Celebrating My Birthday Despite MS

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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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New Year’s Resolution Follow Up

By: Matt Cavallo 

Raise your hand if you have stuck to your New Year’s resolution. Believe it or not, we are a quarter of the way through 2014 and reserving the right to recycle our resolutions for next year. I’ll be the first to throw myself under that bus! Seeing as we are a quarter of the way through the year, I wanted to follow up on some of the goals that I set and challenge myself to recommit to my original 2014 goals.

In January, I wrote that I was carrying about twenty one pounds of extra weight. This extra weight was making my legs weak and numb, my fatigue levels were high, and my clothes were uncomfortable. I resolved to lose twenty one pounds. My thinking was that in addition to my multiple sclerosis, the extra weight was contributing to the weakness in my legs and fatigue. My plan was to eat right, eat less and exercise more.

Eating right is a challenge to me. My line of work has me traveling the country almost every week. Seven out of eight weeks between January and February, I traveled. In fact, I am writing this right now on a flight from St. Louis back home to Phoenix. Between living in hotel rooms and the demands of my job, I didn’t have the strength or energy to get a healthy meal when there was a convenient drive-thru option. These eating decisions were the reason that I was struggling to button my pants!

Despite traveling extensively, I was determined to not have to buy new pants. I made the decision that I was going to lose weight on the road by changing my habits. First, I started with breakfast. The hotels that I stay at always have a breakfast buffet. There is an endless supply of bacon, eggs, toast and pastries. Most mornings I can smell the bacon long before I reach the buffet. As much as it pains me, the first change I made was skipping out of the buffet line and heading right to the yogurt and fruit. This change has been hard for me, and there are some days that I can’t resist a big breakfast, but I find that starting the day on the road with yogurt, fruit and a glass of water can be fulfilling and helps my digestive process.

For lunch, I have also been eating lighter. I work in hospitals, so I generally eat lunch at the cafeteria. The cafeterias generally tempt me with yummy burger, pizza or fried chicken options. Again I hold my nose and walk past temptation to the salad bar. I typically eat a salad and top it with some chicken. In the past, however, I would have smothered my healthy salad with a nice creamy ranch dressing, but lately I have opted for the lighter vinaigrettes. These dressings coat the salad easier, so you use less, and they are typically fewer calories than the creamy dressings I prefer.

These decisions that I make for breakfast and lunch afford me some slack at dinner. While my preference at the end of a long day of work on the road is for a double-stacked greasy drive-thru burger, large fries, and chocolate shake, I have been choosing healthier options. Instead of driving through, I place orders that force me to get out of the car. Instead of greasy, fried goodness, I have also been choosing lighter, grilled options.

The other thing that I am doing is consuming smaller portions. Part of it has to do with the fact that I don’t want to buy new pants, but I have found that once I cut back on my portion size, my body got used to it pretty fast. When I was consistently eating heavy meals, I needed more food. Now that I am eating less, I find that I get fuller faster. I am by nature a fast eater, who in the past would clean my plate before others around me had barely started. I now make a conscious effort to slow down and enjoy the food. By doing this, I don’t always have to clean my plate. Drinking more water throughout the day has also been a daily goal of mine. I found that some of my hunger may have been more related to being dehydrated than actually hungry.

With all of these changes, I have lost eleven pounds, which is halfway to my goal weight. My legs feel lighter, and I am less fatigued. And yes, my pants are now less of a struggle to button!

While I am winning the battle with diet, I am losing with exercise. I have made my annual post-resolution trip to the gym. I worked out, felt great and haven’t been back since! There is a free gym in every hotel where I stay, but I find myself alone in my room catching up TV shows or movies that I can’t watch at home because of the kids. I do tend to take the stairs instead of the elevator and keep true to my daily walks, but I know that I would feel so much better if I could just commit to working out.

So, a quarter into the year, and I am doing OK with my resolutions. I have lost half of my goal weight by making better eating decisions which included eating healthier and having smaller portion sizes. It was a struggle at first, but I feel better only ninety days into this year than I did last year. While I am doing well with diet, I have not followed through with exercise. Much like diet, once I establish a routine, I’ll be used to it and it will become natural. I am not there yet. However, New Year’s is not the only time for resolutions. You can recommit to feeling healthier anytime during the year. Are you accomplishing your resolutions? What are you going to do to get back on track? Invest in yourself because you are worth it, and be the change you want to be.

