Summer…Here I Come

By Penelope Conway

Summer is almost here. It’s a time for pool parties, vacations, picnics, gardening and concerts in the park. With multiple sclerosis it’s also a time of fatigue, weakness, and heat sensitivity that tends to make all my symptoms a gazillion times worse.

The warmer it gets, the more numb my body becomes. I can actually feel the numbness as it creeps up my arms and legs, and as it works its way down my face, neck and chest. My vision becomes more blurred and I lose color clarity in my left eye which can be quite weird. My legs won’t cooperate with one another, I drop things more frequently and naps are a necessity.

Summer for me is a great struggle as I select between the things I know I can do, those that I can’t do and the ones I decide to soldier through limping and dragging my body along. I know one thing for sure: the inventor of the air conditioner should have been given the greatest achievement award that existed at the time because without it, I wouldn’t survive.

Not only do I hibernate in the winter, I do so in the summer too. MS and heat just don’t mix together very well. My body can attest to that.

If I have to be out in the heat of the day away from the coolness of my indoor environment, I try to plan around the hottest times by doing things in the mornings before the temperature becomes unbearable. When I can’t plan around my mornings, I make sure to have ice with me in one form or another in order to keep my core temperature a bit more controlled.

Ice vests are awesome. I never thought I would like wearing one because most of them aren’t very stylish. I thought I would look like a fisherman wearing a tackle box or a construction worker packing pockets of nails, but they actually aren’t so bad. Most of the time people don’t even realize I’m wearing ice. I’ve turned it into my own personal trendy style. Even healthy people get jealous and want one for themselves.

I also try to keep ice water with me to sip on. Sometimes just holding the cold bottle is enough to get me through a bad moment. That and wrapping a cold wrap around my neck help tremendously.

My freezer has a shelf dedicated to ice packs for my vest, frozen neck wraps and partially filled water bottles frozen and ready to be topped off with cold water. It’s amazing how much ice gets me through a hot day outdoors.

Air conditioning, ice and careful planning are my summer norm now. You may not find me hanging out at the beach watching a game of volleyball or spending the day at an amusement park waiting in long lines for the roller coaster, but I will still be having fun and possibly eating a snow cone or two.

Yes, multiple sclerosis has limited me. That’s a fact. But even with my limitations I am able to do things that I never thought possible thanks to innovative technology and devices that help to keep my body temperature regulated. Summer…here I come!

Oooh…I think I just heard the ice cream truck going down the road. Help. Does anyone have a dollar I can borrow?

*Penelope Conway was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November 2011. She is the author and founder of Positive Living with MS (positivelivingwithms.com) where she uses humor and her own life experiences with MS to help others navigate this unpredictable journey. She believes that staying positive and holding onto hope is the key to waking up each morning with the strength to get through the day.

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Who’s in Your Social Network?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Summer. Rising temperatures have engulfed many parts of the country as we head into three months off for many schools and time marked by vacations, day trips and outings around town. One of the things often associated with summer are the get-togethers with friends and family, cookouts and time to connect. After the long chill of winter and rains of spring, being social and connecting with others can breathe new life into our daily routines. But being social can also be difficult to manage and navigate. Where to start and what to do to put yourself out there are some questions that you may ask as you venture into being social. Here are some helpful things to keep in mind this time of year as you look for ways to put yourself out there.

  • Set a goal: This summer I want to make one new interaction a week. Goals are important, they keep us accountable and give us something to aspire to. Make sure your goals are reasonable, obtainable and of interest to you.
  • Reach out to volunteer: Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, discover a new interest and also give back to the community around you. There are sites such as Volunteer Match as well as your local community center than can help you get started.
  • Plan something you’ve wanted to do: Maybe you’ve been saying you want to have people over or get together with a friend who you haven’t seen in a while. Now’s the time to reach out and put something in the books.discuss
  • Give the internet a try: Now I know the internet is pretty much part of all our lives and one of the reasons is it’s ability to provide us with new and fun ways to interact. Join a new online community such as MeetUp.com where you will be able to find local opportunities to join others interested in board games, cooking classes, paint nights and any number of activities.
  • Give yourself a break: Doing new things and getting out there to meet new people or even planning things with those you know can be a lot, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Give yourself a break if your goal is to make one new interaction this summer or you have to reschedule that dinner with friends. What’s important is that you are seeking the engagement and building new connections.

Staying social is great to our overall well-being. It gives us outlets, keeps us connected and provides other individuals that we can reach out to in times of need. This summer add some points of contact to your social network.

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Cool Summer Activities

As most schools around the country end their school year, many parents are finding themselves searching for activities that will preoccupy their children, but that are also accessible for the whole family. While many folks may opt for the parks or playgrounds in the warmer weather, individuals with MS may have to get creative to try and find activities that can be taken indoors during those warmer days to help avoid some of those heat-related symptoms.

But how can you entertain your children, before they tear through every cabinet in the household looking for something to do? Parents magazine provides some online fun activities that can be modified for any age group. Thinking about, or having a list of activities on hand may be helpful for days where MS symptoms are present, or fatigue has taken a toll.

