Hi, Nice to meet you.

Hello Blog Community (in my best Good Morning Vietnam impersonation). My name is Roshawnda Washington but everyone calls me Ro and I’d like to take a few lines to introduce myself. I joined the MSAA team as an intern at the beginning of September and am so looking forward to working here. I’m currently working toward my MSW with the University of Southern California (Fight On!) after earning a bachelor’s degree in Biology. Why the switch you may ask…I was looking for something that would allow me to make a difference. About a year and a half ago I sat at work thinking that while I enjoy science and was working for a fantastic research institute I couldn’t see myself waking up in 10 years and still enjoying what I was doing. In typical Generation Y fashion I took to Google and typed in some of the words I was pretty sure I was looking for; people, help, professional, fulfilling, compassion, diverse and career. There were others like million dollars, international travel and fabulous but it took 6 seconds before I remembered that I’m not a reality TV star so my first few were probably good. Several things popped up and the one I almost immediately dismissed was Social Worker. “They’re the people who take children from homes and put them in other homes right”…Pass, that’s not for me and I continued on my search for my fabulous, million dollar (kidding) new path in life.

At work as I was speaking with some of our staff I expressed the new hunt for my future and someone mentioned, “you should look into social work”. I stopped and thought to myself, what are the odds. We began speaking about what Social Workers actually do, some of the areas where they are needed and specifically what the workers part was in our team at the hospital. I had previously had few occasions to interact with the Social Workers who partnered with our patient families and clinical teams. Getting to really speak with them I was able to learn that Social Workers are not the ‘baby snatchers’ or any of the negative stereotypes that many others and I had been associating with the vocation. Again I took to my trusty Google and in true predictive type mode it directed me to several programs offering an MSW and USC was at the top of the list.

Over the past year I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful professors and professionals as well as my fellow students to learn what being a Social Worker really is. I’ve been able to look at my parents’ history of being a foster family and the care that our worker put into each child she placed. In the VA workers who diligently and persistently advocate for veterans to make sure they are getting the services they need. In the awesome workers, who partner with families in hospitals to be the shoulder to lean on and the voice when they don’t know what to ask. I’ve learned that while many Social Workers do work with children and family services to make sure children are in caring and safe homes they also work in schools, therapist offices, businesses, corporations, hospitals, for counseling services and at non-profit organizations like here at MSAA (as well as a ton of places it would take a dozen blogs for me to list). Social Workers are professional, diverse, compassionate people who seek to help others fulfill needs and they do all this and more as a career (like how I used all my search words 😀 ). I will probably never make a million dollars, my international travel will be on vacations (unless I become that TV star) but I think that Social Workers are pretty fabulous and I’m beyond excited to get started on this path and see the difference I’m able to make.


MS and Senior Year Stress: Helping Your Child Leave High School for College

By: Jeri Burtchell

My son came into this world two months premature, had the wrinkled skin of a little old man, and his head fit snuggly in my tightly cupped palm. I just prayed he would live to come home, too scared for our future to think about “prepaid college plans” or anything.

Seventeen years later, my preemie who once weighed 3 pounds is officially a senior. We weathered many challenges along the way, between my MS and his complications from being born too soon. But we’ve made it to this point and I couldn’t be more proud — or terrified.

He has his sights set on college and I’m kicking myself for never starting a prepaid college fund. Besides money, there’s a lot of planning involved, it turns out.

Starting with the senior photo shoot it seems like the wheels have been in motion and I’m falling off the back end of the wagon trying to keep up. There is so much to do!

He enrolled in two Advanced Placement (AP) courses that would look great on his transcripts. We followed that up with a trip to the guidance office where I thought we’d have a single session and be all set.

I think the moment I began fearing a possible MS relapse was at the end of that initial–and completely overwhelming–meeting. She let us know we were playing catch-up at this point. Who knew that college planning begins in the womb?

That prepaid college fund? Probably would have been a good idea. After all, how much can I realistically expect to save between now and next fall? The counselor nixed my idea of spending every dime I get on Lotto tickets in hopes of affording tuition. She said that’s not the best plan.