*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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Spring into Action

Spring into Action

Well, it’s officially spring… although I know a lot of people up north would disagree with the cold weather… but I thought I would talk about some of things that I do to “Spring into Action” around this time of year.

Since the weather is actually REALLY nice in Texas right now, I’ve been trying to spend a lot of time outside… and for those of you who enjoy the outdoors as much as I do, there are some things we need to take into account. Like… how long should we stay outside? For me, it’s all about reading the signs my body gives me. If I start to feel overheated, I go into shade, or go inside. If I’m REALLY overheated, like I get in the 100+ Degree Weather we have in Texas during the summer, a cold shower always helps!

Now, before it gets TOO hot outside, there are some things you can do that will help you manage the heat later on. Do you have any MS Cooling Packs? If not, I highly recommend checking out MSAA’s Cooling Distribution Program. I’ve come to find that the Cooling Neck & Upper Spine Wrap, from Polar Products, really cools my core temperature. Also, there are those little Wrist Cooling Wraps that help as well. Also, when sitting outside on those hot summer days, I LOVE my Cooling Seat Cushion. Now these are just my personal opinion that I’ve found through trying different types of cooling products that help me out, and that I also don’t have to put on under clothing.

When it comes to any type of cooling product used for Heat Intolerance & MS, I feel like it’s a personal preference. The ones listed above are what I use when I’m just sitting outside, watching the kids play, etc. But when it comes to doing things outside like going on walks, yard work, etc. This is when I would use my Cooling Vest. There are A LOT of different types to choose from, so again, personal preference. By clicking on any of the links above, it will take you to different things offered by Polar Products. But there are other Cooling Product Companies out there; I just listed the ones that I have personally used.

Now, I know that a lot of us made some promises to ourselves for the New Year to become more active, eat healthier, etc. I’ve been doing that… and I have a gym membership… and I can say that the exercise that I can do the easiest is swimming. I did make sure that the gym I got a membership to had an INDOOR pool, because with the way the weather has been lately, you never know what you’re going to get.

I’m not going to say it was REALLY easy beginning exercising regularly again, but I do enjoy it. I think one of the most frustrating things I’ve been dealing with is the fact that I was so used to what I was able to do BEFORE I got MS, when I was in Athletics in school, Swim Team and things like that. But I’ve come to the realization that if I don’t want to overdo and aggravate my MS & MS Symptoms, that I have to make a new routine. It takes time, but I feel like I have more energy now. I don’t go to the gym every day, but I do try and walk a little bit on the days that I don’t.

Now about this whole “eating healthy” thing… let me just say that I am a born & raised Texan, and I love my southern food and Mexican food… so this is a REALLY tough issue! I’m not being REALLY intense with it, but I am watching my portions and things like that. I won’t ever be able to stay away from carbs and all of that yummy stuff that I crave, so I decided I wasn’t going to make a plan that I wasn’t going to fully stick with. But by watching my portions and having small snacks in between meals, it’s pretty easy, for me anyway. Oh, and let me just tell you that I am a VERY picky eater and don’t eat the suggested fruits and vegetable intake that you’re supposed to, but I did find a yummy supplement at a health store that I mix with water in the morning and drink that with my breakfast (it tastes like candy, by the way) and that way, I have had my “suggested daily fruits and veggie intake.”

Okay – I hope I didn’t overload you with all that information, but I did want to cover a few of those topics that I know are really popular right now. I hope everyone is outside enjoying the weather- if it’s not too cold, that is.

For more information about Resources for your MS, check out MSWorld’s Resource Center.

Best Wishes!

Ashley Ringstaff – Volunteer for MSWorld.org

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Is There a Relationship Between MS, Allergies and Histamine?

By: Matt Cavallo 

Spring is in the air. So is pollen. With the pollen, my seasonal allergies are in full bloom. I am still sneezing from the last time I stopped to smell the roses. With my seasonal allergies at their peak, I wondered: is there a correlation between multiple sclerosis and allergies?

When I started my research, I was instantly disappointed. All of the initial research pointed to no correlation between MS and allergies. In fact, a 2011 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) titled, Association between allergies and multiple sclerosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis, concluded that there was no connection between allergic diseases and MS.

