Summer Reflection

By: Matt Cavallo

For me, having MS sometimblog pices means more sleep. This is especially the case for me with two young boys, who don’t tend to sleep in and have endless amounts of energy. I find that when the seasons turn to fall and the long sunny days turn to long dark nights, I find myself chronically tired and needing to hibernate. When I feel like I need more sleep, I draw on lessons learned from the summer.

This June, my wife and I decided to drive to take the kids to Legoland in San Diego. San Diego is about a five hour drive from my house, so we loaded up the minivan and hit the road for a three day vacation. Prior to that vacation, I put it in my mind that it was going to be hot and that I was going to be waiting in long lines for the rides, but that I needed to give my kids a vacation to remember.

The first day took a lot out of me. The drive was exhausting. Even though the kids behaved and there was only a little traffic, driving that long can be taxing. However, once we got to the hotel, the kids wanted to play. Even though I was exhausted, we met up with friends and went to the beach. I spent the entire time at the beach playing in the water with the kids. After about twelve hours of going non-stop, we went to the hotel and I crashed.

The next morning came too early, but the kids were up and ready to go. I felt like if I could just get a little more sleep, I would have energy for Lego Land. More sleep was not to be had but we spent an awesome twelve hours running around the amusement park, going on the rides and playing the games. The sun was brutal and beat me down as I waited for ride after ride. By the time we got to bed, I was so exhausted that I didn’t think I could possibly pull it together another day.

The next day came and I needed just a little more sleep, but that was not going to happen. It was day two at Lego Land and the kids were ready. It was a repeat of the first day and the kids were having the time of their lives. We spent another twelve hours roaming the park being roasted in the early summer sun. By the time we got back to the hotel, I thought I was going to pass out from exhaustion, but the kids wanted to swim at the pool. So even though I had expended all my energy at the park, I needed to dig down and find the inspiration for one more hour of activities.

While I was sitting at the pool watching the boys swim, I thought that this is what life was all about. It turned out that I didn’t need more sleep. Sure I was tired and the sun and MS fatigue were wearing on me, but I needed to be there. At this moment, having MS meant time with my sons. So many times, I had let my MS fatigue get the best of me, but I fought through it to create memories that will last a lifetime.

As I look forward to the fall season and the long nights, I think back to that summer vacation. I look back at how I was fatigued and didn’t think I would make it, but created precious memories. For me it is all about getting going, because for me getting started is the hardest part. This fall, I am not going to require more sleep. I am going to spend more time with my sons, because that is what motivates me to keep going. What lessons from summer are you going to use to keep going this fall?

*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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National Preparedness Month

September marks the observance of National Preparedness Month, a time when individuals are encouraged to make safety plans and preparations in case of emergencies, such as natural disasters, for the protection of themselves and family members.

Family standing outside house illustration

With the atypical weather conditions experienced throughout different parts of the country this year especially, like the harsh winter months and peculiar storms, it is important to have emergency plans in place to prepare for such conditions. Discussing strategies with your family members or neighbors can help to increase cohesiveness and coordination when planning for emergency situations. Individuals with disabilities should develop strategies that will accommodate personal needs in case of an emergency as well, including how to move within the household if the power were to go out and safe exit strategies if you need to evacuate the home.

Websites like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ready.gov provide information and materials for individuals to make plans and build safety kits for emergency preparedness.  Here are some additional tips to consider when creating emergency plans:

  • Develop a plan that is accommodating for everyone’s needs in the household. If someone has a disability, try to consider and incorporate those needs into emergency plans and evacuation strategies.
  • Ensure all household members are aware of the plans and what their role is in implementing them.
  • Stay informed about emergency preparedness by checking media and news sources often.

Increasing awareness of how to protect yourself and the ones you care for in an emergency can aid in making thoughtful and careful decisions in unexpected situations. Take this time to learn more about National Preparedness Month and educate others as well!

 

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Looking Back to Move Forward

rsz_couple_with_two_young_children_and_dog_running_in_park

Subtle hints of fall have spread throughout the northeast – the falling leaves, cooler nights, pumpkins, and mums popping up in local stores. While summer is slowly on its way out, it is bitter sweet to reminisce about the times had. This summer we talked about ways to beat the heat, many of which involved remaining indoors, or doing activities in cool public places. Regardless of where you made your memories, it is important to keep those happy memories alive and present to take with you into the fall.

Journaling about an event or encounter that makes you smile will bring you back to that moment and hopefully increase your mood. You can look back at those journal entries and remember the good times that were had. Also having pictures or souvenirs from a trip or event can help to bring you back to that moment. Try taking a moment to close your eyes and remember how you felt at that time.

When times are hard or you are having difficult feelings about a situation, take a moment to re-focus your thoughts on one of those happier moments. Re-focusing your thoughts can help momentarily take your mind off of a certain problem or situation and better prepare you for dealing with the task at hand.

