Relapse Management Ask Me Anything – A Recap

On Monday night, MSAA held its first Ask Me Anything session of MS Awareness Month 2018!  Focusing on the topic of Relapse Management, MS Expert Annette Okai, MD spent one hour answering more than 25 questions from our My MSAA Community members.

Some of the most popular questions from the AMA with Dr. Okai include:

  • “How do you differentiate relapse from progression or what I call symptoms creep?”
  • “Is there a disadvantage to waiting out the symptoms, and not initiating steroids?”
  • “How long does a relapse typically last?”

Find Dr. Okai’s answers to these questions and many more on the community at:


The Confusing World of MS Relapses

MS relapses continue to be one of the most notorious conundrums within the MS space and community today, which is one reason why the MSAA has made MS Relapse Management one of the MS Awareness Month activities this March. Many individuals living with MS question their symptoms and if they relate to relapses or not on a daily basis, no matter how long they’ve been diagnosed, because this issue remains a head-scratcher to those affected. This occurs because MS relapses can be difficult to diagnose, they’re unique to each person (like many other factors with MS), and they can sometimes be pseudoexacerbations and different from a “true” relapse. Several issues can influence whether or not a true relapse is occurring, these include other illnesses or infection, heat, stress, fever, and exercise. So how do you determine what is a relapse vs. a pseudoexacerbation vs. something else? This is a question that concerns many from day to day.

For a relapse to be considered there has to be certain signs and evidence pointing to it without other factors involved like those mentioned above. Symptoms may present as a worsening or recurrence of existing symptoms and/or new symptoms and need to be present for at least 24-48 hours. This is hard for individuals to distinguish sometimes, especially if it’s a symptom they’ve had before but maybe not recently, if they’re not sure that it’s an actual symptom issue, or if it’s a symptom related to MS at all. Another question that comes up often is how long do relapse symptoms last? The length of time can vary from days to months, again making it hard to know the exact ins and outs of relapses and all they entail. These are the type of great, valid questions to ask the doctor when and if the opportunity presents itself because it’s something many face and are unsure about.

Talking to others living with MS can also help to validate some of these questions and concerns too, to gain feedback and perspective from those dealing with the same types of issues. My MSAA Community, MSAA’s online peer support forum where those affected by MS connect with their peers, is one platform that can be used for this outreach. Additional information about MS relapse management can also be found through the MSAA’s online MS Relapse Resource Center and MS Relapse Toolkit publication.

To continue the conversation about MS relapses during MS Awareness Month, MSAA will be hosting a live Ask Me Anything” event with Annette Okai, MD, today, March 12, 2018 from 6:00 – 7:00 pm Eastern on My MSAA Community. And on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 from 8:00 – 9:00 pm Eastern the MSAA will be hosting a free Live Webinar “Helpful Tools for MS Relapse Management”  featuring Elizabeth Crabtree-Hartman, MD. Be sure to join in!



Finding a Support Network

A support network is somewhere that you can share feelings or vent frustrations – a place to be able to check in and touch base with others or make connections. Ultimately, it’s a system that is there for you without judgment or expectation that you can depend on. That’s what members have found on our platform, My MSAA Community. This online forum not only offers a safe place to ask questions and find information, it has also become a reliable “check-in” community for those involved.

Updates are often sent to one another, as members check in with the community to let everyone know about their medical appointments to get feedback and encouraging words.

“I know it can be overwhelming with all the different tests and doctors. Try to relax (I know, easier said than done). Good luck.”
– Community Member

Countless moments of kindness and empathy can often be found on the community, especially as members face some challenging issues such as depression. Community members often find themselves showered with support. Members also reach out to each other to ask how things are, to send well wishes when needed, and to offer encouragement to those having a difficult time. One member of the community shares, “just letting you know all our thoughts are with you today – keep smiling” to another member having an MRI done that day. In addition, the community’s Birthday Ambassador keeps track of birthdays and sends special messages on celebrating the occasion.

If you haven’t done so already, take some time to check out My MSAA Community and find a new support network today.


Meet the Board

MSAA strives to be a leading resource for the entire MS community by improving lives today through vital services and support – and we could not accomplish this without the help of our volunteer board members. MSAA’s Board of Directors is comprised of accomplished professionals from across the country who volunteer their time to further MSAA’s mission. With our new series, Meet the Board, we hope to introduce you to our wonderful volunteer board members!

