Meet MSAA’s Newest Guest Blogger – Lisa Scroggins

I am Lisa Scroggins, wife, mother, CPA. I was diagnosed in 1991, and my mother had MS. There’s more: two of my five siblings also have MS. So, obviously, I am a person with MS: a patient. I don’t like to be called an MSer. I also resist substituting different words for the letters, M and S, such as “Made Strong:” I like to think of myself as an advocate, and I have written to members of Congress on various issues. I’m currently in the process of trying to correct an inadequate parking situation in my community¹.

If I’m brutally honest with myself, I just don’t like being a disabled person, and I have hope that I can improve. Having officially stopped working because of disability, I am having an identity crisis, as well as an existential one. I know I have pretty severe limitations, which mostly have arisen in the past three to four years. There’s my first clue: it seems as though it’s very recent, but I just typed the truth: my walking ability has worsened over several years, not the one or two that I’ve been telling myself. It has been only a couple of years since I’ve worked, but it’s important to know that I experienced a life-changing series of events which have left me reeling to this day. In other words, it’s complicated.

I’ve had MS for a very long time. I’m lucky, in that for many years, my symptoms were invisible to others. Although they were always in the back of my mind, I had learned to compensate for them.

First example: I’m shopping in a Sam’s Club store. It’s a huge building, and as is typical, I’ve walked around for a while, just browsing for things that I might want to buy, when I realize that fatigue² is kicking in. I’m not prepared to check out, with all that entails: getting my payment and membership cards out, unloading my items to the conveyor belt, putting them back in my cart, storing my cards safely, but keeping my receipt ready to be checked before exiting, trekking to my car, unloading my purchases into my trunk, parking or maybe just abandoning my cart, climbing back into my car where I will rest for a few minutes, while hoping that no one is idling behind me, waiting for my parking spot—oh the pressure! Also, I’m a pretty good distance from the checkout lines, and those lines were fairly long at last glimpse. What to do? I head over to the book section. I park my cart so that hopefully, it won’t impede any other shoppers, grab a few books to peruse, and sit down on the floor to rest and look through the books. Occasionally, I get some questioning looks, but hey, you do what you have to do.

Second example: I have what’s known as a “neurogenic bladder.” Real world translation: I experience urgency, which means I have to pee now! It doesn’t matter when I’ve last relieved myself, or how much my fluid intake has been. (That commercial for an overactive bladder medication is spot-on and even cute! The bladder IS in charge and drags me where it will.) Whenever I enter a building, if I don’t already know where the bathrooms are, I focus on finding their locations. When driving, I have been known to pull over to the side of the Interstate when I couldn’t make it to the nearest restroom. The technique involves putting on my car’s flashers, exiting my car, rapidly walking over to the passenger side, opening both front and rear passenger doors to provide a modicum of privacy, grabbing a fast food napkin or two from the map storage compartment door on the front passenger side for, oh, come on, you know what it’s for (always kept stocked for emergencies such as these!), and doing the squat. There’s just no way to do this in a dignified manner. I always feel guilty for littering. The pre-MS me would never have done such a thing.

The nature of my MS has changed and its effect on me has been nothing short of dramatic. As isolating and terrifying as it is, I know there are thousands of other people going through the same thing. The need to redefine myself in this new state of existence, is a powerful one. In our culture, what we “do” defines us. I’ve been treading water for some time, trying to figure what it is that I “do” now. If it’s true that “necessity is the mother of invention,” I’m looking for some tools. Maybe we can search together.

¹ You may have thought, as I did, that the ADA fixed this stuff, but that is incorrect! An explanation in a future blog post is in the making
² Often cited as the most common and disabling symptom among people with MS.

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At This Time of Year

By: Bob Rapp

I am a partner to a person living with MS. My wife has been living with the disease for over 20 years and has done remarkably well. She has always been meticulous about her health. She eats well (except for the candy), exercises almost daily and is adherent to her medications. Things are not perfect but she has, and continues, to lead her life. She’s pretty tough and resilient.

A few months ago as some of her symptoms seemingly began to worsen, she had an MRI and the scan showed some new lesions. In consultation with her neurologist they decided it was time to change her DMT from the one that has been so effective for all of those years to a new medication that would hopefully better manage her disease. As people who have gone through this transition know, that is not as simple as it sounds. In some ways it is like losing a trusted friend, one that has been by your side for decades. You worry about the new medications effectiveness, you may experience side effects that you thought you left behind so many years ago and you worry about the future.

It is another of those unpredictable consequences of having MS. Another aspect that has to be managed. Another hurdle to be overcome. Another issue where the support of others is so important.

So what is my purpose in sharing this personal story during this holiday season? It is a simple one. To encourage everyone to enjoy these special days, celebrate what we have and the goodness in life. Laugh a lot and keep your friends, family and loved ones close. MS and the challenges it brings will be around but it need not consume our lives. Keep on living. Happy holidays!