No, the best plan involves lots of research and determination on my part evidently. My son is bogged down with AP homework so I’m scouring the internet for scholarship opportunities. Thanks to MS for the insomnia I suffer, I have plenty of free time between 1 and 5 AM to read websites and figure out if they are scams or legitimate awards worth applying for.

There really is a scholarship opportunity for left-handers, for example, as well as for seniors who opt to construct their prom attire completely from Duct Tape. Aside from the unusual ones, however, did you know your children can qualify for scholarships if their parent has MS? My son even can even apply for one related to his asthma.

So what can I share with you to help pave the way for your talented child to be able to go to college? Here is my list of things it would have been helpful to know prior to senior year. Hopefully this will relieve some of the relapse-provoking stress, and prepare you for the exciting possibilities that lie ahead.

● Take Honors or AP courses as early and often as you can, striving for academic excellence. (My mantra his entire life was “If you ever expect to go to college you’re going to need a scholarship because I can’t pay for it,”–and we’re learning how right I was.)
● Go to College Night at the high school starting in Freshman year, and learn something each time you go. There are goals you can be achieving along the way, helping your roll out your plan.
● Make a short list of the colleges you’d like to attend and focus on finding out all of the requirements and deadlines for applying. You’ll want to keep track of:
○ Application deadline for the following fall. (I was shocked to see a lot of schools want my son’s submission by November 1 of this year!)
○ SAT, ACT, and GPA minimum requirements
○ In-state vs out-of-state tuitions and housing
● Your guidance counselor may be able to give you fee waiver passes to retake the SAT and/or ACT tests. The retakes do not cancel out previous test scores so don’t worry that you’ll do worse. Your best scores count!
● Search everywhere for scholarships to apply for. Even if it’s small, they can add up fast. Wells Fargo website has a database you can search for scholarships. You have to sign up and fill out a profile and they research the possibilities for you.

In all of your planning, parents, don’t forget about yourself. Your child, like mine, is probably a big help around the house and has been acting as a caregiver to some extent. You may not even realize how great a role they’ve been playing until your nest is empty, unless you have others still at home.

Be sure to create your own plan for how you will connect with your child while they are away, who will take over their caregiver or household responsibilities, and make the transition as smooth as possible.

This should be a time of joy and celebration (I keep reminding myself) so do all you can to prevent the stress that comes with it from sending you spiraling into a relapse. Keep cool, start early, stay focus, and have a plan.

And on the last day of school, toss your own hat in the air–you’ve earned it! Congrats!

*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.


10 Things To Do Before Fall Ends!

Back-to-school time is here and fall isn’t far behind. Glorious fall!!! I can smell the leaves and cool crisp air, and don’t get me started on how obsessed I am with pumpkin-flavored everything. Summer will end soon and before you know it the holidays will be here.

Back-to-school excitement will soon end but don’t let autumn fly by. Take advantage of the crisp cool weather and beautiful foliage with this list of fun things to do:

1. Make s’mores on a cool night.
2. Take fall foliage pictures and frame one/or a family photo.
3. Play in the colorful leaves, even if you crunch them in your hands.
4. Make a new fall craft project; carve a pumpkin.
5. Bake pumpkin bread or muffins – told you I was obsessed!
6. Enjoy warm apple cider outside under a cozy blanket.
7. Go apple picking.
8. Start holiday shopping early, plan ahead this year.
9. Write someone a love letter and mail it – no email (It’s fun to open mail).
10. Do whatever makes you the happiest!!

Couple walking in leaves with baby

I hope that by sharing some of my favorite fall activities you will be inspired to make the most of my favorite season!!

What is your favorite thing to do in the fall?


All I Really Need to Know I Learned In…..

So this week marked the time for many students across the country to head back into the classroom to begin a new school year. School supplies being emptied on store shelves, heavier morning traffic caused by school zones and bus stops, and the sun rising a little differently in the mornings all represent this significant time of year. It makes me think of the book by Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

The book highlights some very important and notable lessons we need throughout life that were actually taught to us in our earliest phase of education. It may not have seemed like it at the time, as we were having snack, playing with classmates and enjoying circle time, but values were being engrained in us that we would use for years to come. Remembering to share, to say you’re sorry if you hurt someone, and to be aware of the world around us were just some of the imperative teachings we learned amidst play time. It got me thinking though, what other times throughout life are we taught these and other significant lessons? The answer: every day.