MSAA is proud to highlight two volunteer board members this month – Eric Bossard and Steve Bruneau

Eric Bossard
Member of the Audit and Finance Committee,  Communications and Marketing Committee, and Development Committee

Professional Background: Eric Bossard founded Commonwealth Insurance Advantage in 2016 in an effort to expand his outsourced risk management and insurance expertise globally. In addition, he co-founded Archway Insurance in 2002 as an outsource risk manager, which placed insurance coverage on behalf of brokers nationwide. In 2006, Mr. Bossard was instrumental in the acquisition of Alliance National Insurance Company (formally UMI Insurance Company), a New York domiciled property and casualty insurance company where he originally served as president and chief operating officer. He is currently one of the owners.

Steve Bruneau
Treasurer and Chair of the Audit and Finance Committee

Professional Background: Steve Bruneau is a product-development expert and business leader who draws upon his engineering, information-technology (IT), and business skills to develop award-winning, patented products and services that have jump-started businesses ranging from startups, to Fortune 500 companies, to programs for the United States Military. Mr. Bruneau is presently the Chief Operating Officer for Pulsar Informatics Inc. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Steve also presently serves as the Business Manager for Bruneau Family Care, P.C. in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.

What inspired you to join MSAA’s Board of Directors?

Bossard: “Former chair and current board member Jim Anderson and I are longtime friends. I was in the process of making a professional change and he was aware that an integral part of this change was to become more involved volunteering. When I met with newly elected president Gina Ross-Murdoch she displayed a level of enthusiasm rarely seen in the nonprofit arena. This organization truly demonstrates there is more to life than the moment we all live in.”

Bruneau: “From the time I was young I have been involved in service organizations.  I came from a modest family and appreciated the help that we got from so many places growing up that continuing to pay it forward is not only the right thing to do, but it is very rewarding.  When my kids aged out of youth sports and the local school system, I wanted to find other organizations where I can apply my energy to do good things…and I stumbled across the MSAA in all seriousness.

My wife is a primary care physician and we have our own medical practice.  There are many patients who need assistance in one way or another and when I came across the MSAA and its mission of helping people today, it struck a chord with me that I couldn’t help but get excited about.”

What are your goals as an MSAA Board Member?

Bossard: “I am dedicated to expanding the awareness of what we as an organization provide to the MS Community which is to Improve as many Lives as we can Today…be it cooling vest, our help line or covering the cost of an MRI. In addition, I am eager to help develop new and exciting fund-raising activities for the organization.”

Bruneau: “I want to bring my professional experience and talents to the team to help the organization grow and expand its value to the MS community.  MSAA has such a tremendous, dedicated staff of people who work tirelessly to help those with MS get the support and services they need and with my IT background, I think I can help evolve our internal and customer facing systems to ease the burden of providing our services while increasing the impact, responsiveness, and value to those with MS and their caregivers.”

Editor’s Note: MSAA is extremely proud and honored to enlist the support of Eric Bossard, Steve Bruneau and all of our dedicated Board Members who volunteer their time, expertise, compassion, and leadership to help us achieve our mission of improving lives today for the entire MS community. We are very grateful for their service and look forward to their continued support as we strive to serve more people in more places than ever before. Thank you once again Eric and Steve!


Benefits of Yoga

Attempting to try a new exercise routine can feel intimidating, whether it is something you have thought about trying for years, or an impulsive decision.  It’s not always easy, but stepping out of your comfort zone can be good for your body and keep your muscles from getting too complacent.  One exercise routine that is gaining popularity is yoga.

An estimated 20 million Americans practice some form of yoga for exercise, and more than a third of those people are fairly new to the practice.  Yoga is a gentler form of exercise that focuses on stretching and breathing, which can offer a number of benefits including increased flexibility and improved respiration.

There are many different types of yoga available for a range of experience and flexibility levels, as well as yoga practices designed for people who may have limited mobility due to a chronic illness, like multiple sclerosis. Many traditional yoga poses can be adapted to be performed in a seated position on a chair or laying on a bed, rather than sitting or laying on the floor. Yoga can offer specific benefits to individuals with MS by helping:

  • Reduce fatigue
  • Reduce spasticity
  • Improve range of motion
  • Improve balance

Yoga may not be for everyone, but if you are looking for something new to try as a way to stretch your muscles and get some exercise, look into yoga as a possibility*. If you are interested in learning more about yoga designed for people who have MS, check out our story from the Winter/Spring 2008 edition of The Motivator, Health and Wellness: Enjoying the Benefits of Yoga.

*As with any form of exercise, be sure to check with your physician before you begin a new workout routine.


Something Old…. Something New

Trying new things can be difficult. It means venturing outside of our comfort zones and, in some cases, putting ourselves in situations that can be both challenging and to be honest, frightening. But charting a course for a new terrain can also mean that we find something that we love that we would have never found otherwise or learning something about ourselves we didn’t know or just being able to check something off our list to say we tried it. No, we don’t need to try everything there is in the world… stay away from beets, they’re kinda gross and I don’t recommend getting into legal trouble, I hear it’s no fun… but in all seriousness when we take a chance outside of our usual circle we may find something that surprises us.

