I have MS – Can I Still Get a Flu Vaccine?

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Colorful foliage, the scent of pumpkin spice, football games…Ah, there are so many things to love about the cooler weather! Unfortunately, the approaching flu season is not one of them. Around this time of year and throughout the fall and winter seasons, we often encounter individuals with multiple sclerosis who wonder if they can still protect themselves from the influenza virus by getting a vaccine.

In most cases, “yes,” although anyone considering a flu shot should check with his or her doctor in advance. Also, if you have MS, you should first consider the following points before getting a flu vaccine:

Make sure you are getting the injected type of vaccine: Flu vaccines usually come in two forms – injected and intranasal. Because the intranasal variety contains a live rather than inactive virus, it is not recommended for people with MS. If considering a vaccine containing a live virus, please consult your doctor.

Consider whether you are currently having a relapse: People experiencing an MS relapse are often advised to wait a period of time before receiving a vaccine. Talk to your doctor to find out if this waiting period applies to you.

Talk to your physician first: Whether or not you are currently experiencing MS symptoms, it’s always important to consult with your physician before getting a vaccine. Discussing your plan with your doctor will ensure you are getting the right vaccination at the right time for you.

Want to learn more about MS and vaccinations? This information was adapted from MSAA’s July 2013 article, “Vaccine Safety and MS,” which was written by Susan Wells Courtney and reviewed by Jack Burks, MD, MSAA’s Chief Medical Officer.

No one wants to miss out on the fun of fall and winter because of the flu. But having MS doesn’t mean you can’t help protect yourself against influenza. For more information on preventing the flu, you can also read, “Angel’s Tips for the MS Community on Getting Prepared for Winter.”

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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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Assistive Technology for Individuals with MS

Over the course of years living with a disease such as MS, there may come a time when more assistance is needed to complete daily activities. Perhaps typing on the computer is becoming a challenge due to spasticity, or driving a vehicle has become difficult because of numbness in the leg. While it may not always be conducive to ask another person for help, perhaps a piece of equipment can aid in getting the task done more effectively. Assistive technology, or AT, is any item, piece of equipment, or software that is used to increase or improve the functional abilities of individuals with disabilities at school, work, home, and in the community.

Young woman with tablet computer and coffee

Assistive technology devices can assist those who may have difficulty with speech, typing, writing, cognition, walking, etc. In each state, a State Assistive Technology Project is available to provide information on assistive  technology and consultation about the type of technology piece that may be helpful. A borrowing program may also be available where the devices can be borrowed for up to a certain period of time to see if the device will be effective. Information about available loans to help with more expensive devices can be discussed as well.

In trying to determine the type of device that may be helpful for a specific need, working with a rehabilitation professional such as a physical or occupational therapist might help to clarify the type of device that would provide the best assistance. They can make specific recommendations of devices that can assist with a variety of needs and may also help with checking whether insurance will cover the item recommended.

What assistive devices have you used? What avenue did you take to receive the device?

 

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You Know You Have MS When…

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People with MS tend to be very familiar with the typical symptoms associated with having this condition, like pain, fatigue, difficulties with mobility, numbness, tingling, bowel and bladder problems, among others. However, there’s so much more to having MS than what anyone could find in a textbook or a pamphlet at the doctor’s office. We wanted to know more about the everyday life of those with MS, so we asked our Facebook community to respond to the statement, “You know you have MS when____.” More than 150 people replied! Below is a summary of the feedback we received.