It’s true. We learn important life lessons every day, for those younger and older, in school or not, there are constant teachings around us every day that continue to instill life’s lessons and morals in us. We hear about other people’s experiences and we look at them as examples, to model or not. We see good and bad and find our place in where we wish to be amidst the chaos. We strive to continue learning and to be vulnerable to new experiences and feelings. We try to remind ourselves of who we are and what we learned years ago and how it can still have meaning now.

People show interest in the world around them every day, even if it’s just by watching the news—again, to be aware of what’s out there and what’s bigger and different. So while many of life’s important lessons were learned as tots on those first days in the classroom, life itself continues to be the classroom; with continuous trainings and encouragement all around.

What lessons have you continued to learn about or have tried to teach others?


Back to School: The Importance of Rest and Recovery

By: Meagan Freeman 

As a mother of 5, I have always looked forward to that special time of year when my children head back to school! It was a long, hot summer this year, and I spent my days without the usual daytime break I always need during the school year. Summer can be incredibly difficult for parents with MS, and children are often left bored at home, looking for entertainment. Temperatures often hit the 90s-100s in my area, and on those very hot days I was left a virtual prisoner, trapped at home in the A/C with children who were not often pleased. Most MS patients require a certain amount of rest during the day, and noise can become a tremendous irritant. Without a break, we often become fatigued and emotionally spent.

My children returned to school early this year, on August 24th. My oldest left for college this year, and it was surreal to help him pack up his things and head out. Though I was saddened a bit, I also thought to myself with a twinge of guilt: “Check one off the list!” The first day back was chaotic, dragging exhausted children out of bed early and forcing them to dress, eat breakfast, and get out the door begrudgingly by 7:45 AM. I have found that planning ahead and organization are the keys to success with a large family, and I always spend the evenings preparing everything needed for the morning. Lunches and snacks are packed ahead of time, clothes are in piles according to child, and backpacks are in a neat line ready to be carried out. I have issues with memory loss at times, and I find that failure to plan ahead leads to disaster. I recommend using electronic devices to plan out calendars for the week, setting “alerts” for important times and events. After forgetting to pick children up on early dismissal days several times last year, I have learned to mark out the important pick up times well in advance.

We jumped in the car on that first day of school, everyone in new outfits and excitement in the air, and made our way around town to multiple schools, into new classrooms and new adventures. After the last child left the car, I drove home slowly, sipping my coffee with a sense of great relief. I walked in the door of my home, to a quiet and peaceful spot for the first time in months. I took a deep breath, and realized that at last, I had some free time for myself.

Through these yearly experiences, I have come to understand that I need time for rest and rejuvenation. It is not a luxury for me, but rather a medical necessity. Without a chance to “recharge the batteries,” we just don’t function well as mothers and fathers with MS. Though childcare can be incredibly expensive during the summer, I would advise all parents with MS to factor in some time to rest. Those precious quiet moments are exactly what the doctor ordered, and we should all begin to see rest as a medication or a treatment, something that our disease demands. Even if a friend or family member might give you a bit of respite and take the kids for a few hours occasionally, this would be of great benefit. We should all take a bit of time to care for ourselves, so that we might care for our families in the best possible way. Happy Back to School!

*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.


It is Never too Late to Make a Change

This time of year sets the stage for big changes in many people’s lives. Little kids prepare for the first day of school. College students embark on a new journey that will change the course of their future. And parents start to see their once little child becoming more independent and less reliant on their help.

As we age, it appears that everything changes and sometimes we accept those changes and sometimes we don’t. For many, change is a scary thing and is met with some resistance or animosity. But for some, change can be exciting and refreshing.

Which category do you fall? Do you find yourself resisting change, or do you fully embrace it?

It is never too late to make a change in your life. A change does not necessarily need to be an overhaul, perhaps something small that you have put off for some time. With the long holiday weekend, it provides an extra day to do something for yourself that may make a significant transformation for the better.

So give it a shot, allow yourself to move freely through the change. If you come across any resistance or hesitation, ask yourself why. Change does not have to be absolute. You have control over your life and if after making the change you find that it does not work for you, you have the power to make the switch.
What is something you have thought about changing?

