Mental Illness Awareness Week

Mental health awareness

Each year Mental Illness Awareness Week occurs during the first full week of October. Every year there is a recurring theme that spreads across the country. This year, the theme revolves around building a movement through the Stigma Free initiative.

“Being Stigma Free means learning about and educating others on mental illness, focusing on connecting with people to see each other as individuals and not a diagnosis, and most importantly, taking action on mental health issues and taking the Stigma Free pledge.”

The hashtag for the theme is #IAmStigmaFree

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in America. Mental health stigma affects each and every one of us as well as the people we love. Stopping Mental Health Stigma is an imperative first step which provides those who silently struggle with mental illness, the opportunity to reach out for help.

Did you know that the risk of suicide was 7.5 times higher among persons with MS than the general population? In a study of individuals with MS who experienced thoughts of suicide, one-third had not received any psychological help. If you have concerns regarding mental illness, or thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help. Depression is a treatable condition and needs to be discussed with the doctor.

For more information regarding Depression and MS, please visit the MSAA website at

National Alliance on Mental Illness:


Highlights from MSAA’s Annual Golf Tournament

On Monday, September 28th, MSAA hosted the annual Gary Wallace Memorial Golf Tournament at Little Mill Country Club in Marlton, NJ. The golf tournament is held in memory of Gary Wallace, MSAA’s former Vice President of Finance & Administration, who devoted himself to improving the lives of people living with MS.

It was a full day of fun and friendly competition, all in the name of fulfilling MSAA’s mission of improving lives today for the entire MS community.

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We would like to thank all of our supporters, sponsors, volunteers, and everyone who came out to the event.

Thank you!!


No Routine Schedule with MS

By: Matt Cavallo 

There has been nothing routine about my schedule lately. Between traveling for work, the kids going back to school and everyday stress of life with multiple sclerosis, I am wiped out. My last flight was particularly exhausting. It seems that every time I travel, the airlines come up with new ways to delay my flights. This past one last week was a flat tire. Yes, a flat tire delayed me for two hours on a one hour flight to Santa Barbara.

That is the thing about life. There is relatively low predictability. Those of us living with MS love a predictable schedule, but the truth is that circumstances outside our control force us to adjust on the fly. The problem is that if we don’t keep up, we get left behind. So how do I manage to keep up with a busy schedule while dealing with a chronically fatiguing disease? Here are some tips that I use to make my hectic schedule a little more manageable.

3 Tips for Managing a Schedule with Multiple Sclerosis

1. Prioritize and Plan Ahead – Prioritize neurology, other doctor appointments or medical procedures ahead of time. There is limited availability for these medical services and spots fill up fast. If you know that you need a neurology follow-up, MRI, etc., plan six months ahead of time and book it. This will reduce the stress of trying to get an appointment at the last minute, which may cause the extra stress of having to juggle other items on your calendar.

2. Keep a Calendar – Whether electronic or paper, you need to have access to calendar reminders when planning your schedule. I cannot tell you how many times I have double booked myself because I did not refer to the calendar in my pocket. Using today’s technology will allow you to be prompted for important events or forecast possible conflicts. With MS you have enough to worry about, let the calendar manage your time, so you don’t have too. I know once I did, my stress of wondering what I had next was gone.

3. Let Go of what you can’t Control – This is perhaps the hardest lessen to learn. So you have prioritized, planned ahead and calendared an event. Then something unexpectedly flares up derailing your schedule. This is OK. It is bound to happen. Last week, there was nothing I could do about the flat tire on the plane. Some in the crowd went to customer service. Others went up to the gate agent. Most waited in some line for two hours asking questions about an event they couldn’t control. I sat in my seat and waited for the tire to be changed. After all, I would rather be a little late then try to land on a flat tire.

Living with multiple sclerosis is tough. It can be a chronically fatiguing condition that makes you feel like you are constantly trying to catch up with those around you. Don’t let your schedule contribute to your MS fatigue. Use my 3 tips for managing a schedule with multiple sclerosis. Remember to prioritize and plan ahead, keep an up-to-date calendar and let go of what you can’t control and you will find the everyday stress of keeping your time melt away.

*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 :


Season of Change

Leaf PicIt’s that time of year again when the leaves are changing from green to yellow to red. What a beautiful time it is before they fall from the trees and we have to rake them up in the yard. This is a great time of year to go for a drive on a scenic route to see the beautiful scenery. Remember to pack a camera or take a quick shot with your phone!

