July 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.

July Artist of the Month:
Teresa Grzeslo – North Barrington, IL

 Flight Into Light by Teresa Grzeslo

About the Artist:

“I am a visual learner and creativity has been a valued part of my life. I was encouraged in artistic endeavors yet chose the healthcare field to work, using artistic expressions as a therapeutic tool. Over the years, I’ve dabbled in a variety of crafts and hobbies. I volunteered in school activities promoting creativity. Four years ago, I learned of MSAA’s artistic showcase. Given the theme of ‘Change,’ I decided to take the challenge. Since then, each year I look forward to the challenge of conveying my ideas through art…”
Read more

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

Share

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.

Share

Why I Choose to Medicate for my Multiple Sclerosis

I know that there are a lot of people with Relapsing forms of MS who wonder why we are encouraged to medicate. Especially, when these medications do not ‘stop’ progression, but have only shown to slow progression. It’s a big decision to make when choosing to medicate, if you do plan to do so.

I can honestly say that looking at the ‘world of MS’ from 20 years ago to now, it seems that disability rates have improved, along with patients Quality of Life.

I know that a lot of the MS medications available have side effects that are associated with the treatment, but the way I look at it is, at least we have options. We aren’t without medications to help slow our progression anymore. We also don’t have to all take ONE certain medication either.

I haven’t been one of those patients with MS, who gets on and stays on the first medication that I chose. Not one medication works for everyone living with MS. I have changed medications multiple times since my diagnosis, not because I ‘wanted’ to, but because I needed to.

So, the question people ask me a lot is, “Why do you choose to medicate, if you have failed multiple treatment options?” This isn’t an easy question to answer by any means. For one, I’m scared. I’m scared of the unknown… I’m scared to know what would happen if I didn’t medicate. Even though these medications don’t promise to STOP progression, they have shown to slow it… and I really don’t want to know what my life would be like if these medications weren’t slowing at least some of my progression.

Another response I have is, why not? What do I have to lose? Before I actually got diagnosed I was miserable and could barely function, and ended up being in a wheelchair. (I am no longer in a wheelchair, by the way.) I’ve already been at my lowest and it’s not somewhere I want to go again.

Whenever you read anything about multiple sclerosis, it states that it is a progressive illness. I don’t want to take my chances to see just how ‘progressive’ my disease can be.

So, as long as there are options available for me try, I will. I know that having flu-like symptoms with an interferon, or GI issues with Tecfidera aren’t pleasant, but the truth is, it could be a lot worse if we don’t deal with those side effects and get on a treatment.

Now I’m not just saying I play ‘eenie-meenie-minie-mo’ to choose a medication – this takes a lot of research and discussing these options with my neurologist and family. Something I use when wanting to compare the medications is MSAA’s S.E.A.R.C.H. Program. There are many resources available to those with MS when trying to decide which medication to take, so make use of them.

The medications available to MS patients have been increasing since I was diagnosed in 2010. Try to stay informed and educate yourself about what’s going on with MS Clinical Research. This way you know if a new medication for MS is on the horizon.

MSAA even has a Research Update publication that you can check out to learn more. As most of you know, I’m a volunteer for MSWorld.org, and we attend Multiple Sclerosis Conferences, helping to keep everyone at home up-to-date on all things MS. You can view all of MSWorld’s Conference Coverage at the Conference Center or YouTube Channel.

Best Wishes!

Ashley Ringstaff – Volunteer for MSWorld.org

Share

Keeping Your Cool During the Warmer Months to Help Manage MS Heat-Related Symptoms

The summer months are upon us, which means warmer temperatures and the potential for a worsening in MS symptoms. Fatigue is one of the more common symptoms of MS, and it can impact a person’s mood, sleep, and overall quality of life.1 As many of us know, there is a well-established link between MS-related fatigue and heat sensitivity,2 so the warmer summer months can be especially challenging for a person with MS.

