Finding the Strength to Fight MS for the Holidays

By: Matt Cavallo

In September of 2010, I was faced with a devastating decision. I was experiencing severe spinal stenosis and a fractured C6 vertebra, which my doctors believed was a result of complications due to my initial onset of transverse myelitis five years earlier. My decision was to have an emergency cervical fusion to address the problem before it became more complicated. At the time, my kids were only three and one years old and I was worried that if I didn’t have the surgery I wouldn’t be able to participate in their lives the way that I wanted too.

Fast forward to December of 2010, I was out of the neck brace and going through physical therapy. I was weak, tired and had lost a lot of weight. The surgery was another in a long string of MS events that rendered me in a depressed state. I didn’t want to see friends or family and had become a shell of my former self at the house. The blinking of Christmas lights and singing of carolers was not enough to get me in the Christmas spirit.

I was working at the hospital at the time and my practice manager was throwing a holiday party. She insisted that I be there. I was feeling like Ebenezer Scrooge and issued a, “Bah Humbug” at the thought of kibitzing with my coworkers (even though they were doctors, nurses and therapists). My wife convinced me to go to the holiday party and I parked myself in a chair by the fire pit in the back yard for a couple of hours. My coworkers brought me food, drink and merriment, but I still could not find the spirit.

Was this going to be the year I gave up on Christmas? Was this the year that MS had finally won the battle?

My parents flew into town just before Christmas. My dad is a great Italian chef and the familiar aromas of my grandmother’s recipes were not enough to snap me out of my funk. His food smelled and tasted like memories of Christmas past. Now, here I am, Tiny Tim wondering how long I could feign a smile despite the depression and ill feelings MS had saddled me with this holiday season. I went to bed believing that maybe I did deserve a lump of coal in my stocking.

Then it happened.

Christmas morning 2010, two wild-eyed and blonde-haired boys rounded the steps to see the gifts that Santa had left for them. Their spirit and enthusiasm sparked a flame inside me. I knew that no matter how bad I was feeling or wanting to give up that these two boys needed me to be there in the moment with them. So I donned my Santa hat and let them sit on my lap on the floor as they ripped open the wrapped Christmas presents with delight. It was then that I realized the true meaning of Christmas was to find joy and be thankful for my many blessings despite difficult times. Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, I hope your season is filled with hope, joy and love.

Happy holidays everyone and a happy New Year, from my family to yours!

Figure 1: Matt and Colby putting together a Christmas toy 2010

*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 :

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The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) is a national nonprofit organization and leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support. MSAA provides free programs and services, such as: a Helpline with trained specialists; award-winning publications, including, The Motivator; MSAA’s nationally recognized website, featuring educational videos, webinars, and research updates; a mobile phone app, My MS Manager™; safety and mobility equipment products; cooling accessories for heat-sensitive individuals; MRI funding; My MSAA Community, a peer-to-peer online support forum; MS Conversations blog; a clinical trial search tool; podcasts; and more. For additional information, please visit or call (800) 532-7667.


  • Debbie says:

    God Bless you Matt and your family too. What a great story you wrote. Thanks for sharing

  • John Cavari says:

    Great article Matt. I’m no longer with Biogen but still fighting the fight with you. Have a blessed Christmas and keep the faith.

    John Cavari

    • Matt Cavallo says:

      Hey John!

      Great to hear from an old friend! You’ve been in this fight with me since the very beginning. I always enjoyed our conversations. Wishing you and your family a very merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

      Take care,


  • Meg Lewellyn says:

    Happy holidays to you and your family Matt. Although I highly doubt my three teens are going to rise at the Crack of dawn to do the mad dash to the tree you’ll get no complaints from me. Sleeping on ( or having a lie in as my friend from Poland says) sounds like a perfect holiday gift!
    The tree and presents and the family love and fun will all be there WHENEVER we get up;) but I will miss the days of the shreaks of joy and excitement;)

    • Matt Cavallo says:

      Thank you for the response. Hopefully you can enjoy the extra rest. I’m sure that each phase of the holiday has its Kodak moments (even with teens)! Happy Holidays to you and your family, Megan!

  • Luanne DiBernardo says:

    Plain and simple: you are remarkable! You move through life like a true leader, Matt — always wondering how the others are managing, cognizant of your MS community and their individual experiences — always sharing and caring. I hope this Christmas season is steeped in tradition, love, and rejuvenation. A big holiday embrace from a loyal follower in Buffalo, New York!

    • Matt Cavallo says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Luanne! I am a loyal follower of your story as well. For those who don’t know Luanne’s brother, Van, is a fellow person living with MS. He used to be a designer for DKNY. Together, Van and Luanne, design fashionable cooling equipment, like headbands, for people living with MS. Check out their story at: Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to the entire DiBernardo family!

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