When looking back on those happy moments, focus on the feelings or emotions that were created in you at that time. Allow yourself to re-live that moment and take a deep breath.

What moments do you carry with you? How do they help you in times of stress?

 

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Lessons from “Back to School”

For many families, September means back to school. Maybe you sent your child off for a first day of school (elementary, middle or high school each are a special moment), or maybe you are headed off to a class yourself as a college student, graduate student, teacher or professor. If none of these apply to you, then you at least see the back to school supplies and sales popping up everywhere as people make this transition.

If you are not a student or teacher, then once you leave school it can be easy to forget what a time of optimism and hope abounds at the beginning of the new school year. The hope to make new friends, achieve new academic goals, make the team, etc. is probably on the mind of all of those youngsters. Adult students may be invigorated by the goal of obtaining a successful career or the relief of having only one more year to go to finish toward a hard earned degree.

If you are not swept up in the “new year, new you” madness, take a moment. Remember that it doesn’t take classes to help you set goals or achieve outcomes. You don’t have to be in school to make new friends or have a plan of action. Sometimes, a spark of hope and optimism can help you to dream that big dream before your “first day,” and the hard work throughout the year is what helps you achieve your outcome.

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September 2014 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2014 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 online gallery to view all of the new submissions.

September Artist of the Month:
Laura Patchen – Pittsford, NY

 Laura Patchen - Alma Mater

About the Artist:

“I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November of 1998. At the time, my daughters were just 8, 10 and 13, and I had a flourishing career as a speech-language pathologist in private practice. I feared that my life would change, and it has, but not quite in the ways I thought it would. I had to stop working in 2005, due to physical and cognitive limitations. It was difficult to give up something I loved to do, but eventually, I’ve found other things, including painting.

The “Alma Mater” is the building my speech classes were held in….a wink to the past, and a fond memory. Life goes on, MS causes changes, but being able to document important memories in acrylics helps me cope.”
Read more

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

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The Empowered Patient: Your Greatest Resource Lies Within

By: Jeri Burtchell

I remember feeling like I’d stepped through the looking glass that day in the hospital. My world became distorted and unreal as the words “you have multiple sclerosis” echoed in my brain. I couldn’t make sense of it; this couldn’t be happening. Suddenly my life as I knew it was over and I could either live in the past, or look to a new future.

It may have been over 15 years ago, but I haven’t forgotten that day. Anyone living with MS was once “newly diagnosed.” We’ve all been there.

So this month, in keeping with MSAA’s theme of finding resources, I’d like to introduce the newly diagnosed to what will become their greatest resource of all. It’s the mental approach we take toward living our best life despite MS. I’m talking about being an empowered patient.

The term “empowered patient” has no clear-cut definition, however it encompasses an overall set of characteristics that sets one apart from the average patient. Empowered patients take an active role in making health care decisions, learn all they can about their condition, compile resources, take notes, and strive to improve their own quality of life. There is no set way to accomplish this; each empowered patient discovers their own path.

For eight years after my diagnosis, I was anything but empowered. I felt helpless, overwhelmed, and despondent. My medication wasn’t working for me even though my doctor insisted it was. I had no idea I could get another opinion, and I trusted him when he said I needn’t try any other medicines.

Then one day my neurologist had a stroke. I was suddenly fighting my MS battle alone. That’s when my journey toward empowerment began. My first step was finding another doctor.

I’d never been very sick before MS, so doctor shopping was uncomfortable for me. I had my primary care doctor pick my new neurologist instead. (My path to empowerment began with baby steps.) It turned out the doctor he chose was the lead investigator for a clinical trial studying a pill for MS.

When I met with him we discussed the drug trial, weighing the risks and benefits. He also told me of all the other available options. Again I had to choose. I was terrified of making the wrong decision, and all of the medicines seemed so scary. But I was more afraid of not being on one of the drugs since my MS was so aggressive. I took home the paperwork to read up on the clinical trial. Three days later I took a huge leap. I decided to join.

Up until then I had been miserable, relapsing 3-4 times a year. Really big relapses that had me in a wheelchair, on a walker, or using two canes. The whole time I suffered, I never thought things could ever change. I thought I was destined to be miserable forever.

But the trial changed my life. I happened to get the real study drug and it worked so well for me, it would be another six years before I had a new relapse.

The positive outcome of my choices reinforced the importance of playing a more active role in my health care.

I learned all I could about my disease and took notes about what others found effective for treating the symptoms of MS. I questioned everything and sought to find the answers. As they say, knowledge is power.

But being an empowered patient isn’t just about making treatment decisions and getting second opinions, it’s also about owning your lifestyle choices, too. I took a long hard look at the things I could change. I gave up smoking and junk food and began exercising more. I saw real improvements. My goal is not just to live life, but to feel as good as I can at the same time.

