Meet New MSAA Guest Blogger Lauren

By: Lauren Kovacs

My name is Lauren Kovacs and I am 41. The stress of moving from California to rural Virginia poked the MS monster for the first time at age 16. My official diagnosis didn’t show up on stage until I was 21.

I was a pediatric patient with optic neuritis. This meant no learning to drive, no depth perception in gymnastic, and crashing into hall walls at school. I was not in a good place, but the MS monster had only stirred.

After nine months, my vision returned. Life went on. I went to college and made the university’s cheer team. MS was never the diagnosis at 16.

I worked part-time, took a full load of classes, and was a college athlete. The summer before my senior year, after a very tiring and hot week at cheer camp, I got sick. I rode home on the floor of the student-athlete van. I unknowingly had poked the monster again.

The next day, I went numb from the neck down. So began my quest for an answer. Some thought it was a virus and others thought I had been dropped in cheerleading camp and had a slip disc. I stumped all the athletic doctors for the university’s athletes. Cool. The best was a civilian doctor who told me I had a stroke and sent me back to campus with muscle relaxers.

I went back to my original neurologist. An MRI and other tests came back showing MS. The doctor told me not to research it. I was sent back to school. Confused, alone, angry, and tired was the casserole I was served. Newly diagnosed and alone, questions swam in my head and some chocolate in hand, as comfort.

I didn’t make it to nationals for UCA and I felt my teammates were more worried about re-doing the routine without me than my devastating diagnosis. Some even accused me of faking in order to skirt practice.

I kept going. I pushed on. I graduated, got a job, and married my sweet heart. I saw a new doctor who put me on Avonex. I had baby boy one. Four months later, I was hit with a horrible flare leaving me numb from the neck down again. After slithering around on the floor with a new baby, IV steroids were prescribed. Life went on. I did Appalachian clogging and was very active. I started figure skating instead to combat the heat.

Baby boy two arrived without any MS issues at all, except my fall down the stairs, which I can blame on MS. He was premature with health issue. A toddler and a sick infant meant stress. I finally changed doctors, after five years, because he refused to prescribe anything, but Avonex. He kept telling me I would get used to it.

The new doctor prescribed Copaxone, not long before we moved to North Carolina. I took Irish dance lessons, once we moved. The two boys were doing well. Heat, fatigue, and stress were manageable. The monster appeared to be contained.

Baby boy number three arrived and that began my slow decent. The monster was waking up. I was able to nurse for eight months. I was thrilled. IV steroids forced me to end that scene. However, they did their job and I changed doctors again. That is five neurological, if you are counting.

I had a new doctor who finally believed three healthy boys and me. Life was good, too smooth really. When my youngest was four, rocks were being thrown onto my path. The Betaseron was no longer working and I began sporting a cane. The monster was fully awake.

No worries, I can adapt, I thought. We took a Disney cruise with friends and when I had trouble walking onto the boat, I knew things were changing. I sat and waited for a cast-member to get a wheelchair. I held back tears, but the cast-member said I would enjoy my trip more. I did, but I felt crushed.

By the time my youngest was in first grade, I used a walker. I was also head cheerleading coach at their school. I was officially handicapped and life was getting tougher.

Here I sit, now. I only use a walker in the house. I crawl on my hands and knees, if I am not steady. I have the kids make dinner and there have been times I instruct from face down on the floor. But, I do it and I fight.

MS is a battle and you must never give in. Being realistic and humor go hand in hand with MS.

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Nurturing Your Roots

By: Shannon Loftus

I have MS. While I am many things, a wife, a stay-at-home, work-at-home, home-schooling mom, it is that last word that reigns supreme over me. I am a mom. I am a mom who has MS. So, this month, I want to share with you how I made it over the hurdle of educating my son about my illness, and my personal thoughts on educating our children, particularly our little ones, when it comes to our MS.

I was diagnosed, finally, when my little guy was 3. I am of the opinion that my health issues are mine, and mine alone. I believe that there is no reason to burden my little guy with my dealings with MS (or the epilepsy, or the spinal stenosis). So, I had made the choice to not tell him until he was old enough to understand what it all meant. I never hid it, but I never went out of my way to chat with him about it. He is my son, not my “bestie.” He looks to me for leadership, and he does not want to be my sounding board. He wants the strength of a parent, not the venting-session of a buddy.