Local programs are also available to children during the summer months. Many of these activities can be completed indoors to help beat the heat. Local libraries may have reading programs or special events; often they post these on their social events calendar or on a bulletin board in the lobby. Stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot or Joann Fabrics have free workshops available for families or children; you can call around to local stores to see if a calendar or events listing are made available.

Get creative this summer and see what fun activities you can find that can be completed indoors. Do you have any cool plans this summer?

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Summer Heat: The Enemy of the MS Patient?

By: Meagan Freeman

Before my diagnosis, the blistering sun of the summer season was my best friend. I was a swimmer, wake-boarder, and sun worshipper. I enjoyed my teen years, soaking up the rays in the California sun, trying to get a nice tan and reading magazines with friends. The hotter the better was my attitude! Boy, have things changed since my diagnosis in 2009.

Now, I have had to accept that the heat is no longer my best friend, but rather, my worst enemy. The heat of summer can be an incredibly challenging thing for those with MS, and it can lead to staying home alone while the rest of the family enjoys the beach, pool, and outdoor summer activities. For several years, I felt depressed about my situation. I had several relapses each summer, and my family members were enjoying my formerly favorite activities while I stayed home on the couch in my air-conditioned home, a virtual prisoner.

After several years of this seasonal imprisonment, I began to search for ways to beat the heat, and still enjoy family time outdoors. There are many options for combatting the summer heat, and I want to share some ideas for other individuals struggling with this issue. Fortunately for us, cooling technology has dramatically improved over the years. I always avoided cooling vests, merely because of vanity. I did not want to be seen with a bulky, unattractive cooling vest; but fortunately we have some wonderful, stealth options now.

The key is to keep the core temperature at a normal level, and through cooling technology, individuals can enjoy the summer days without experiencing flares and relapses caused by the heat. Heat leads to increased inflammation, which we need to avoid at all costs. Fortunately, simple cooling products can achieve the goal of maintaining a normal core body temperature, despite warm days.

MSAA has a wonderful program, offering free vests and cooling products to individuals who qualify for the program. The link for the MSAA cooling vest program is: https://mymsaa.org/msaa-help/cooling/. There is a short application to fill out, and this program can offer a vest to qualified patients at no cost. For those who may not be financially eligible, there are several other companies offering these types of cooling products. A good cooling vest can mean the difference between missing out on family activities, to being an active participant.

In addition to these products, I have found several MS vacation organizations, including the “MS Cruisers.” This organization offers cruises to many ports of call around the world, specifically tailored to meet the needs of MS patients. “This cruise is open to all MS patients, family members and friends who share an interest in the MS community, believe that health and fitness are powerful tools for overall well-being and independence, want to travel and interact with others who are facing the same challenges; and are aiming for the same goal of enjoying life to its fullest as they go through the process of adjusting their lifestyle to best suit their constantly changing needs.” (MS Cruisers.com, 2015.) Consider checking out this site for many options for amazing summer cruises. The site is located at: http://mscruisers.com.

I believe that the key to finding happiness and acceptance during a life with MS is to continue to enjoy all of the activities we enjoyed before our diagnosis. Through the use of simple cooling technology, and finding the right vacation options, we can continue to participate in life, enjoy the sun, and feel as “normal” as possible. If you find yourself imprisoned at home in the AC all summer, consider reaching out and trying one of these amazing programs. This can be your ticket to a wonderful, active summer season. Go enjoy it!

*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: http://www.motherhoodandmultiplesclerosis.com.

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Summer Travel Tips for Flying With MS – Part 2

By Jeri Burtchell

Most people who have MS take medications. Be sure to keep them in your carry-on bag to prevent mishandling or severe temperature changes. Keep a note in your wallet or purse with your emergency contact, medications, conditions, allergies and medical history in case anything should happen away from home.

Pack a sweater in your carry-on. Even if you are traveling from one hot place to another, airports and planes can be veritable iceboxes. Besides using it for warmth, a cushy sweater can double as a pillow.

Pack your own snack. Fruit or nuts, a sandwich or chips, are all going to be cheaper if you bring your own. Airlines occasionally provide snacks, but not always, and if they have snack boxes for purchase you can expect to pay premium prices. The only thing you can’t bring is a drink but most flights offer a free beverage.

Which to choose, the aisle seat or the window? Windows seats have the added benefit of not only providing a view, but a “wall” on which to lean if you tire easily. Aisle seats make trips to the restroom easier. Middle seats, for most passengers,  are the least desirable.

Pack a wall charger for your smartphone in your carry-on. Your itinerary, email and family may only be an electronic device away, but if your battery dies and the airline lost your luggage, you will be cast adrift in an unfamiliar place, unable to access anything. You can usually find an outlet for your charger in any airport terminal.

If you rent a vehicle at your travel destination, ask for one similar to yours at home. Trying to figure out where the wipers and lights are while navigating a strange place just adds unneeded stress.

If you follow these tips, you can avoid unnecessary stress, leaving you free to enjoy your stay. Don’t overdo it, though! Be sure to drink plenty of fluids so you don’t dehydrate, take naps when you body tells you and pace yourself. Make your visit memorable for all the right reasons. Happy travelling!

*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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