Last summer, one of the MultipleSclerosis.net contributors, Ashley Ringstaff, wrote about some of her trips and tricks for dealing with the summer heat. Since Ashley lives in central Texas, she is no stranger to brutally hot summers. She also has 2 very energetic children who love being outside, so staying in an air-conditioned house all day isn’t an option, even if she wanted it to be. Ashley’s recommends using cooling products (not just cooling vests), including those that are available through MSAA’s Cooling Program and Polar Products. She also uses an outdoor garden hose mister and outdoor fans when she is sitting on her porch, and she even likes the inexpensive handheld fans when she is following her boys around. She noted that staying hydrated, is of course, also extremely important.

Caregivers also understand the importance of helping a person with MS stay cool to minimize heat-related symptoms. Last summer, Patrick Leer shared his story about making lifestyle adjustments to help his wife during the warm summer months. He made sure to keep a cooler packed with water bottles and a neck cooler that he received at an MS walk. Patrick also mentioned unique considerations for planning a family vacation at the beach – he would book a room with a view of the beach so his wife could stay inside with air-conditioning and enjoy watching their daughter play outside in the sand. They even managed to find a beach hotel with an ice rink, which seemed to be made for families just like theirs!

Because heat can exacerbate MS-related fatigue, we recently asked our Facebook community if they experience more fatigue in warmer months, and how they manage MS-related fatigue. Here are some of the highlights from our community members’ responses:

Managing MS-Related Fatigue in the Warmer Months

Keeping cool using different devices

  • Soak small towels in water for your neck, face and top of your head and reload it at water fountains or hoses.
  • Use a cooling vest.
  • Carry ice packs in your pockets with a travel sized spray bottle full of cold water.
  • Carry a small damp towel in the spring and summer to help cool your head and face.
  • Use Frog Togg cooling cloths.
  • Wet bands that you put around your neck really help; also drink plenty of water, use air conditioners and fans.
  • Take cool showers.
  • Some individuals may benefit by wearing long sleeves and a hat when outside. Sweating is nature’s way of keeping you cool, so long sleeves can absorb perspiration and keep you cooler. Limiting time outside to 15- or 20-minute periods with rest in between can also help.

 Consuming cold food/beverages

  • Eating crushed ice throughout the day can help.
  • Keeping a cold drink with you helps tremendously so you can cool yourself from the inside out. Iced beverages and popsicles help.

 Other tools to combat heat-related fatigue

  • Exercise helps but it is sometimes difficult to shake the symptoms to get up the energy to go exercise.
  • Acupuncture and reflexology can help.
  • Try to get as much done in the morning to mid afternoon.
  • If prescribed by your doctor, taking a medication such as Provigil® (modafinil) that promotes wakefulness can help.

MultipleSclerosis.net moderator, Christie Germans, mentioned that she relies heavily on air conditioning as well, and she’s able to get a discount on her electricity bill due to her MS diagnosis. She recommends exploring your gas/electricity provider’s website for discounts available for medical needs. Multiple sclerosis will likely be listed in the “qualifying medical needs” list. Or, contact your neurologist’s office. You may be able to save as much as 30% on your bill! For her full response, click here.

Do you experience more symptoms in the warmer months? How do you manage MS-related fatigue?

References

1. Induruwa I, Constantinescu CS, Gran B. Fatigue in multiple sclerosis – a brief review. J Neurol Sci. 2012;323:9-15.

2. Marino FE. Heat reactions in multiple sclerosis: An overlooked paradigm in the study of comparative fatigue. Int. J Hyperthermia. 2009;25:34-40.

Share

Pushing the Limit When You Have Multiple Sclerosis

rsz_shutterstock_134305307

Physical exercise for individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) has been a hot topic over the last few years. While exercise is always encouraged to promote a healthy lifestyle and to increase physical function, many are still unaware of the types of exercise that can benefit those with MS.

At the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC) conference last month, I attended a number of wonderful programs regarding exercise and MS, affirming the importance of an exercise routine. Many discussions were had regarding the level of physical activity and ways to work and improve the body’s ability.