While the initial research suggested no direct correlation between MS and allergies, the deeper I dug, a relationship between histamine and multiple sclerosis started to evolve. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, histamine is a “biologically active substance found in a great variety of living organisms…In an allergic reaction—the immune system’s hypersensitivity reaction to usually harmless foreign substances (called antigens in this context) that enter the body—mast cells release histamine in inordinate amounts.” The definition goes on to explain that the antigens can cause inflammation. After reading this research, my questions became: Does the inflammation caused by these antigens contribute to MS symptoms? And is this partly why I feel worse when my allergies are at their peak?

My questions lead me to research more about histamine and MS. As it turns out there are research studies ongoing exploring the relationship between MS and histamine. A study of histamines and MS on Science Daily found an “unexpected connection between pathways involved in autoimmunity and allergy and suggests previously unrecognized connections between these very different types of immune responses.” The NCBI concluded in a 2013 study, Elevated CSF histamine levels in multiple sclerosis patients, that MS patients had higher histamine levels than the control group and that further exploration was needed.

I am not a scientist, nor am I a doctor. I’m just a guy with MS and bad seasonal allergies. I know that when I feel crummy due to my allergies, that my MS symptoms seem to flare. There are two sides to the argument: one suggests no relationship between MS and allergies, the other suggests that a key immune response to allergies, histamine, may play a role in multiple sclerosis. Until they are able to figure it out, I’m still not going to stop and smell the roses. Hopefully with science and research, one day I will be able to.

Resources:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20456246
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/267004/histamine
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110131133317.htm
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23659456

*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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I’m being followed by a Moon Shadow

By: Matt Cavallo

When I was diagnosed with MS in the spring of 2005, I was completely devastated. In my darkest hours, I believed that my hopes and dreams were over. I was convinced that I was going to lose my job and wouldn’t be able to pay any of my bills. I thought that Jocelyn, who was only 27 at the time, should leave me and start over with someone who didn’t have a chronic illness. I didn’t think it was fair for her to care for a sick man at such a young age. I also didn’t think that we would be able to have children. Not only was being a dad a dream of mine, but I didn’t want to deprive Jocelyn of the joys of motherhood. Or if we were able to have children, I didn’t want to be a burden on the family and have my kids growing up with a disabled father.

I stayed in this depression for months after my diagnosis. I built a wall around me and pushed everyone out to the periphery. Multiple sclerosis had changed me. The man in the mirror no longer looked like me. My spirit had been drained and replaced by a pale, sad man with raccoon eyes. Not only did I not look like myself, I wasn’t acting like myself either. I was becoming short with people and increasingly negative. Other times I would be quiet and retreat within myself. Being an extroverted conversationalist, those around me at the time couldn’t figure out why I wouldn’t carry on a simple conversation.

A lot of it had to do with how I felt the world around me perceived me. Many people who talked to me after my diagnosis weren’t sure what multiple sclerosis was and expected me to be in a wheelchair when they saw me. Others would say positive things like, “you look great” or “it could be worse”. Most compliments ended up making me feel worse and more isolated. I felt like no one, not even Jocelyn, understood me. I felt like I was alone on an island and that no one else on the planet knew what it felt like to be me.

As soon as I was able to operate a car again on my own, I drove by myself to a beach I had often frequented as a child.  I needed to be there by myself, alone with my thoughts.  I sat behind the wheel of my Ford Ranger in a parking space near the beach wall and looked out towards the ocean. Trying to make sense of my diagnosis, I watched the waves crash.

Between the sound of the waves, a song popped into the jukebox of my mind. It was a familiar song, one from my youth: Moon Shadow, by Cat Stevens. I started humming the lyrics to the chorus, but couldn’t remember the words. I needed to know why I was thinking about that song at that moment. I sped off toward my parent’s house and grabbed the Cat Steven’s Great Hits CD from their collection. I then got back in the truck and drove with Moon Shadow on repeat.

I listened intently to the song and concentrated on the message behind the lyrics. The lyrics spun a story of a man who lost his legs, eyes, hands and mouth. It struck me that I could lose these same functions because of MS. I realized that the initials of Moon Shadow were MS. Then it hit me: I was being followed by a Moon Shadow. A wave of emotion hit me. I was too young to be disabled. There was so much I still wanted to accomplish in life. I felt lost and scared for what my future held.

As I listened to Moon Shadow for the seventh time in a row, my panic turned to calm.  Although the man in the song knew he could lose all these physical functions, he was going to be alright.  That was the first time I realized I’m going to be alright too.

