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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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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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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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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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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Celebrating My Birthday Despite MS

Pic 1

By: Matt Cavallo 

This weekend we were celebrating my birthday. A birthday is generally a cause for celebration, but when you are living with multiple sclerosis, sometimes you don’t feel like celebrating. Especially if you live near Phoenix and high temperature on the day of your celebration was 111 degrees. I was feeling fatigued, overheated, and wanted to stay in bed all day. I was considering cancelling the dinner, but there was one party guest that had been waiting months for this night.

I had promised my son that we would go to Rustler’s Rooste, a famous Phoenix steakhouse, known for serving Rattlesnake. My oldest son is currently obsessed with snakes. A couple months back, he attended a birthday party that had an entertainer with exotic animals. At that party, he got to handle a snake and has wanted one ever since. I made the mistake of mentioning to him that a Phoenix steak house served Rattlesnake as an appetizer. He made me promise that I would take him for Rattlesnake. Even though I didn’t feel like going out, he needed me to live up to that promise.

As I laid in bed before I needed to get up and get ready to go to the steakhouse, I contemplated how MS had stopped me from going to other social events in the past. For a period of time, I had isolated myself from my friends and family because of how I felt. It got to the point where people stopped inviting me to events because they knew I wasn’t going to show. Now, here I was on the verge of letting MS fatigue and heat intolerance affect celebrating my own birthday and sacrifice the promise I made to my son.

As the clock ticked closer to our reservations, my fatigue and heat intolerance were not letting up. Neither was my son’s talk of finally getting to live his dream of eating Rattlesnake. I had a decision to make: was I going to let MS win and stay home, or was I going to fulfill my promise to my son?

Despite the MS fatigue and heat, I rose to the occasion. I took an ice cold shower, and we went over to the steakhouse. The boys had a great time, and so did I. I was happy that I had forced myself to go. Cooling myself down helped me handle the heat. More importantly, I didn’t let my MS keep me from making memories with my boys. The biggest surprise was that my boys liked eating the Rattlesnake. My oldest said it tasted liked fried chicken!

*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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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

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The Eternal Optimist, or How to Walk a Cat on a Leash

By: Jeri Burtchell

jeri blogI was just 11 when our family lived through a flood that filled our house with mud. When the water subsided we came home to survey the damage. Instead of lamenting over all we had lost, my dad laughed and pointed out that the cat box was still in perfect condition because it had floated all around the house. That was my first lesson in optimism.

His positive attitude was contagious and taught me to find the humor in things no matter how grim the situation.

But when I was diagnosed with MS in 1999 and then we lost my dad to cancer two years later, my eternal flame of optimism started to flicker.

It was hard dealing with the disease, but even harder to find the bright side when my heart was filled with sorrow. Eventually, my dark cloud lifted. I realized that even though I can’t change the fact that he was gone or undo my diagnosis, my happiness is a choice I can control. As Sheryl Jacobson Skutelsky wrote in a great article, “Gratitude equals a positive MS attitude.”

My need to see the bright side of every situation became my coping mechanism. Positive thinking has forced me to step outside my comfort zone to explore new things in life. If you let all of the “what-ifs” hold you back, you will live in darkness where the landslide into sorrow and pity are only one negative thought away.

So every day I try new things. And every day I try to find the humor in something. The two often combine as, (more often than I like to admit), humor winds up being the salve I put on some of my not-so-great ideas when I go trying new things.

Which came in handy when I thought I could walk a cat on a leash despite having never seen it done before.

Tweak is my oldest son’s Flame Point Siamese cat. One day he disappeared and was gone without a trace. Two weeks later he reappeared in my son’s back yard, having spent at least one of his nine lives while he was gone. Tweak was missing fur and skin from his hips to his tail. The vet said it looked like he’d gotten trapped in a fence and ripped his way out. He came home with me so I could nurse him back to health.

Tweak is the most loving, good-natured cat you’ll ever meet. He’d rather sit on your lap and purr than do anything else. Even in pain, he never displayed so much as a fang. He just purred, thankful to be alive.

But Tweak is a former indoor-outdoor cat, and despite his sunny disposition, after a few weeks of being cooped up inside, he started to get cabin fever.

I thought to myself that there must be some way to let Tweak get some sunshine and fresh air. As so often is the case with my “brilliant ideas,” if I listen hard, I can almost hear my dad laugh.

I got a harness made for extra small dogs because, for some reason, they don’t make them for cats. And I got a leash.

Tweak willingly let me strap the harness around him. But once outside, he stood frozen, not knowing what to make of his new surroundings.

You’re probably thinking he made a mad dash and escaped right away. You’re wrong.

No, I was proud that my idea was working as planned. Tweak let me lead him right down the walkway to the yard out front as if he’d been on a leash all his life. He rolled in the grass and soaked up the sun. He purred while I scratched him behind the ears.

We had a moment of pure Zen.

Then the neighbor started his car.

In an instant, Tweak began channeling Houdini. He flopped around at the end of his leash like a trout on a fishing line before one quick duck-tuck-and-back-up move gave him the freedom he craved.