But if giving your whole life a makeover seems like an impossible task, just take baby steps. Find one thing you can do that positively impacts your health and focus on it. If you need help, reach out for support.

Becoming an empowered patient doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that evolves over time.

So if you’re newly diagnosed and feeling overwhelmed, don’t despair. Know that there is an ebb and flow to relapsing MS and if you feel bad now, there are better times ahead. Focus on learning all you can and actively participate in your treatment decisions. If you don’t like your doctor, find another one. Don’t wait for them to have a stroke before you start thinking for yourself.

You’ll find that being your own advocate might be your greatest resource of all.

*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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Assistive Technology for Individuals with MS

Over the course of years living with a disease such as MS, there may come a time when more assistance is needed to complete daily activities. Perhaps typing on the computer is becoming a challenge due to spasticity, or driving a vehicle has become difficult because of numbness in the leg. While it may not always be conducive to ask another person for help, perhaps a piece of equipment can aid in getting the task done more effectively. Assistive technology, or AT, is any item, piece of equipment, or software that is used to increase or improve the functional abilities of individuals with disabilities at school, work, home, and in the community.

Young woman with tablet computer and coffee

Assistive technology devices can assist those who may have difficulty with speech, typing, writing, cognition, walking, etc. In each state, a State Assistive Technology Project is available to provide information on assistive  technology and consultation about the type of technology piece that may be helpful. A borrowing program may also be available where the devices can be borrowed for up to a certain period of time to see if the device will be effective. Information about available loans to help with more expensive devices can be discussed as well.

In trying to determine the type of device that may be helpful for a specific need, working with a rehabilitation professional such as a physical or occupational therapist might help to clarify the type of device that would provide the best assistance. They can make specific recommendations of devices that can assist with a variety of needs and may also help with checking whether insurance will cover the item recommended.

What assistive devices have you used? What avenue did you take to receive the device?

 

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Thank You Readers! My One Year MSAA Blog Anniversary

By Matt Cavallo: 

It was one year ago at this time, I started volunteering two blogs a month for MSAA. I was thinking about it today as my oldest son got ready for his first day of first grade. One of my first blogs was a back to school blog about parenting with MS, where I cried as I watched him go to school for the first time. I have shared many memorable blogs with MSAA since that time. From the one about a stranger “paying it forward” and buying my meal when he heard my MS story, to my recent birthday blog, each story is intended to provide inspiration and hope through my own journey.

My favorite part about writing the blog for MSAA is interacting with you, the readers. I have met so many wonderful people along this journey. Whether it has been through my personal website or social media, many of the readers of this blog have reached out to thank me for my contributions to this blog. I can’t tell you the tears of joy I experience from all of your feedback. It has been a pleasure sharing my stories here, and I it touches my heart that they are meaningful to you.

Thank you again for all the great feedback throughout the year. I promise to continue writing these personal blogs and sharing my stories and experience with you. Being able to connect with patients like myself makes it worth it. Together, we are making a difference in the lives impacted by MS. Take care and keep up the good fight!

Resource:
Parenting with MS – http://blog.mymsaa.org/parenting-with-ms/

*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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Disclosing MS at Work – Community Experience

Since MSAA first partnered with the MultipleSclerosis.net staff, we have consistently been impressed with their willingness to share in our mission of improving lives today. We are pleased to have them as a regular contributor to our blog MS Conversations.

The majority of people who have MS are diagnosed when they are between 20 and 50 years of age. Because this coincides with the time when a person is most likely to be a part of the work force, people who have MS often have to consider their condition when making work-related decisions. Upon receiving an MS diagnosis, one of the biggest decisions they make may be whether or not to share this information with their employer and/or colleagues. While some people choose to be private when it comes to their MS, others may decide to be an “open book.” One of our patient advocates shared his experience about telling his employer and colleagues about his MS, and many of our community members shared their stories in response. We also asked our Facebook community members to share their experiences with us, and as you can see, people have very different stories to tell.

I’m hesitant to tell my employer and colleagues about my MS

  • Sometimes I will say I have a ‘neurological condition’ but I don’t go beyond that.
  • My experience is that most employers don’t want to hire a person with a condition that will increase insurance premiums. I would never tell an employer or future employer I have MS.
  • I think if I disclose my MS at work, I might lose my job. I can’t even work from home one day when I don’t feel well. I’m expected to be alert, healthy, and on top of my game. I feel like no one cares. As much as people can be compassionate, it is only to a degree. I need to be present, and I’m expected to perform. So, I play my role and I smile through pain and tears and I do my job. I don’t have much choice.