This year I’ve made a commitment to try something new every month. It doesn’t have to be huge, overly flashy or very expensive, but I want to continue to push myself past what I usually do and tap into somethings I have not before. This past month (I know it’s February but I haven’t done my new thing this month so go with me) the new thing I gave a try was acupuncture! Now before the Trypanophobics (having a fear of needles) in the audience run for the hills, hear me out. Acupuncture has been practiced by many cultures, often specifically associated with Chinese culture, for thousands of years. It’s a form of healing that yes, does utilize needles. But before you go grab your sewing kit and try to cure your own headache know that to become a trained acupuncturist is not just learning to not make people bleed with thin pieces of medal. It takes a study of the human body, pressure points, muscles, nerves, an awareness of the interconnectivity of pain and stimuli and a host of other factors to be able to safely and effectively administer acupuncture. I’ve had it on my list of things to try for some time and decided, heck this was the time. I did my do-diligence and researched clinics in my area and came across one in my very own neighborhood with trained and certified acupuncturist…. And away I went.

Now even though I wanted to try this out, I was still nervous which I’m sure didn’t help the strained muscles I was trying to ease to begin with. But here’s the thing… it was a great experience. The clinic, which looked more like a message parlor was welcoming and calming and the process… was painless. Well to be honest there was a pinch or two in the beginning but less than when you get your flu shot. The session was 30 minutes and honestly after 5, I forgot the needles were even there and fell asleep…that’s how relaxing it was. Now the question I’m sure somebody is asking “yeah but did it work?” Yes… and no. Immediately after I had the needles removed by my acupuncturist the pain felt eased but not gone. This I learned was normal. Similar to most things it didn’t take one day for the muscles to tense and become soar so it wouldn’t be reversed in just one session. The acupuncturist explained to me that most people come a few times within the first week or two to have their procedure done and then the spacing between visits becomes greater. Not what I was expecting, mostly because like most of you I live in a world that readily expects some things to happen quickly and on my schedule. But it did help, I woke up the next day and the treated muscles did feel less taught than usual.

So is acupuncture right for you? It might be. If you have thought about it or are interested in it I would encourage you to seek out a clinic and acupuncturist that’s right for you. Is it worth a try, definitely. It doesn’t involve medication or overly complicated procedures and can be administered in as little as 30 minutes. Is it costly, the cost is dependent on the clinic but most of the ones I found in my area worked on a sliding scale according to income. Do be sure to do your research first, ask questions of the team regarding licensing, training and to walk you thru the steps. If you are still nervous go visit the clinic. I personally enjoyed the experience and have scheduled sessions at a regular interval which I’m also enjoying. It’s something new and as a bonus is something good for me. Happy venturing!!


Valentine’s Day Puppy Chow (for humans)

Valentine’s Day Puppy Chow is the perfect treat for the holiday.  An amazing combination of salty and sweet!  With a few simple ingredients you can munch on this fun sweet treat right away.

This recipe is so easy and you only need a few ingredients.


  • Chex Mix Cereal (any variety)
  • White chocolate chips – 1 package
  • Powdered Sugar – about 1 cup
  • Mini Pretzels Twists
  • M&Ms – Valentine colors
  • (2) Gallon-sized Plastic Bags
  • Parchment paper


  • Grab a cookie sheet and line it with parchment paper. Set it aside.  Next, you’ll divide your Chex Mix between two plastic bags and set aside.
  • Now, melt your white chocolate in the microwave for about 20 seconds, mix and heat again until melted.
  • Pour the candy in the plastic bags and toss/shake around to coat all the cereal.
  • Add your powdered sugar and toss that to cover the candy coated cereal pieces.
  • Now, add in your pretzels and mix.
  • Finally, place it on your cookie sheet and sprinkle your red, pink & white M&Ms.

Happy Valentines’ Day!



What is it that stops us?

So I don’t think I’m alone when I say it scares me to try new things. The idea of doing something novel and different is terrifying sometimes and causes all sorts of wonky feelings. I know it’s important to try to experience new things and to step outside of your comfort zone once in a while, but this often elicits feelings of anxiety and stress, so why is that? What is it that stops us from trying new things and reaching beyond what we’re used to doing? It can be a gamut of things, but what is it specifically?

For me I think the main issue is the fear of failure. I’m not too naïve to believe that everything is and has to be done perfectly, but it’s always been an innate expectation for me to do the things that I know well, and to thus shy away from the unknown for fear that it won’t be done right or perfectly. This may be the case for others too; the idea that we won’t succeed at or conquer something, that feelings of inadequacy will abound and really derail us from trying things again. The unknown of new things can be frightening, it’s a normal and reactive response for many to not want to try because we don’t know what’s on the other side. But you also have to think, if no one ever tried anything new, we wouldn’t have all of the wonderful things we have today. Innovations, technology, art, and music were new to its creators and inventors, and without them taking the leaps they had and diving into the unknown, we’d be lost without these treasures.