In a recent article published by the Rocky Mountain MS Center, Dr. Timothy Vollmer discusses the importance of pushing oneself to the point of fatigue once a week during exercise. Similar to how a person might train for a marathon or endurance sport, Dr. Vollmer explains that when exercising using a normal routine, in order to see improvement one needs to push the limit of exertion once a week. By pushing the body’s limit, the body adapts and grows, making the activity less strenuous over time.

In many meetings at CMSC, researchers also discussed the idea of working the body to physical exertion. This is a major change in the minds of those in the MS community. Although the importance of exercise is stressed, research has not yet described the level of exercise that may be effective. I look forward to seeing how the paradigm shifts from “taking it easy” to “pushing beyond your limit” and what the research has to offer the MS community.

It is always recommended to start and continually monitor your fitness routine with a professional such as a physical therapist (PT). The PT can help determine your body’s capabilities and knows what your body’s limits are. A safe and effective fitness routine may help to improve physical function and promote a better quality of life.

Share

Did You Ever Have One of Those Days?

rsz_young_african-american_woman_looking_distressed_and_talking_to_man

You know the type of day I’m talking about. The kind where it seems like NOTHING can go right. You’re late for something, something breaks, unexpected news is received, and there isn’t enough time in the day to deal with everything? Sometimes it seems like all the elements of the universe got together to plan out a bad day for you to have. It may feel that way when these types of days sneak up on you.

We’ve all experienced our share of bad days, and they seem to stick with us. But I wonder, when we have good days, do they stay with us just as strongly as these other types of days? It doesn’t always seem like it. Sometimes it’s easier to remember a bad day than to recall a good one. But what if we were to do just that-to purposely recount a good day we’ve had? What would that look like? Sure, with bad days we complain, grieve, and vent, but with good days, how do we describe these? How can we pocket and stow away those good moments so that we can retrieve them and re-experience them during one of these other days?

One idea is to write down your good experiences, that way you can take a look back at how the day played out and what good came of it. You can learn to be mindful of the good moments while they happen; when the good times are actively occurring, soak it all in, notice how you feel in that moment, stay present with your breath and what’s going on around you. So that way when you try to remember the good moments, they’ll be fresh in your mind, and you can hold onto them like precious fragments the universe brought you that day made especially for you. Recalling good moments and positive memories can help get you through those other types of days, so why not reminisce more often about the good?

Share

Expediting Travel When You Have Multiple Sclerosis

rsz_older_african-american_woman_with_cane_2

If you are traveling this summer, you may need to do a little extra planning to ensure you have the best experience possible on your trip.

Groups like Able to Travel sponsored by the United Spinal Association act as travel agents for accessible vacation planning and accessible guided tours and cruises. You can also do it yourself by calling ahead to hotels, restaurants, and venues to ensure accessibility of rooms, bathrooms, and fun activities.

If you are using an airport, you can actually call the TSA 72 hours in advance of your trip to arrange for a quick experience getting through security checkpoints (http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilities-and-medical-conditions). Additionally, many airlines offer assistive services for boarding and navigating the airport, so be sure to make the airline and flight attendants aware of any needs you may have in advance of your flight.

There are also helpful websites like Flying with Disability which may offer helpful tips and suggesting for easing travel burdens.

Remember to do your homework before paying for services or using a company you are unfamiliar with to plan your trip or travel with, and most importantly – enjoy your trip!

Share

The Benefits of Aquatic Exercise and MS

By: Matt Cavallo

matt blog

Walking was always something that I took for granted until that one day that I couldn’t do it anymore. Then, as I watched the world walk by me, I yearned to be up on my feet ambling about. The problem was that no matter how strong my mind and determination were, my legs would simply not respond. It was hard for me to understand that the problem was in my spine and no amount of mental fortitude could overcome the spinal lesions caused by multiple sclerosis.

