frown upside down and be more empathetic to your needs.

So, the next time you feel like words are just not enough: snap a photo of how you are feeling, draw a picture of your thoughts, or give a visual depiction of your concerns. You may find that a visual display is sometimes the bridge that is needed to help your support person really “get it.”

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6 Ways to Support the Multiple Sclerosis Community

Looking for some creative ways to support individuals living with multiple sclerosis (MS)? In the following list, we’ll show you six different ways you can help MSAA improve lives today—without breaking the bank.

AmazonSmile

1. AmazonSmile— AmazonSmile is a great way to support the multiple sclerosis community without spending extra money. Simply select the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America as your charity of choice, and Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible purchase to MSAA! Click here to learn more or to make a purchase.

ebay-giving-works

2. eBay Giving Works— Do you have some things lying around the house that you’d love to sell on eBay? If so, you can choose to donate a portion of your sales to MSAA. Visit eBay’s Giving Works website to learn more.

3. Counter Punch Wine— Calling all wine lovers! Purchase wine bottles by using MSAA’s promotional code and receive a 10% discount! The best part? MSAA will also receive 10% of your purchase—helping us to continue improving lives today for people living with MS. Please visit www.counterpunchwines.com and enter the promo code: MSAA

msaa_dog_tshirt

4. CafePress— Get all your MSAA and Swim for MS swag here. Everything from bags and water bottles to t-shirts and bracelets make great gifts. Check out the full inventory.

*We’re sure you’ll love our shirts, but we can’t promise you’ll look this cute wearing them.

5. PuraVida Bracelets— Help us raise awareness of multiple sclerosis by purchasing an MSAA bracelet from PuraVida. $1 of each bracelet purchased will go directly to MSAA. Visit PuraVida’s site to learn more.

6. Host a Pool Party—  Now that summer’s here, invite your friends and family to the pool and have a Swim for MS themed pool party! Provide games, snacks, music, and ask for donations at the door. Your only pool party requirements for this easy event are fun & sun! Email swim@mymsaa.org to start planning your event.

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However you choose to show your support for the MS community, MSAA would like to wish you and yours a safe and enjoyable summer. If you or a loved one struggle with MS symptoms during the summer heat, please visit our website to learn more about MSAA’s Cooling Program or call MSAA’s Helpline at (800) 532-7667 ext. 154.

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The Time is Ripe…Despite Multiple Sclerosis

Banana_in_hand

If you like to eat bananas, then you know that there are only a few days that they are in their prime. You go from the green tough phase, to one or two days of yellow perfection, and then the brown spots, bruises, and too sweet taste takes over.

If you eat avocados, then you know that when you buy them you have to feel them each day until they get just soft enough, and if you buy them soft, you must consume that day or miss your window of opportunity. In fact, sometimes it may seem like your avocado only has a few hour span where it is perfect for consumption.

So, what do bananas and avocados have to do with anything (aside from eating them, since they can be delicious and healthy snacks…just not served together)?

There are things in life you may want to do, but find you don’t have the time and/or the planning just never seems to work out. You know, like when you belong to a gym, but every time your schedule has an opening you are too fatigued to go. What about that painting class you wanted to take, but it is only held on a weeknight. which is really inconvenient? Sometimes you may be dealing with a banana situation where you only have one or two days which might work or an avocado situation where you feel you have mere hours to make something happen.

Yes, life is complicated and busy, and can be extremely overwhelming.  MS often throws a wrench into all of those carefully laid plans, but if there are things that you want to do: meet up with your friends, take that class, and get to the gym. Despite MS, the time is ripe to take charge and enjoy all of those things you want to do with your life. Sometimes it may take careful planning, re-prioritizing, and positive self-talk to get you there, but it’s worth trying. There may be cancelled appointments and days when you need to take a nap instead, but don’t let those days take over for planning for every other day.

After all, you probably still buy bananas even though you know you might not get to eat each one before it turns brown, and if you aren’t already acquainted, please meet your new friend guacamole.

