2013: The Year I Found My MS Voice (Thanks, Dad)

By: Jeri Burtchell 

After 15 years with multiple sclerosis (MS), I was sure I had learned all I needed to know about the disease. I’d heard every old wives’ tale, learned about every treatment, and Googled every symptom–real or imagined. Turns out I learned more in 2013 than my entire decade-and-a-half had taught me previously.

Years ago, my dad encouraged me to become a writer. Why, I had no clue. I’d never written anything he’d read except those anxiety-ridden letters from overseas as a young Army wife. Pleas for domestic advice, they had my folks in tears. Not from worry or concern, but the kind you cry when you laugh so hard you can’t catch your breath.

Dad saw a talent I never saw, but I never forgot his words. So when a friend suggested I apply for a writing job posted on Facebook, I thought why not? I believe in stepping through doors that open for you. If you don’t like what’s on the other side, you can always turn tail and run.

Imagine my surprise when I actually landed the gig. I was officially a freelance writer, covering the MS News for www.healthline.com. After my first article published, I squealed when I saw my byline. But writing a weekly article about MS would be challenging. How could there be “news” every single week? No need to worry.

I’ve stayed quite busy since I donned a reporter’s hat. There is so much going on in research now that even if I wrote a daily article I still wouldn’t cover it all.

From the exciting news that researchers in Germany have successfully rebooted the immune systems of some MS patients, to the less than great news that red wine may worsen MS, this past year has been an eye-opener.

My friends were star-struck when I interviewed Shemar Moore from Criminal Minds about his Bike MS event, but my own heart fluttered when I interviewed Dr. Steven Jacobson, Chief of the Viral Immunology Section at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke regarding Epstein-Barr Virus and MS. I guess I’m a bit quirky when it comes to who attains “rock star” status in my world. I’m an unscientific science nerd now and MS stands for More Science, please.

It’s been a fascinating journey to live a writer’s life. Every week is a new topic, with MS the theme. Granted, some news is disappointing (the red wine, again), but there is a constant flow of MS news and that is reassuring to me. Knowing there are people out there who’ve dedicated their lives to finding the answers for us gives me hope.

So when asked what I’ve learned looking back on 2013, it would be to keep digging for the truth. To share the facts that surface each time a researcher publishes a paper on their work in the field of MS.

Having to read those papers and form intelligent-sounding questions to use in my interviews has been an ongoing lesson itself. Lucky for me, I love my job.

My most important takeaway from 2013 is that I’ve seen how valuable each of us are who live with this disease. Research would come to a screeching halt and be nothing but unproven theories if not for us. The real heroes are the volunteers who give of themselves to get us closer to a cure.

Research should be something we all consider, not just those out of options. Studies covering everything from new disease modifying therapies to fatigue, cognitive issues and more are enrolling all the time. You can browse through them using a new tool that Healthline just launched. Even if you don’t intend to join, it should give you renewed hope that a cure could be close.

But does the idea of ingesting a mystery medication in the name of science seem a little too sci-fi for you? Relax! That’s not the only way to get involved.

Sites like www.PatientsLikeMe.com give us the opportunity to engage in research by taking surveys. When you answer questions about your health, you are contributing to a gold mine of data that will help researchers in their quest for a cure.

So, while my Dad never lived to see the day I became a published author, his encouragement lives on in my heart and mind. He was right all along. I just needed to go through that door and find my reason to write. I never would have guessed, all those years ago, that my voice would come after getting MS.

So here’s to 2014! May it bring us good health and happiness, and More Science, please!

References:

*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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Work, work, work…

In today’s world, work tends to be one of the main focal points of everyday conversation. What work you do, how long you’ve been doing it, and what work you hope to do in the future become areas of focus. Therefore it can be difficult when some of these conversation starters touch on a subject that’s a little less defined for some people, especially those having challenges in a job position due to a disability.

Employment concerns and issues can arise for all individuals within the workforce, and when you throw a disease like multiple sclerosis into the mix these issues can cause frustration and confusion. Some individuals have difficulties deciding which work arena would be most appropriate for their skill set and abilities, while others question how long they will be able to continue the work they are currently doing. These are all relevant and important questions to consider, as many find themselves faced with these thoughts. What’s important to know is that work issues are something you can discuss with others so you are not faced with these questions alone. Your doctor, healthcare and social work professionals, family, friends and other resources may be able to assist in this process.

There are also other outlets of information and resources where one can possibly find assistance with employment issues. A Vocational Rehabilitation office is a resource throughout each state that is designed to assist those with disabilities on information and resources regarding employment changes. There is also a resource called the Job Accommodation Network, www.askjan.org that can offer information regarding workplace accommodations which can create greater accessibility to those with disabilities in the workplace. If you’re experiencing workplace issues you’re welcome to call the MSAA Helpline at phone (800) 532-7667, ext. 154 or email us at msquestions@mymsaa.org. Again, though employment issues can be challenging and create many difficult questions, there are potential resources to help you along the way.

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