I had to make adjustments due to my MS

  • I had to disclose my MS because it could have become a safety issue at work, so my responsibilities needed to be adjusted accordingly.
  • I could no longer be productive and I became a danger to the public and myself. My employer knew before I did that I was having trouble. I drove an 18-wheel truck and set up POS networks. I just could not do the work anymore. Some of my employer’s family members had MS. The truth is I loved my work I had to come to grips with the fact that I just could not do it anymore. It’s important to be truthful to yourself about your capabilities at your job and then make a decision.
  • I had to go part-time instead of full-time three years after being diagnosed because of my symptoms and a number of relapses. However, I’m still trying to “stick it out” and remain employed because I find it quite fulfilling; if I don’t work, I get bored way too easily.

I wish I hadn’t said anything

  • Despite it being a private matter, even with HIPAA laws, word spread fast about my diagnosis at my work and people immediately started treating me differently.
  • When I told my employer, his response was dismissive, as if to say, “and what do you want me to do?”
  • My employer lacks compassion. Unfortunately, a few of my coworkers went out of their way to make it even more difficult for me.
  • I was essentially forced to leave, and I was then denied long-term disability benefits through my employer. Thankfully, I hired an attorney and eventually won.
  • I lost my job when my employer found out.
  • I lost my job of many years shortly after I was diagnosed in the 90s. Of course, they didn’t say my illness was the reason behind losing my job, but it was obvious to me. It was heartbreaking to lose a loved career after working so hard for so long.
  • I shared during my original interview to explain why I had balance issues. When a full-time position later became available, I applied and was told that they would not award me the position due to my MS. My boss said that if I became unable to work, they’d have no one to cover the additional hours. Although I sort of understood, it was blatant discrimination, and I reported it. My boss lied, saying she had never said that. I am still working there, as it is a job that I love with hours I am capable of handling.

Sharing my MS diagnosis was a positive experience

  • My boss is understanding, even though I can’t do everything I used to do.
  • My employer and coworkers have been very kind and understanding. It’s actually harder for me to tell people about my MS on dates than it was when I told my employer.
  • I’m glad I came “out.” My coworkers are very respectful, and I found out my boss’ wife also has MS.
  • Had I not told my employer what was going on, I would have missed out on being connected with the best MS specialist in my area. My boss happens to have connections who were able to get me in with my doctor, who was not accepting new patients at the time. Telling my employer was the best thing I ever did! Also, it is my personality to be very open, so it was never even a question in my mind. I do realize though, that in other positions, it might not have been the same situation, and I might have kept it under wraps if I knew it might mean keeping my job or not.

It’s important to note that there are employment discrimination laws in place in the US to protect you, particularly through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A legal resource such as the State Office of Protection and Advocacy, The Job Accommodation Network, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may also be able to assist in helping an individual to determine what rights they have regarding disclosure, workplace accommodations, and/ or determining whether discrimination may have occurred after a disclosure is made. It is unfortunate that some people have had negative experiences when sharing their MS story with employers and/or colleagues. One can hope that this will improve over time, especially with an increasing awareness of MS.

Have you told your employer that you have MS? What was your experience? What advice would you give someone with MS (or any other chronic condition) regarding disclosing this information?

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My Silent Hero

By: Sheryl Skutelsky

After years of having every part of my body in pain at various times through my twenties, I’ll never forget the day in October 2001 when I finally heard those words, “You have multiple sclerosis.” I didn’t yet really know what those words meant, but I was relieved to finally have a name for what doctors had been telling me for years was just stress.

I went home that day to look MS up on the computer, and I have never stopped learning. Knowledge is power, and I truly believe that my attitude has a great deal to do with how I live my life with MS.

I was very excited when I was offered the opportunity to write for MSAA because it meant I could reach more people with the valuable lessons that I’ve learned over the years.

I’ve been blogging about MS now for years, having covered topics that range from explaining what MS is all about to how to deal with summer heat. However, I have never written about the person that has been my rock through all my ups and downs.

My partner not only has to imagine what it’s like each day for me to deal with pins and needles, numbness, shooting pain, aching, dizziness, nausea, and overwhelming fatigue, but she also has to live with the same uncertainty of waking up each day and not knowing if we can do the things that we had planned. She is the only one that truly understands how I can look so good on the outside and feel so miserable on the inside. She gets it when I have to cancel plans because I did too much the day before.

When we met, I was relatively healthy. She did ask me what hurt every day. It got to the point where she asked me if my left earlobe hurt because she was just trying to find some part of me that didn’t hurt, but she didn’t sign up for a chronic disease. That news came as a shock to both of us.

Thanks to MS, I’ve learned to truly take one day at a time. I wake up grateful for each day that I can walk, but I also wake up grateful that I have someone in my life that will stand by me no matter what. It would do us all good if we remembered to let our significant others know how much we appreciate all that they have done for us by sharing in living with the uncertainty of life with MS.

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

 

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