The change of the season gets me thinking about how we accept change in our lives. Just like the seasons change, our lives change. Changes in your life require faith, dedication, and perseverance. Did you know that the true test of intelligence is not how much we know, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do?

Some people know that they need to make changes in their lives. But often find themselves taking the path of least resistance and don’t make the changes even if it means remaining unsatisfied. People stay in relationships that aren’t good for them. They keep jobs that bring them no joy. There is nothing wrong with change, especially when it has the potential to bring happiness.

The world around us is constantly changing. By being open to change we open ourselves up to learn the lesson that this change has for us. When we take this approach to change, we will accept it as a powerful, positive force in our lives.


Managing the Hectic Schedule

“It’s how we spend our time here and now, that really matters. If you are fed up with the way you have come to interact with time, change it.” –Marcia Wieder

While many things in life may seem out of our immediate control, there is one constant that has the ability to change; time. While we can’t make more hours in a day, we can change our perception of time and how our days will look.

Start your day off right. While preparing for the day, take a moment to jot down a few notes on things that need to be accomplished. Personal calendars, phone reminders, or dry erase boards are a helpful way to organize tasks.

Take into consideration MS symptom management. When planning out the day, consider your MS symptoms. Are you more productive in the early mornings, or late afternoons? Does your MS disease-modifying treatment cause symptoms or side effects? If so, make sure to plan around your treatment dosage time.

Reprioritize. It’s OK not to check everything off of your to-do list in one day. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Take a moment during the day to look over your list and consider what not to do that day.

Time management is a personal journey. What works for someone might not work for everyone, but it is nice to hear how others plan their days. What tips or strategies do you use to manage your hectic schedule?


Back to School: The Importance of Rest and Recovery

By: Meagan Freeman 

As a mother of 5, I have always looked forward to that special time of year when my children head back to school! It was a long, hot summer this year, and I spent my days without the usual daytime break I always need during the school year. Summer can be incredibly difficult for parents with MS, and children are often left bored at home, looking for entertainment. Temperatures often hit the 90s-100s in my area, and on those very hot days I was left a virtual prisoner, trapped at home in the A/C with children who were not often pleased. Most MS patients require a certain amount of rest during the day, and noise can become a tremendous irritant. Without a break, we often become fatigued and emotionally spent.

My children returned to school early this year, on August 24th. My oldest left for college this year, and it was surreal to help him pack up his things and head out. Though I was saddened a bit, I also thought to myself with a twinge of guilt: “Check one off the list!” The first day back was chaotic, dragging exhausted children out of bed early and forcing them to dress, eat breakfast, and get out the door begrudgingly by 7:45 AM. I have found that planning ahead and organization are the keys to success with a large family, and I always spend the evenings preparing everything needed for the morning. Lunches and snacks are packed ahead of time, clothes are in piles according to child, and backpacks are in a neat line ready to be carried out. I have issues with memory loss at times, and I find that failure to plan ahead leads to disaster. I recommend using electronic devices to plan out calendars for the week, setting “alerts” for important times and events. After forgetting to pick children up on early dismissal days several times last year, I have learned to mark out the important pick up times well in advance.

We jumped in the car on that first day of school, everyone in new outfits and excitement in the air, and made our way around town to multiple schools, into new classrooms and new adventures. After the last child left the car, I drove home slowly, sipping my coffee with a sense of great relief. I walked in the door of my home, to a quiet and peaceful spot for the first time in months. I took a deep breath, and realized that at last, I had some free time for myself.

Through these yearly experiences, I have come to understand that I need time for rest and rejuvenation. It is not a luxury for me, but rather a medical necessity. Without a chance to “recharge the batteries,” we just don’t function well as mothers and fathers with MS. Though childcare can be incredibly expensive during the summer, I would advise all parents with MS to factor in some time to rest. Those precious quiet moments are exactly what the doctor ordered, and we should all begin to see rest as a medication or a treatment, something that our disease demands. Even if a friend or family member might give you a bit of respite and take the kids for a few hours occasionally, this would be of great benefit. We should all take a bit of time to care for ourselves, so that we might care for our families in the best possible way. Happy Back to School!