It’s surely not easy trying new things – nothing ever is that results in success and beauty and grace. But isn’t it worth it, to try that one new thing to quiet expectations and norms? To settle the fears that taint the mind and to make the decision that if you attempt something different and it doesn’t work out, that that’s ok? Fear can be overwhelming and deafening and can interfere with bold choices at times, but it’s our own insecurities that often interfere with achievement. We have to be kind and patient with ourselves long enough to experience the new and see what could have been. So what will you try?


National Love Your Pet Day

Dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, fish – no matter the species, pets serve as great companions!

Some pets act as service animals, performing everyday tasks that may be difficult for people living with disabilities. Other animals serve as emotional support, lending an ear whenever you’re feeling down and just want someone to talk to. No matter how you feel your pet supports you, one thing remains clear – pets are always willing to give unconditional love no matter the circumstance.

February 20th is recognized as National Love Your Pet Day, and MSAA would like to help you share your special relationship with your favorite animal!

Please share a picture of your pet with us by adding a comment on the blog or our social media pages. Additionally, feel free to tag us (@msassociation) in a separate post about your pet on your personal social media. We’ll collect all of your shared photos over the next few weeks, and then we’ll post a photo collage on our social media accounts on February 20th in honor of National Love Your Pet Day.

We can’t wait to see your pet photos and hear more about your furry friends!


MSAA’s Mission with the Mouse

By Gina Ross Murdoch, MSAA President & CEO

Recently, MSAA embarked on a new initiative of endurance events including the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, Tough Mudder Race Series, and the Disney World® Marathon Weekend presented by Cigna®.  This was an opportunity for us to engage people across the country in our mission to support the entire MS community.  Wanting to jump in and be part of this important effort, I signed up for my third half marathon at Disney World.

Team MSAA-Disney included fourteen runners participating in the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Full Marathon and, for two overachievers, all four consecutively!  I selected the half marathon which is 13.1 miles. Training for the 13.1 mile half marathon is a grueling process that takes dedication and stamina. However, living with the uncertainty and challenges of multiple sclerosis is much more difficult than training for any endurance event.  As one of the participants, I sent out my fundraising emails and received some wonderful donations.  I was proud to be a full member of Team MSAA.

As my inspiration, I reached out to board members, volunteers and friends across the country to add their name to my running singlet.

As you can see, I carried the names of so many people who struggle every day with multiple sclerosis.

Race weekend – let’s do this!

Ready to run, tutu and all!

We begin at a very, very cold start with 60,000 Disney runners including 13 Team MSAA members.

Rosa and Ramón in their Team MSAA shirts stopped by for a photo before we take off

The fireworks explode and we are on our way!  Throughout the run, I see elite athletes running easily and I see others digging down deep to finish this challenge.

Here I am at the 3-mile mark with Nemo and Dory – still a long way to go!

I reach the 7 mile mark and I am tired.  I grab a drink and look down at my singlet and see the names of so many who are tired every day and not just this one day.  I think about their stories of their diagnosis, their journey, their challenges and they inspire me to continue on in their honor. As you can see in the photo below, those living with multiple sclerosis, those caring for a loved one living with multiple sclerosis, the entire medical community that has dedicated their lives to research and care, propelled me through the next 6.1 miles and I cross the finish line!!

Victory! I crossed the finish line inspired by all of the members of the MS community.

On Sunday, I am cheering for Team MSAA members Bekah, Rachael, and Michelle who are participating in the full marathon. Bekah and Rachel are completing the Dopey Challenge which consists of a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Full Marathon over the four days of the event.  They run in honor of their father, Dan, who lives with multiple sclerosis.

Here’s a picture of Rachael and Bekah after they completed the Dopey Challenge on Sunday. What an incredible accomplishment!

I received texts along the way as they cross milestones of 5K, 10K, 20K, 23 miles, and come ever closer to that 26.2 mile marathon finish line.  I received the final text that all three runners have now completed the run and are receiving their well-deserved medals.  The amazing thing is that Bekah, Rachael, Michelle and the entire team were thankful to have the opportunity to participate in this event and support our mission. It is the members of the MSAA staff who are honored and humbled by their efforts over so many months to physically train, mentally prepare, and financially support our mission.  I could not be prouder of my fellow Team MSAA members who participated in everything from the 5K to the Dopey Challenge.  You are inspiring, amazing, and incredible people!!