I was confined to small, assisted steps. I was able to travel only from my bed or couch to the bathroom and back. My wife brought food and drinks to me when she was home but when she was at work, I usually didn’t eat or drink. I was ashamed that I lost functionality the way I did. I didn’t want people to take pity upon me. I had always been this big, strong athletic guy and now I couldn’t even walk down three steps to get out of my house.

My doctor was confident that I could regain functionality and learn how to walk again. I wasn’t so sure. He said that the Solu-medrol would act to reduce the swelling in my spine, and little by little sensation would return to my legs. He did caution me that I would have to relearn how to walk and ordered me to have aquatic therapy. I was skeptical, but I gave it a shot.

The results were truly amazing. When I started exercising in the pool, my legs felt lighter and easier to move. The exercises really help to strengthen and balance me on my feet. While I was in the water, I felt free again. After three weeks of aquatic therapy, I was walking with a cane for short distances. I was not negotiating steps or hills, but I could get around the house on my own. More importantly, I was able to go to the bathroom again by myself. I was amazed at my progress. In just three short weeks, I was completely independent with walking.

Today, if you saw me in the street you wouldn’t think that I ever lost function of my legs. One of my secrets is that I continue to work out in the pool. I live in Arizona and can use my pool most of the year.

Now, if you are having immediate problems with strength, balance or mobility, you should contact your physician right away. If you are looking for a strengthening exercise routine that you can do on your own, you’ve come to the right place.

MSAA has a new online Aquatic Center that you can access at http://SwimForMS.org. The Aquatic Center has tools and inspirational videos for the MS community. Some of the resources include: guides for patients and healthcare professionals, a handy tip sheet about aquatic exercise and MS, information on how to find an aquatics facility in your area, and inspirational videos from three individuals sharing their personal stories about how water activities have positively impacted their lives.

Even if you don’t live in Arizona, you can still turn any pool, at any time into your own personal gym while raising awareness for 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/

Share

Summer Fun

rsz_young_couple_going_for_a_walk_with_two_young_children_and_stroller

So it’s getting warmer, the sun is out a bit longer in the evenings, and the school kiddies are getting that familiar itch that the school year is coming to a close. Summer is almost officially here! But what is there to do during those long summer days and nights? Let’s be creative. Think outside the box for activities that could be carried out during this time. Too hot to go outdoors? Why not try a museum, the movies, the mall or some other cool, indoor event? Summer travel can be a challenge when it’s too warm, so how about carrying a cool snack with you, like fruit for a little pick-me-up, or wearing lighter layers of clothing to be more comfortable when traveling. Summer nights can be a little cooler than the days, so gardening, attending a sporting event, reading outside or taking a walk during these cooler times can be refreshing. It can be fun just taking a look at the activities going on in your neighborhood; different community events and occasions may also mark these summer days. Take a look at your local church calendar or the community posting board at your local grocery store to get an idea of local events.

No matter the activity, just remember to enjoy the times shared with friends and family, and do what’s fun for you!

Share

Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis

rsz_doctor_talking_to_female_patient (2)

Recently, new studies have begun to investigate a correlation between multiple sclerosis and Vitamin D. And, while it may be tempting to make changes to your daily routine based on the information presented in these studies, it is always important to discuss these changes with your neurologist first. As this information is passed throughout the MS community, it is important to be mindful of how your body absorbs Vitamin D.

One of the more natural ways the body absorbs Vitamin D is through the skin from sunlight. However, with the increase in cancerous skin diseases such as Melanoma, individuals are more vigilant regarding the exposure their skin receives and are using sunscreens to try and block some of the sun’s UV light. With this in mind, it may be important to talk to your doctor about other ways to increase the body’s exposure to Vitamin D. For many, taking supplements and being mindful to eat more foods enriched with Vitamin D assists in increasing the body’s Vitamin D levels.

Always consult with your doctor regarding the use of any supplements or in modifying your diet. Although you may find the foods and supplements to be helpful, they could also be harmful to individuals if not monitored closely.

 

Share