*Meagan Freeman was diagnosed with RRMS in 2009, at the age of 34, in the midst of her graduate education. She is a Family Nurse Practitioner in Northern California, and is raising her 6 children (ranging from 6–17 years of age) with her husband, Wayne. She has been involved in healthcare since the age of 19, working as an Emergency Medical Technician, an Emergency Room RN, and now a Nurse Practitioner. Writing has always been her passion, and she is now able to spend more time blogging and raising MS awareness. She guest blogs for Race to Erase MS, Modern Day MS, and now MSAA. Please visit her at:


It is Never too Late to Make a Change

This time of year sets the stage for big changes in many people’s lives. Little kids prepare for the first day of school. College students embark on a new journey that will change the course of their future. And parents start to see their once little child becoming more independent and less reliant on their help.

As we age, it appears that everything changes and sometimes we accept those changes and sometimes we don’t. For many, change is a scary thing and is met with some resistance or animosity. But for some, change can be exciting and refreshing.

Which category do you fall? Do you find yourself resisting change, or do you fully embrace it?

It is never too late to make a change in your life. A change does not necessarily need to be an overhaul, perhaps something small that you have put off for some time. With the long holiday weekend, it provides an extra day to do something for yourself that may make a significant transformation for the better.

So give it a shot, allow yourself to move freely through the change. If you come across any resistance or hesitation, ask yourself why. Change does not have to be absolute. You have control over your life and if after making the change you find that it does not work for you, you have the power to make the switch.
What is something you have thought about changing?

MSAA Office’s will be closed Monday September 7th in observance of the Labor Day Holiday.


Fatigue and Insomnia – Community Feedback


Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms among those with MS, but this fatigue is not the same as just being tired. And to make matters worse, it’s possible to be completely exhausted but unable to sleep. Our amazing contributor, Ashley Ringstaff, recently wrote an article called “Extremely Tired….but Can’t Sleep.” She says, “I can be completely exhausted where I can’t do a lot, I have no energy to even move all day, and when it’s finally time for bed, I will lay there hoping I will get some much needed sleep. But sometimes, that’s not the case.” As it turns out, many of our community members could relate to Ashley’s story. Here’s what they had to say:

I find that I’m always tired but have trouble sleeping at night

  • I need naps in the afternoon and then can’t fall asleep at night. I seem to wake up at 3:00am almost every night. I’m lucky if I sleep more than 4 hours at a time. It’s very frustrating, but at least I don’t have to get up for work.
  • This has been a new symptom for me in the last 12 months it is driving me crazy. I take trazadone for sleep, and it has worked for over 20 years but it doesn’t seem to work anymore. The summer also seems to make it worse. I am barely functioning during the day.

 I haven’t slept more than a few hours a day for the past 6 months. I can feel the effect on my whole body.
  • MS has given me insomnia.
  • This happens to me all the time. I used to sleep 10 hours a night, anywhere, anytime! I miss that so much. But even getting some sleep now does not mean feeling rested.
  • This was me last night. I was tired but up until 5:00am, then slept until 9:30am. I’m exhausted but my body is ready to party.

‪This is me exactly! One reason I had to leave my job was because I was falling asleep around 3pm. At night my mind goes 100 miles per hour, so hard to shut it off but during the day I can’t remember what I was doing.
  • I’ve gone 7 days now with only 15 hours of sleep. In my opinion, this is this is the most irritating part of this disease.
  • People don’t believe me when I say how tired I am. They just don’t understand.

Even when I do sleep, I’m exhausted

  • I slept 10 hours last night and woke up exhausted. I spent the day riding around with a friend looking for yard sales. My body is so tired my legs don’t want to work now.
  • I think I sleep well for a while, and then I wake up. It takes hours for me to fall back to sleep, but I wake up every morning fatigued, and some mornings dizzy and disoriented.

I’ve found a few methods to help with my insomnia and fatigue

  • Meditating can help to “shut off” your brain when you’re trying to go to sleep.
  • I have tried multiple drugs, techniques, yoga, baths and meditation. I exercise frequently too, which helps when I am up for it.
  • I have had this on and off since being diagnosed in 2004. Some things that might help include taking a warm shower or bath a little before bed time or using a little lavender essential oil on your chest.
  • I only get about 5 hours a night if I’m lucky. I lay down at 11 30 but my brain won’t shut down. I read and listen to music to relax enough. Last night I had to take my lorazapam to finally fall asleep at 3am.
  • I’m lucky to get 5 hours of continuous sleep any night. I have done the sleep study. I lost significant weight some years ago, which resolved the sleep apnea. I take naps when the fatigue has taken its toll. I have accepted insomnia as my normal. I find it easier to work with it than to fight it. I do some of my best work at 0 Dark-Thirty AM.