I had had this discussion with a member of our local support group, who always seemed to want to know when and if I had told my son. I always said no, not yet. He came to group with me, and still does, but pretty much spends his time in the venue’s play area. In 2012, at the age of 7, I attended a group meeting and was deep in discussion with another member. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this person (the one interested in my telling of MS to my son), talking to my boy, and giving him a coloring book. I thought nothing of it. On the way home, he starts asking me; Mommy, are you going to die? What is MS? Why do you have it? Will I get it? I asked him why he was so upset (he was crying by this time). Then he shows me the coloring book. It is a coloring book/activity book/educational book, for children, put out by another organization, and while a fine product, well-written and engaging, I did not think it the right fit for my family, particularly given my son’s age, so I had foregone its use as an “educational tool” or “discussion starter.” I was mortified that another adult had taken it upon themselves to introduce my son to my illness, and in such an impersonal manner (yes, I addressed it with that person).

So, my cresting of the “discussion” hurdle, when it came to educating my son about my MS, was not some heroic event, but rather more of a giant face plant, courtesy of another person’s interference. My son, husband and I made it through what became a mud-run obstacle course of questions and answers, crying, full of hugs, and a little guy being scared his momma was gonna die. He is now just shy of 10, and he does not know all the details of MS. That will come with, according to his interest in learning about it, and ability to understand the science behind. Right now, he just knows mommy is ok; mommy is sick and some days her legs don’t work right, or her eyes hurt, or she is really tired and hurting, and she is definitely forgetful, and sometimes she needs her cane, or even her pirate eye patch. With that latter one, I can still get him to wear one, and it helps to take the edge off of his nerves and we laugh ourselves silly.

You see, I had read the children’s book before, and I knew it was inappropriate for my son, at that age, and what my husband and I were then forced to deal with went beyond MS education or simple family discussion. It became crisis management. Not the desired “teaching moment.” I find tools like that to be a one-size-fits-all approach, and let’s face it…how many times has the one-size ever fit you? It is always too big, too small, too short, too long, and never just right.

Children are like trees to me…they need strong roots to support them as they grow. So, teaching your child about your MS, really needs to be like watering that tree. It needs to be done with care. You don’t just turn a hose on a tree and walk away. You can drown it. Or your hose might be defective and your tree thirsts to death. Our children are the same. You can overwhelm them with too much information that they cannot adequately process in terms of their emotional maturity. You can underwhelm just as easily and then they may think you are keeping something from them (like the water for the thirsty tree).

I still sometimes stress out about my MS and discussing it with my boy. He still has questions. I stress out about not being the physically active mom that I dreamed of being. I look at other moms and dads playing hard with their kids in parks and I am not capable of that. I relayed to my husband once about how much it hurt that I couldn’t be a normal mom of a young boy. He looked at me, and he said, “But you are. You are his normal. You are what he knows, because you are all he has ever known as a mom.”

Those words were priceless. He was right. So, I now relay them to you. You are your children’s “normal.” Given that, you know what information your child needs, wants, and can handle about your MS. You may need to have a talk with them now, or you may not. The children’s book might be the perfect tool for you, or it might not.

Most importantly, don’t not talk to your children. Educate them, make them aware, but do it on your terms, and look to what your “normal” is. In this way, your leap over that hurdle will be magnificent and filled with a sigh of relief. It will not be an echo chamber of a collective gasp of horror. Trust me.

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February Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our Art Showcase – celebrating the work of artists affected by MS.

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our online gallery to view all of the MSAA Art Showcase submissions.

February 2014 Artist of the Month:
Lucinda Mierek – Anderson, SC

 Pretty Petals and Peaches by Lucinda Mierek

“My art has changed because of my fatigue and loss of concentration. My images used to be tight and are now loose. The content was edgier and is now more mainstream. However, my color use is getting better possibly because I’m losing my vision and am trying to compensate. I need more energy to do my art and haven’t figured out how to get it.

Even with my problems I feel fortunate. I still walk, drive, and tend to my yard.

My daughter and I still enjoy our time together. She pushes me to do more art. She seems to be my biggest fan!

‘Pretty Petals and Peaches’ is acrylic on matte board. It is very loose in comparison to the detailed older work of mine. I like the color usage of my “MS era.” I have learned to take life a little less intensely and use color more intensely. My work has changed for the better.”

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

MSAA’s Next Art Showcase for 2014

Thank you to all of the artists who were part of last year’s Art Showcase for artists with multiple sclerosis. The wonderful artwork and personal stories have been inspirational to many who have visited our online gallery and who have sent and received online art cards, celebrating the lives and talents of people living with MS.

MSAA will soon debut the 2014 Art Showcase in March as part of MS Awareness Month. So, get ready for some new artwork and stories to enjoy! As before, each month we will share with you an Artist of the Month with a new online card that you can send to friends and family to spread awareness of MS, while showcasing the wonderful talents displayed by artists with MS.

You still have time for one more look at last year’s collection! Then, get ready to enjoy the many new works to be featured in MSAA’s 2014 Art Showcase.

Check out the complete MSAA Art Showcase online gallery of artists with MS.

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