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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I’ll Meet You on the Internet: Social Media is the New Support Group

By: Jeri Burtchell 

When I was young, I would roll my eyes whenever Dad began a sentence with “back in my day.” Whatever he was about to reveal was sure to be irrelevant now. Times change and one generation’s “cutting edge” becomes passé to the next. And now, when I reflect on my early life with MS, I find myself sounding just like my dad.

Back in my day, Jeris blogwhen I was diagnosed in 1999, I didn’t have a computer, let alone internet. If I wanted to find out about my condition, I had to go to see my neurologist. Who else had the answers? There was no Google to ask, no “Web MD” to consult about symptoms.

Back in my day, if you wanted to connect, you went to a real support group and talked to one another face to face. We weren’t sitting in front of glowing screens connected to typewriters, pouring our souls out to faceless strangers. I would have laughed at such a prediction much the same way my grandparents would have reacted to the concept of television.

With every new iPhone release or tablet launch, technology is evolving, redefining our relationships and how we interact. In a way, I am melancholy for a time when “social” meant playing board games or telling stories round the campfire. Not to worry, though, no doubt there’s an app for that.

But then I consider how the internet has empowered the chronically ill, and technology is easily forgiven for its domineering takeover of everyday life. Housebound no longer means isolated. Loneliness is banished by the wi-fi connection.

From blog posts like this, to message boards, to Twitter and Facebook, we are all interwoven now, able to instantly respond to what we read or see. We exchange ideas, comfort each other, help each other find answers, soothed by the reminder that we don’t battle this disease alone.

From the time I blogged my clinical trial back in 2007, I saw firsthand how my words, launched into cyberspace, connected me to others: a pure and unbridled connection of thoughts. They weren’t clouded by self-conscious worries of how others might perceive me. And let’s face it, who doesn’t love going out of the house “virtually,” not having to worry if your clothes match or hair is brushed?

In fact, I’m sitting here in my bathrobe at 4 a.m. writing this blog post, connecting with you on my terms, at my time. It works both ways since you are reading this at your convenience, on your terms — and maybe in your jammies, too. The freedom and control is undeniable.

No matter if you are a ballerina who can stand en pointe or your soul does a dance from a chair … we can all fly free here, expressing ourselves online.

For a time, I thought my internet MS social circle was all I needed for support. Then I had an opportunity to be a patient speaker for Novartis, sharing my Gilenya experience with others. Interacting with group after group of MSers around the country, I was honored to meet new people, all so different from me, yet we all have MS as a common denominator.

That face-to-face connection allowed me to hear the inflection in their voices, read the emotion in their eyes–something the internet has yet to replace.

I am no longer a speaker for the drug, but I was so moved by that experience that I started a support group in my county. I was hoping to bring that personal connection to those in my community who are living with MS. So, I have come full circle and realize interacting in person is still an important piece of the social puzzle. Nothing can take the place of a real hug from someone else who “gets it”. No amount of emoticons can compare.

But when you live in the sticks, or your condition makes it hard to get out, the MSers of today have something we didn’t have–back in my day–people who know exactly what you’re going through and they’re only a keyboard away. The internet is full of support.

Sometimes I wonder what Dad would think of us connecting on the internet. I’m fairly certain that if he began his reply with “Back in my day” it would probably end with “I couldn’t have imagined anything as empowering as this.”

References:

http://www.gilenyaandme.com/

http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/multiple-sclerosis-support-groups#1

*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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Katie’s Story

When you lose something you love, the idea of time always becomes your excuse. It’s always I’m not ready yet or I’ll get to that another day or I’ll see you some other time. Family members become people you only see at weddings and funerals and lunch with the girl friends pushed back month after month. Forget about that gym membership, it’s a faded memory. You start to convince yourself that if you can just buy yourself more time, somehow what you’re feeling will get better on its own. I think my mom felt much the same way when she found out she had multiple sclerosis (MS). If only she could deal with it another day, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. I’m not sure when the day was that she finally decided to face her illness. Maybe it was the day she was fitted for her cane, or her crutches or finally her wheelchair. Maybe it never happened at all. For me it happened two years ago today, the day she passed away.

My mom, Jean, was a florist before MS. Her love of flowers is one of the many attributes I adopted from her. We had a massive lilac tree in the back yard and a line of forsythia bushes in the front that seemed to make a bright yellow barricade from the street. There were rose bushes outside the back door and peonies outside the front. In the spring, the catalpa trees would blossom and cover the ground in these tiny white flowers, as if it were snowing. We had a cat that used to eat the supposedly poisonous poinsettia plants in the winter; she lived 18 years. Flowers have become one of the many ways I remember my mom. Twice a year, I have another one tattooed on my arm. While I realize that at some point I will run out of space and/or drive my father insane, I think the finality of knowing that these flowers will always be with me is something special. They defy time.

Reflecting on the past two years, and how I’ve come to work with the MSAA and be involved in the fight against multiple sclerosis is not an easy task. Then again, believing in a cause is not easy either. The biggest part of this entire journey has been the support from my friends and complete strangers. It has been the people I met whose lives inspired me to be better. It was Anna, the woman my age traveling the country snapping photographs of people in the most beautiful way while she monitors her symptoms using the My MS Manager app for her iPhone. It was Joe, who reached out to me through a friend to tell me about his own mom and her unbelievable struggle. It was Amanda and Neal, who continue to support me with their confidence and their dedication to the MSAA where they work. It was Shawn, who hiked 814 miles to tell the world that she wasn’t going to let her MS bring her down. These people deserve a standing ovation in my heart. I applaud them and I thank them for being a part of my life.

I’m not even close to done yet. I’m starting the planning for another Move On, MS event as I write these words. That will happen and it will be great. I do think it’s important to take time and reflect, to be sad when you need to be, or to take a break. It’s hard to describe the impact that losing my mom to MS has made on my life over the past two years. It made me broken. It made me sad, angry and alone. Then it made me strong. It made me open up, talk to people, make new friends, be unafraid. It made me stop putting things off, make plans to see family, take the afternoon off to have bloody mary’s with my friends. It made me dedicated, wiser and calmer. It has given me a purpose. It has made me a proud Ambassador to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. A place in which I think I would like to stay.

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