 

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Time to wind down…

After a long and seasonably warm 4th of July holiday weekend, it may be time to relax and recover a bit from the weekend’s festivities and weather. A long holiday weekend can tire anyone out, and for those with MS, the heat index does not add favorably to the situation. Spending time with loved ones and friends, though enjoyable, can be tiring as well, so make sure to focus on your needs and health after these get-togethers. Take some time for yourself-retreat to cooler environments, take a stroll in the evening to unwind, or settle down with a hobby or activity you favor. Taking a time out from busy activities can help you catch your breath and get back into a routine that works in your day to day.

What do you do to wind down?

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Life with MS in Florida – Baby it’s HOT Outside!

By: Jeri Burtchell 

Living with the challenges of MS is one thing, but if you also live in the south, surviving summertime is no small feat. Everyone’s symptoms are different, but here’s a universal MS fact: whatever the symptoms, heat will make them worse.

Having lived in northeast Florida since my 32 year-old was in diapers, I consider myself a southerner, even though technically I was born in New York.

I qualify as a southerner because:

  • I don’t own a pair of boots, but I have more flip-flops than Skittles has flavors.
  • I wait until the weatherman says a hurricane is at least a category four, and three blocks away before I get supplies.
  • My perfume in the summertime is mosquito repellant.
  • The only candles I buy contain citronella.
  • I take beach photos from the passenger seat of a moving car as we’re doing a drive-by – to prove I really do live in the Sunshine State.

I head indoors before the summer solstice in June, set my air conditioner to “frostbite.” I don’t emerge in the light of day again until school starts in the fall. It’s the only way I know to endure it.

When I was in my 20′s, my favorite hobby was hiking in the Ocala National Forest armed with binoculars and a bird book. I don’t recall the heat ever bothering me.That was before MS and old age turned summertime into my mortal enemy. Now I admire the outdoors on the Nature Channel or ESPN, no longer eager to be personally immersed in it.

But sometimes you just have to brave the elements. Like when your granddaughter joins a local swim team and you go to cheer her on. Turns out you can’t do that via Skype, at least not when you’re the one who’s going to be driving her to and fro.

Her first meet was an hour’s drive out of town. We had to arrive at 7 a.m., and we figured it would last a couple of hours and we’d be out of there in no time–before the coolness of the morning was replaced by scorching heat.

Boy, was I wrong! I have lived here long enough – I should have known better. On top of that, I even wrote an article about how heat affects those with MS. It’s not like I didn’t know.

But what we thought would take only a couple of hours turned into an all day event. By the time she was done and we were headed home, I was dizzy and limp as a noodle. We had to sit in the car with the AC running full blast for quite a while before I could even drive. While we sat and waited for my brain and spinal cord to cool off, we chatted about how much fun she had.

jeri blog

It was at that instant I knew that any heat-related suffering I’d been through that day was worth having shared the experience with her. As I began to cool off, and my legs changed from overcooked pasta to more of an al dente, I realized I was going to have to come up with a plan.

MS might stop me from my bird-watching nature hikes, but when it tries to come between me and cheering my granddaughter on, I’m putting my numb and tingly foot down.

So I made a list of what might make the experience more bearable for me next time:

  • I’m wearing shorts or a dress. Period. No matter how unflattering my legs might be, jeans are not an option.
  • I’m wearing light, thin clothing and only flip-flops on my feet.
  • I’m bringing a folding chair — despite all the chairs at the facility, there was never one available when I needed to sit down NOW.
  • I’m getting a big floppy straw hat.
  • I’m bringing a personal cooler with a rag down in the ice water that I can wipe my brow or pulse points with occasionally.
  • I’m bringing lots of bottled water.
  • I’ll get myself a spray bottle with a fan built on it.

It never occurred to me to sit at the edge of the kiddy pool and stick my feet in, but I just might do that, too. Of course, by the time I have a huge floppy hat, breezy muumuu covered in Hawaiian flowers, and oversized sunglasses on, my granddaughter might just be mortified at me shouting encouragements from the side of the pool.

But it’s either that or stay home, and since they don’t televise her swim meets on ESPN, I don’t have a choice now, do I? :)

References:
http://www.healthline.com/health-news/ms-multiple-sclerosis-patients-more-sensitive-to-heat-052113

*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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