MSAA Office’s will be closed Monday September 7th in observance of the Labor Day Holiday.


September 2015 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2015 Art Showcase – celebrating the work of artists affected by MS.

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our MS Art Showcase online gallery to view all of the new submissions.

September Artist of the Month:
Barbara Hall – Jersey Shore, PA

 Barbara Hall - Autumn Walk

About the Artist:
“I believe this is my fourth year entering the MSAA Art Showcase. I continue to take painting classes and hope that I am making progress. My MS might have affected my handwriting but not my paintbrush! I hope to continue to paint through 2015. I am honored to be included with all these talented artists.”
Read more

Be inspired – please send an online card featuring artwork by MS artist Barbara Hall and spread awareness of MS and MSAA.


Fatigue and Insomnia – Community Feedback


Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms among those with MS, but this fatigue is not the same as just being tired. And to make matters worse, it’s possible to be completely exhausted but unable to sleep. Our amazing contributor, Ashley Ringstaff, recently wrote an article called “Extremely Tired….but Can’t Sleep.” She says, “I can be completely exhausted where I can’t do a lot, I have no energy to even move all day, and when it’s finally time for bed, I will lay there hoping I will get some much needed sleep. But sometimes, that’s not the case.” As it turns out, many of our community members could relate to Ashley’s story. Here’s what they had to say:

I find that I’m always tired but have trouble sleeping at night

  • I need naps in the afternoon and then can’t fall asleep at night. I seem to wake up at 3:00am almost every night. I’m lucky if I sleep more than 4 hours at a time. It’s very frustrating, but at least I don’t have to get up for work.
  • This has been a new symptom for me in the last 12 months it is driving me crazy. I take trazadone for sleep, and it has worked for over 20 years but it doesn’t seem to work anymore. The summer also seems to make it worse. I am barely functioning during the day.

 I haven’t slept more than a few hours a day for the past 6 months. I can feel the effect on my whole body.
  • MS has given me insomnia.
  • This happens to me all the time. I used to sleep 10 hours a night, anywhere, anytime! I miss that so much. But even getting some sleep now does not mean feeling rested.
  • This was me last night. I was tired but up until 5:00am, then slept until 9:30am. I’m exhausted but my body is ready to party.

‪This is me exactly! One reason I had to leave my job was because I was falling asleep around 3pm. At night my mind goes 100 miles per hour, so hard to shut it off but during the day I can’t remember what I was doing.
  • I’ve gone 7 days now with only 15 hours of sleep. In my opinion, this is this is the most irritating part of this disease.
  • People don’t believe me when I say how tired I am. They just don’t understand.

Even when I do sleep, I’m exhausted

  • I slept 10 hours last night and woke up exhausted. I spent the day riding around with a friend looking for yard sales. My body is so tired my legs don’t want to work now.
  • I think I sleep well for a while, and then I wake up. It takes hours for me to fall back to sleep, but I wake up every morning fatigued, and some mornings dizzy and disoriented.

I’ve found a few methods to help with my insomnia and fatigue

  • Meditating can help to “shut off” your brain when you’re trying to go to sleep.
  • I have tried multiple drugs, techniques, yoga, baths and meditation. I exercise frequently too, which helps when I am up for it.
  • I have had this on and off since being diagnosed in 2004. Some things that might help include taking a warm shower or bath a little before bed time or using a little lavender essential oil on your chest.
  • I only get about 5 hours a night if I’m lucky. I lay down at 11 30 but my brain won’t shut down. I read and listen to music to relax enough. Last night I had to take my lorazapam to finally fall asleep at 3am.
  • I’m lucky to get 5 hours of continuous sleep any night. I have done the sleep study. I lost significant weight some years ago, which resolved the sleep apnea. I take naps when the fatigue has taken its toll. I have accepted insomnia as my normal. I find it easier to work with it than to fight it. I do some of my best work at 0 Dark-Thirty AM.

What about you? Do you have trouble sleeping despite being tired? Share with us in the comments!


Do the Patient Billing Double Check

By: Matt Cavallo

Raise your hand if you went to school to understand medical billing? My best guess is that the majority of you did not raise your hands.