You just feel exhausted

  • After sleeping a full 8 hours, you still feel like someone used your body to run a marathon
  • The simple task of washing your hair is exhausting
  • Your kids think that all you do is sleep and that you’re sick all the time
  • You are so tired that you cry, and no amount of sleep helps
  • Everyone says, “You look tired – what did you do last night?” and you respond, “Nothing”
  • You’re too tired to get up, but you just end up lying around in bed thinking about what you should be doing
  • You wake up with a little bit of energy, bounce upstairs and fix breakfast, only to end up exhausted and needing a rest
  • You are tired or fatigued all the time, and you can’t find the energy to take a shower
  • Your battery depletes after 45 minutes of walking, and you become a complete physical mess on your feet
  • Feeling well-rested is a thing of the past
  • You must have a plan B, C, D, etc.
  • You need a nap before you go to the store to get coffee, and then need a nap again before you put it away
  • It takes HOURS to pay bills and organize your family calendar when, in the past, you were a successful nurse manager and an expert at multitasking

The weatherman is not your friend

  • Summer used to be your favorite time of year, but now sunlight, heat, and humidity keep you inside like a vampire
  • You’re the only one in the room saying, ‘Is it hot in here?’
  • When 70 degrees feels like you’re standing inside of an oven
  • When you can’t do any outdoor activities due to the heat
  • When summer heat hits the triple digits, and you can barely breathe
  • Your body is better at predicting the weather than the actual weather man

Getting around and maintaining control of your body is challenging

  • You can’t play with your kids or take a walk with your husband
  • You fall over when standing still
  • Your upper body starts to walk, and your legs don’t get the memo in time
  • You don’t even realize it when your legs go out from under you
  • You wonder if you’ll be able to climb the four stairs it takes to get into your office at work
  • You just tip over when standing still on level ground
  • When you wake up one morning, and you’re paralyzed on one side of your whole body
  • You keep tripping up over nothing
  • You are always dropping things
  • You are in the market shopping for groceries, and a fireman stops you because your face is drooping and you are confused, and they think you have had a stroke
  • Your hands are asleep and they don’t wake up
  • You are eating dinner and your arm suddenly jerks and your food goes flying across the table
  • You walk like you’ve had a few cocktails, but you haven’t had a sip
  • You find that no one around you realizes how hard you have to work to keep up, and you just end up getting left behind
  • You have to stop mid sentence because you’ve lost your train of thought
  • You take the dog for a walk around the block,and your legs feel like they are encased in cement
  • You walk like you are dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”
  • When your knees are locked as though there’s a magnet holding them together
  • When you go from 0 to pee in two seconds flat
  • You have to hold on to walls because you lack balance
  • You trip over something earlier in the day because of ‘drop foot’ and later that day you look at your scraped toes and wonder what happened
  • You decide being an unwitting participant in a wet t-shirt contest is better than running for cover during a surprise rain storm at an amusement park
  • You can’t stand without assistance
  • Your head goes one way and your legs another
  • You have to look at your hand and tell it to move
  • When you can’t pass a field sobriety test while sober
  • Despite only being 41, you walk like your 76 year-old mother
  • You have to lean your elbows against the shower wall to wash your hair

 Your mind isn’t as sharp as it used to be

  • You lose your train of thought while mid-sentence
  • You walk into a room and forgot why you went in there in the first place
  • You have the hardest time trying to say what you want to say, and your words come out making no sense
  • You describe your symptoms, and your neurologist looks at you as if you were speaking Greek
  • You get confused when there is too much going on around you; you can’t even place an order at a fast food restaurant
  • What was the question?

Pain and numbness become a part of everyday life

  • Your feet feel like they are on fire or you have frostbite
  • You are numb and tingly and have burning sensations all over
  • You get unexpected zaps of excruciating pain in your face, arm, leg, and you try not to scream
  • You are screaming from pain as what feels like loose electric wires whip out of control at the base of your spine
  • You feel like you are being stabbed, and you have a tingling feeling all over your body
  • You can’t feel your fingers, but you feel like you’re walking on rocks, barefoot
  • You feel continual electric shocks down one whole side of your body that are strong enough to make you gasp out loud
  • You “feel” noises that go straight to the bone with subsequent weird pain!
  • Your body feels like you got into a fight with Mike Tyson, then got run over by a semi, and then kicked to the side of the road
  • You feel like you are sitting in a wet bathing suit because your butt is numb

People assume that you are fine

  • When everyone assumes you are normal and they say, ‘Let’s go – get with it’
  • Your friends and family think you are fine because you look the same, so they think you are just being anti-social
  • You get angry hearing, “Gee, you can’t be feeling bad … you look too good”

Does any of this resonate with you? How would you complete the statement, “You know you have MS when ____”?