I was still too overwhelmed at that time to communicate my fears and feelings to others, but I did start to journal and capture my emotions on paper.  Slowly over time my notebook of blue-lined paper transferred into my memoir, The Dog Story. The Dog Story gave me a voice and the confidence to help others who were living with a chronic illness and experiencing the same things that I did. I want other patients to know that they are not alone. Most importantly, I want to share a message about hope, the powers of love and finding strength in your darkest hour.

Today, I no longer feel ugly, isolated or alone. I am living a life that I never dreamed possible. Jocelyn never left me despite my attempts of pushing her away. Now, we have two beautiful boys that our world revolves around. I am the dad that I always wanted to be coaching their baseball teams and doing normal dad stuff. My career is helping other people like me and using the story that I was once ashamed to tell to inspire others that if I can do it, they can too. I still walk my dog every day, whether I feel that I am strong enough or not.  And while driving during time of quiet reflection, I still find myself humming along to Moon Shadow. And I am thankful.

*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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Did Cupid Miss? Finding True Love Wherever it Lies

By: Jeri Burtchell

Ah, February! The prelude to spring and the time of year when happy couples profess their love for one another on Valentine’s Day. What could be wrong with that?

Well, sometimes real life falls short of “Sleepless in Seattle”. A study published in 2010 says that folks with MS have a greater likelihood of ending up divorced than other couples. Odds are, someone with MS who is reading this spent Valentine’s Day alone. No amount of chocolate can make that pill any less bitter to swallow.

When I learned the MSAA blog theme for February would be “love”, I decided to explore the less traveled paths to the heart. Instead of romantic love, this is for all of you who are facing MS head-on and doing it solo. For everyone who thinks the groundhog predicted six more weeks of loneliness.

Everywhere you look in early February, friends are doting on their better halves in tweets and status updates. Pictures of happy couples abound. Even those with MS seem happily connected to the “best husband ever” or “the most amazing wife.” You don’t see anyone saying “I’m single, yay me! I’m doing just fine.”

But there is love beyond romance and I want to draw your eye to it. If you focus on the love that you do have, then perhaps it will ease the sting of having to say “table for one, please.”

Most of us have the love of family that surrounds us. Think about that sister or brother, mother or father, aunt or uncle who is there for you. Helping you cope, caring how you feel, sharing good times and bad. That is love.

Even if you are divorced, there’s a good chance you have kids. They love you, right? Don’t roll your eyes at me that way. Romantic love may come and go, but the bond between parent and child will last a lifetime. That is also love.

No kids, no family, no significant other? Don’t stop looking for the love that seems elusive. Just look a little closer. You may be overlooking a love right under your nose. Literally. Look down. See some little eyes in a furry face looking back up? That, my friend, is love…or it could be hunger. (Nah, it’s probably love).

The unconditional love of a pet is real and powerful. Besides love, the Centers for Disease Control says that having a pet can lower our blood pressure and triglyceride levels, plus chase away our loneliness. They also give us a reason to exercise and opportunities to socialize while we’re at it. Just ask Sheryl about her Teeny Tiny Mighty MS Mascot.

What’s that you say? You have no family, no close friends? Your kids are grown and gone? You’re allergic to pets? All hope is not lost. The camaraderie of an online community may fill the emptiness you feel. Reach out and connect. Meeting others with MS can be rewarding, reassuring and often leads to lifelong friendships. I can honestly say some of the most meaningful friendships I have now began online.

Last but not least, there’s one final love you’ve had by your side all along, although you may have never noticed. You overlooked it while you were pursuing Prince Charming or Mrs. Right. It’s the person who will be by your side through thick and thin no matter what. It’s you.

When you learn to be your own best friend you’ll never be alone. Explore hobbies that give you satisfaction. Read books, go jogging, take a bubble bath, buy yourself a little something. When you see that gorgeous sunset, your first thought won’t be “Oh, if only I had someone to share it with.” Don’t gauge the pleasure of the moment by someone else’s reaction. It’s okay to love the sunset all by yourself.

So if February isn’t your favorite month and all this lovey-dovey stuff your friends are sharing gets you down, just try to focus on all the other love that surrounds you. And cheer up! March is just around the corner and we can soon celebrate MS Awareness Month together.

My parting shot to the romance of February as it heads out the door is, “Yay me! I’m doing just fine.”

References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20483882

http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health_benefits.htm

http://contributors.healthline.com/family/my-teeny-tiny-mighty-ms-mascot

*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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