What about you? Do you have trouble sleeping despite being tired? Share with us in the comments!


Do the Patient Billing Double Check

By: Matt Cavallo

Raise your hand if you went to school to understand medical billing? My best guess is that the majority of you did not raise your hands.

Alright, this time raise your hand if you understand the difference between a medical bill and explanation of benefits. Again, my best guess is that most of you did not raise your hand.

An explanation of benefits (EOB) is a statement summary of charges sent by your insurance company about an episode of care. The EOB is an FYI of what is covered or not covered, but it is not necessarily an accurate reflection of your medical bill.

Your medical bill will always come from the facility that you received the medical service. These bills will state the billed cost (what the facility charged your insurance), insurance reimbursement amount (what insurance paid to the claim generated by the facility) and the patient responsibility (the amount you owe).

Now, the patient responsibility part of the medical bill requires you to do a double check to ensure that you are paying the correct amount. Often times the patient responsibility can be inaccurate if it wasn’t coded properly. This is especially true if you have some special situation like financial assistance for a specialty treatment.

Take me for example. For my MS medication, I have a financial assistance program offered from the pharmaceutical company that manufactures my treatment.

As an aside, if you are not aware whether or not your pharma company offers a copayment assistance program or if you qualify, that information is generally listed on the pharmaceutical company’s website.

Back to my story. So, the terms of my financial assistance program state that I am responsible for a $10 copayment for each treatment. Therefore, if I am billed $10.01, the medical billers are off by a penny and I can dispute the charge.

I started receiving bills that were over $100 per treatment. These bills also matched the responsibility on my EOB, so it stands to reason that I would be responsible right? Wrong.

I do have a background in medical billing. I used to manage a hospital clinic and we had this problem all of the time. The problem is that the financial assistance programs require a different workflow than traditional medical billing. A lot of time the billers are unaware of how to apply these financial assistance programs or they are not marked properly in the medical chart.

If the medical biller does not apply the financial assistance program to the bill, then an erroneous charge is generated. As a patient with a financial assistance program, you are not responsible for this error. The problem is that you may not always know that you are not responsible. You think that since the bill matches the EOB that it must be right. This is not always the case and it is contingent upon you to be your own advocate.

When I started getting these billing errors, I took action. I called the 1-800 number on the bill and I contacted my pharmaceutical company to let them know. My pharma company reached out to the medical billers and that bill was resent stating that I only owed $10!

Doing a double check, I saved myself $90. This has happened to me a couple times after the initial erroneous bill. Each time I called and each time I was only responsible for $10 per visit. By now, I have saved over $500 this year by doing my double check and not being afraid to pick up the phone and question the bill.

From my time managing the clinic to situations with me and my family, to helping friends of mine, there are any number of reasons why double checking your bill can be beneficial. One last story, my wife got billed an out-of-network lab draw for a well woman exam at an in-network facility, generating an over $700 bill. Bills are generated by computers, but people are in place if you have any questions regarding the bill. After we got over the sticker shock, I said let’s call. We were responsible for our $25 copay and that was all!

Being a patient with multiple sclerosis is tough. Don’t let medical billing errors make it any tougher. Remember to be your own advocate and if you are questioning a bill, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and do the patient billing double check!

*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 :


Budget Friendly Food Tips

Although we all need food and we shop for groceries, the food budget is the easiest place to save a few bucks. Even the cheapest restaurants add up fast too. Next time you are thinking about eating out or spending money at the grocery store on items you don’t need, think about these simple tips:

  • Eat at home. While it’s a nice treat to go out to eat once a week, it can get very expensive if you do it much more than that.
  • Buy store brands. It’s sometimes very difficult to tell the difference between store and name brands. Why pay a premium for the name brand when the store products are so similar.
  • Shop with a plan. You are less likely to buy things you don’t need if you’ve made a shopping list ahead of time.
  • Clip coupons. They’re basically free money. Stores and companies are paying you to try their products. Take them up on their offer.


  • Skip the fancy latte in the morning and brew at home.
  • Buy produce in season. Prices tend to be lower when there is a large supply of something.
  • Brown bag it! It’s much cheaper to prepare your lunch at home and take it with you than it is to buy it every day.

Obviously, we need to eat to live. But, depending on where and when you buy it, food can take a big bite out of your budget. These are some easy tips you can do to keep your spending down without making big sacrifices.

As they say “time is money”. If you take some time to follow some of these tips, you may save some money!!!