He only got about ten yards closer to the house, when I walked right up to him and picked him up. He was purring, my heart was pounding. I was relieved I hadn’t let my son’s cat escape.

And even though it didn’t go as planned, I can look back and laugh.

My dad taught me lessons in finding humor, and now Tweak is teaching me about being happy no matter what my physical circumstances. The takeaway from both is that attitude is a choice, and I choose to be optimistic.

Even if I have to learn the hard way why you never see cats on leashes.

Resources:
http://contributors.healthline.com/voices/gratitude-positive-ms-attitude

*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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Making the Best of a Bad Situation

By: Matt Cavallo

In terms of the heat, spring is quickly turning to summer in Arizona. Daily temperatures are already constantly in the nineties, creeping closer to triple digits every day. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, this is a problem. As the heat levels increase, so does my fatigue. Each day for me is becoming a battle of will and determination to accomplish simple, everyday tasks. My refuge from the heat is to hibernate in my cool, air-conditioned house.

Recently, I was at work and received a call from my wife that I wasn’t expecting. She told me that the central air-conditioner in the house went out. She went on to say that the AC repairman said the motor was dead and the entire unit needed to be replaced. The sticker shock of what a new AC unit costs was another blow, but with my MS, there was also no way I could afford not to replace the AC.

As I hung up the phone, I started to feel defeated and stressed. It always seems that just when I am starting to get ahead, I figure out a way to fall behind. As I reflected on the situation, I realized that it was out of my control. So what was I to do now? There are all kind of events in life that we don’t plan for, and this was a big one. I could let the worry, stress and financial considerations of the situation bring me down into a negative place, or I could look deep inside myself and somehow find the positive.

I decided that I was going to be positive. The AC was twenty years old, too small for the house and a real drain on our energy bill. We had talked about replacing it for years and this situation was forcing our hand. When I put it in my mind that getting a new AC was good for us, the negative circumstances started to change. We had a friend that could install the AC for a reasonable price. The vendor didn’t have the AC unit in stock that we purchased, so for the same price they gave us a bigger, more energy efficient unit. That unit then qualified for a $500 tax credit. The best moment, however, was the joy my four year old received as we watched the crane remove the old unit and then put the new unit on the roof. He was so excited to see the construction that it made me excited to share in that moment with him.

When life throws unexpected challenges at you, how do you handle them? You can choose to be negative or positive. I choose to make lemonade out of lemons and then pour myself a nice big glass.

*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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What do you wish people knew about living life with MS?

There is often an unspoken understanding among people who have been diagnosed with MS, but it can be quite difficult for those without this condition to fully comprehend what day-to-day life is like for someone with MS. The effects of MS are far-reaching, impacting individuals physically, cognitively, and emotionally, with symptoms often unseen.

We asked the MultipleSclerosis.Net community what they wished people knew about what it is like to live with MS and to share some of the common misconceptions associated with this condition. More than 300 responded with insightful feedback. Here is a summary of the responses we received from our community members:

 MS is real, not an excuse:

  • No one chooses to have MS, nor can we control how it affects us
  • Not all MS symptoms are visible; you may look okay on the outside, but feel like you are falling apart on the inside
  • People often make the assumption that we are faking our symptoms or that we are hypochondriacs because they can’t see what we are experiencing
  • The limitations associated with MS aren’t necessarily visible, and it’s not possible for others to push us past our own limits
  • MS can be both extremely painful and exhausting, and at times we just need to rest

MS is unique to each person and is not predictable:

  • Every patient experiences MS progression at a different pace; it is not a “one size fits all” condition
  • Symptoms can change daily, or even hourly
  • Having MS can be a roller coaster ride with ups, downs, twists, and turns, but there is nothing fun about it
  • It is impossible to understand what it is like to live with MS unless you actually have it
  • It may seem like MS is trying to take away your self-worth every day by slowly making you unable to do the things that you were able to do yesterday
  • Even if yesterday was a particularly difficult day, today may be better
  • MS can knock you off your feet – literally and figuratively

It can sometimes be both stressful and depressing to have MS:

  • MS can take away our dignity by slowly and quietly taking away our mobility and cognitive thinking
  • MS is a multifaceted condition that can be incredibly difficult to live with; it not only affects us physically, but mentally and emotionally as well

The effects of MS are constant and can impact more than just the individual with the diagnosis:

  • We never stop thinking about our MS, even when we are feeling well
  • MS diagnosis can be devastating, affecting both the patient and his or her loved ones
  • We need our friends and family to be open-minded and understanding

There is no cure for MS, but it is not a death sentence (and can make you stronger in many ways): 

  • There is a continued need for research with the hope of one day finding a cure
  • There is no miracle potion that will cure MS
  • MS doesn’t change who a person is, but it can change what a person is able to do
  • Hearing a doctor tell you that you have MS can be incredibly frightening, but over time, people with MS are able to educate themselves about their condition and face it head-on
  • MS isn’t always debilitating
  • It is not contagious
  • MS is associated with many challenges, but these challenges can ultimately make you stronger

What do you wish people knew about MS? What do you think are the most common misconceptions about MS?

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