Alright, this time raise your hand if you understand the difference between a medical bill and explanation of benefits. Again, my best guess is that most of you did not raise your hand.

An explanation of benefits (EOB) is a statement summary of charges sent by your insurance company about an episode of care. The EOB is an FYI of what is covered or not covered, but it is not necessarily an accurate reflection of your medical bill.

Your medical bill will always come from the facility that you received the medical service. These bills will state the billed cost (what the facility charged your insurance), insurance reimbursement amount (what insurance paid to the claim generated by the facility) and the patient responsibility (the amount you owe).

Now, the patient responsibility part of the medical bill requires you to do a double check to ensure that you are paying the correct amount. Often times the patient responsibility can be inaccurate if it wasn’t coded properly. This is especially true if you have some special situation like financial assistance for a specialty treatment.

Take me for example. For my MS medication, I have a financial assistance program offered from the pharmaceutical company that manufactures my treatment.

As an aside, if you are not aware whether or not your pharma company offers a copayment assistance program or if you qualify, that information is generally listed on the pharmaceutical company’s website.

Back to my story. So, the terms of my financial assistance program state that I am responsible for a $10 copayment for each treatment. Therefore, if I am billed $10.01, the medical billers are off by a penny and I can dispute the charge.

I started receiving bills that were over $100 per treatment. These bills also matched the responsibility on my EOB, so it stands to reason that I would be responsible right? Wrong.

I do have a background in medical billing. I used to manage a hospital clinic and we had this problem all of the time. The problem is that the financial assistance programs require a different workflow than traditional medical billing. A lot of time the billers are unaware of how to apply these financial assistance programs or they are not marked properly in the medical chart.

If the medical biller does not apply the financial assistance program to the bill, then an erroneous charge is generated. As a patient with a financial assistance program, you are not responsible for this error. The problem is that you may not always know that you are not responsible. You think that since the bill matches the EOB that it must be right. This is not always the case and it is contingent upon you to be your own advocate.

When I started getting these billing errors, I took action. I called the 1-800 number on the bill and I contacted my pharmaceutical company to let them know. My pharma company reached out to the medical billers and that bill was resent stating that I only owed $10!

Doing a double check, I saved myself $90. This has happened to me a couple times after the initial erroneous bill. Each time I called and each time I was only responsible for $10 per visit. By now, I have saved over $500 this year by doing my double check and not being afraid to pick up the phone and question the bill.

From my time managing the clinic to situations with me and my family, to helping friends of mine, there are any number of reasons why double checking your bill can be beneficial. One last story, my wife got billed an out-of-network lab draw for a well woman exam at an in-network facility, generating an over $700 bill. Bills are generated by computers, but people are in place if you have any questions regarding the bill. After we got over the sticker shock, I said let’s call. We were responsible for our $25 copay and that was all!

Being a patient with multiple sclerosis is tough. Don’t let medical billing errors make it any tougher. Remember to be your own advocate and if you are questioning a bill, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and do the patient billing double check!

*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/


Budget Friendly Food Tips

Although we all need food and we shop for groceries, the food budget is the easiest place to save a few bucks. Even the cheapest restaurants add up fast too. Next time you are thinking about eating out or spending money at the grocery store on items you don’t need, think about these simple tips:

  • Eat at home. While it’s a nice treat to go out to eat once a week, it can get very expensive if you do it much more than that.
  • Buy store brands. It’s sometimes very difficult to tell the difference between store and name brands. Why pay a premium for the name brand when the store products are so similar.
  • Shop with a plan. You are less likely to buy things you don’t need if you’ve made a shopping list ahead of time.
  • Clip coupons. They’re basically free money. Stores and companies are paying you to try their products. Take them up on their offer.


  • Skip the fancy latte in the morning and brew at home.
  • Buy produce in season. Prices tend to be lower when there is a large supply of something.
  • Brown bag it! It’s much cheaper to prepare your lunch at home and take it with you than it is to buy it every day.

Obviously, we need to eat to live. But, depending on where and when you buy it, food can take a big bite out of your budget. These are some easy tips you can do to keep your spending down without making big sacrifices.

As they say “time is money”. If you take some time to follow some of these tips, you may save some money!!!