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Getting Graphic When You Have Multiple Sclerosis

Young couple looking distressed or angry

Sometimes when you try to communicate with others, your point may be misconstrued, or something may be lost in translation, or you feel that no matter what you are saying the other person just doesn’t “get it.”

In my role here at MSAA, I have heard from many people who are frustrated or disappointed that someone close to them, be it a family member, a friend, or even a close co-worker (someone who they know cares about them), just doesn’t “get” MS. They may not understand the daily or even hourly ups and downs of MS, or the invisible or hidden symptoms you are trying your utmost to manage, or maybe it’s just an expectation that everything should be the same as before your diagnosis, when for you it feels like the whole world has shifted.

No one wants to feel that our friends, family, and supporters are clueless, unhelpful, or uncaring…after all you KNOW they care about you, and that’s why you include them and want them to be a part of your life, and that’s why it feels so wrong when you can’t express your needs or they don’t seem to “get” what it is you are dealing with, or struggling with, or needing.

When words aren’t enough, get graphic…and not in the style of an R-rated movie, but instead embracing that sometimes a photograph, picture, or artwork can help support what you are saying. Even a visualization can sometimes be helpful, for example, “Sarah, I know that you are trying to help, but when you say that it makes me feel like you’re asking me to put a bag with a smiley face on my head…can you picture that? ” If you picture it, a person with a smiley face bag is being asked to hide their true emotions, or even if they express those emotions they cannot be seen by others. Sarah may picture that bag the next time she wants you to turn your frown upside down and be more empathetic to your needs.

So, the next time you feel like words are just not enough: snap a photo of how you are feeling, draw a picture of your thoughts, or give a visual depiction of your concerns. You may find that a visual display is sometimes the bridge that is needed to help your support person really “get it.”

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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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Doing What Makes YOU Feel Good When You Have MS

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Multiple sclerosis in itself is a complicated and often unpredictable disease. We here at MSAA hear on a daily basis about some of the trials and tribulations that our clients with MS face. One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned in trying to understand the whirlwind of information provided about MS is to find something that is meaningful to you and to your unique situation. With all of the information available, finding something that will make YOU feel good is a priority.

Through social media, websites, and support groups, information is provided about a number of hints, tips, or things that one person may have done to alleviate their symptom, which is wonderful, but unfortunately may not work for everyone. Not every individual with MS will experience the same symptoms and even for those who may, those symptoms may appear incredibly differently.

The point behind the story and the reason for the title is that everyone has their own needs, and each person understands and knows their body better than anyone else. These experiences and feelings are unique to you and should be treated independently to others’ beliefs and thoughts. Focusing and developing ways that make YOU feel good may help to improve your overall day to day.

Explore yourself; perhaps through journaling you can identify some needs that could be met in order to make you feel good. Guided meditation is another way to explore your inner thoughts and feelings. Sitting in a quiet space with yourself and learning about your body and the way that it feels at any point throughout the day can help to center you and focus on what your body needs.

What can you do for yourself today that will make YOU feel good?

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Latest Issue of The Motivator Now Available for the MS Community

savas2The Motivator is MSAA’s award-winning magazine provided to the MS community and to our generous supporters. Distributed twice per year, this publication addresses the physical, emotional, and social issues that arise with MS, and provides information and support to many individuals affected by this disorder.

We’re pleased to announce that the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of The Motivator is now available to read!

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Cover Story:
The Emotional and Psychological Symptoms of MS
… The symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pseudobulbar affect (PBA) are described, along with effective treatment strategies. Important information is also given on how these symptoms affect roles and relationships, sexual function, and self-image.
Read the full story

Feature Story:
…Competitive “biosimilar” drugs may soon be considered for approval. Read about how these “highly similar” drugs may affect procedure, treatment, and cost.
Read the full story

AquaticCenter-Screen

Program Notes:
…Details on MSAA’s new Swim for MS online Aquatic Center are highlighted. This national program initiative supports the awareness, understanding, and availability of swimming and aquatic exercise as a positive wellness opportunity for the MS community.
Read the full story

Read the latest issue of The Motivator

 

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

MSAA is very proud to present our 2014 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 new submissions.

April Artist of the Month:
Carolyn Bowlus – Los Osos, CA

 View of Puget Sound by Carolyn Bowlus

“I grew up in a family of amateur artists, so it seemed natural to try my hand in the art world. I dabbled in acrylics and watercolors with a few art classes along the way.

When I was diagnosed with MS in 2000, I had visual and migraine issues which now come and go. When I am in remission I go back to my art hobbies with great enthusiasm. It is something I have to look forward to during the “down” times.”
Read more

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

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My Journey with MS Injections and Others’ Perceptions

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Sometimes like this weekend, for example, things will get to me. I attended a wedding weekend in paradise, bikini-clad in the Florida Keys, spending time with really great people, many of whom I’m meeting for the first time. And moreover, they’re meeting me for the first time. I was the best man’s date; his younger brother was getting married. I love social environments and enjoy meeting new people, especially those close to the people I love.

I was diagnosed at 23 years old. Beginning then, I decided it was all I could do to keep my life and my health in control where I could. I value keeping up on my treatment, staying healthy, and taking the disease seriously. It puts me at ease knowing I am actively doing all I can, and I’m proud of that. After locking down the “controllable” details (regimenting injections, exercise, diet, keeping up with friends and relationships, living in a positive environment, and embracing happiness), I’m freed up then to make the best choices possible when confronted with “life.” In this way, I am generally relaxed and comfortable in my own skin, navigating situations with conscious control and attention. When I’m walking around with injection site spots at a beautiful beach resort, that’s a time it’s a little easier to forget to be sensitive to the topic.

I’ve been able to stay healthy without experiencing too many symptoms too often. So for an otherwise healthy 27 year-old girl, it’s the (we’ll call them) “little things” that I’ll forget about. And truthfully, to me it seems those things can affect everyone else before they affect me. I attribute it to fear of the unknown. “Anna, you are SO sunburned on the top of your leg and on your hips! How does that even happen? Or is that a bruise? Hey, is your man beating you!?” (Referring to the best man.) Bless his heart…

Living with MS and injection site reactions and red welts, those marks and bruises from the shots that slow down the disease, I’ll forget about them unless they hurt or become somehow more inflamed. My boyfriend is mostly used to them, but I know it makes him sad that they’re even there at all; it’s just another reminder of the MS. When people see bruises in weird places, they’ll assume the man you’re with is probably the one beating you… You notice those looks and darting eyes. We talk about it and how he feels, and sometimes if I do something clumsy or forgetful, he’ll think, “Is that the MS?” and then he’ll go, “Do I have MS?” (Referring to himself.) Adorable.

Bottom line is, I don’t worry about people feeling awkward when I tell them that I have MS, I’m not embarrassed, and I’ll talk about it to anyone who’s curious. Once the unknown becomes understood, nothing’s a big deal, and in some strange way, it can make the connection deeper and easier. The whole thing seems to make me a more compassionate and happier person. The reactions when I tell a concerned party not to worry, are something between a quizzical look and concern, so then I’ll go on, “I have MS.” And then the, “Oh I’m so sorry,” etc. I guess why it gets to me, really, is because I feel like some people are condescending, or something even more cavalier. I’m doing everything I can do to control what I can and be the healthiest I can be, but those red spots are a blessing, and I’ve grown to learn to see them that way.

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