*Bob Rapp is the Chief Operating Officer of MSAA. He has been a care partner to a person living with MS for more than a decade.

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Putting Myself Out There

By: Stacie Prada 

Having MS has frustrated me, limited me, knocked me down for a bit, and eventually released me from fears I had that kept me from doing certain things and from becoming someone I want to be.

Since being diagnosed with MS in 2008, things I have done for the first time include: yoga, trapeze, traveling abroad, ending a long term marriage, running for and being elected to public office, walking a marathon, and writing. I’m sure there are more, but thinking through my feelings and putting them to paper has been extremely therapeutic for me.

I figure I put so much effort into learning about myself, MS, and how I can live a fulfilling life that maybe sharing my experiences, inspirations and perspective might be helpful to someone else. Or at least it’s something I can refer to when I need to be reminded of things that helped me in the past that I’ve forgotten.

I’m inspired and motivated by people and ideas every day. Hearing what other people with MS have experienced and overcome helps me ease fears and build confidence that I will be able to deal with whatever cards life deals me. And while I put a lot of effort into my health by eating well, exercising, building relationships, sleeping, and contributing to society, I know that I’m not protected from MS disease progression. If MS limits my mobility and my ability to do things in the future, I want to feel secure in knowing I did all I could to slow my disease progression and build a safety net. In the end I believe it will be my attitude that dictates how well I adjust to any difficulties I may have.

It’s with this motivation that I hope to periodically share blog posts in this forum. My name is Stacie, I’m technically a middle aged woman although I feel young, I work full time, I have MS, and I generally feel good about life. Thank you for taking the time to read this!

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Connecting through Storytelling

By: Matt Cavallo

When I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I was afraid. I didn’t want anyone to know that I had this potentially disabling disease. I was afraid to tell my boss for fear of losing my job, and I was afraid to tell my friends because I didn’t want them to think of me differently. I started pushing away the few people in my life who did know what I was dealing with, because I was afraid of them seeing my condition progress. This included my wife. I was stuck in a deep depression. For all intents and purposes, my life post-diagnosis was being spent lying in my bed watching daytime reruns.

This all changed when my neurologist at the time in Boston asked me to come out and speak at a patient event. She wanted me to tell them the story that I had shared with her about how I got my dog. I was nervous. Not only had I not been telling people about my MS, but now I was going to be up on a stage talking to a big group of strangers about an intensely personal struggle that was raging inside me. That night came, and it changed my life forever.

In an instant, surrounded by a group of my peers living with multiple sclerosis, I realized that I wasn’t alone. By sharing my story that night, I felt a weight lift from me, as the people around me opened up and started sharing their story, too. I was no longer ashamed, embarrassed or depressed that I had MS and was not the man I used to be. Instead, I felt empowered and was embracing the opportunity to connect with others on the most personal of levels, united by this MS tie that binds us.

Sharing my story has opened up doors to places that I had never dreamed of before. It has taken me from coast to coast, putting me on TV, exercise DVDs, newspapers, radio shows, and even onstage in Las Vegas. Had I given up on myself back when I was diagnosed in 2005, I wouldn’t be living these dreams and ambitions that I never knew I had. While there have been many personal accomplishments since my diagnosis, it is always the personal encounters that I value the most.

This is just one example of thousands I have experienced on my journey:

At a restaurant next to the Savannah airport on one of my recent trips, I sat down next to a man who I would say was probably in his twenties. I turned and looked at him and asked, “What is good here?”

“Try the Tybee Island, and you can’t go wrong with a burger,” he replied.

I took his advice and complimented him on the local beer recommendation as we started talking. He was a pipefitter on a job assignment from South Carolina. He was missing his wife and little boy, but still had some time left on his job.

“What brings you to Savannah?” he asked.

“Storytelling,” I replied.

He was intrigued by my answer, so I explained to him that I go around to hospitals and talk to doctors, nurses, therapists, and other clinical staff about the patient experience-and that I also speak to patient and caregiver groups.

“So,” he says, “what kind of doctor are you?”

“I’m not,” I replied, “I’m a patient. I tell them the story of how I got my dog.”

He was captivated and wanted to hear the dog story. So, I told him the story of my symptoms, that I lost my ability to walk and go to the bathroom on my own, and how my diagnosis of MS led to my wife getting me a dog for my birthday, and ultimately my promise to walk him every day. I told him that it had been eight years since then, and I have still kept my promise. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he needed a story like mine on that night.

My food comes, and I order another beer. We go on to talk about the kids. He settles up his tab, shakes my hand and pats me on the back.

“It was great meeting you,” I said. He returned the sentiment.

I finish my burger and beer, then I ask the bartender for my bill. She turned and looked at me and said, “That man that just walked out paid for you and the tip.”

My jaw dropped. I wanted to thank him and say that it wasn’t necessary. I ran out to the parking lot, but he was gone. I couldn’t believe that a complete stranger, a kid in his twenties and someone who had never heard of MS, would surprise me with that selfless gesture. All I did was share my story with him.

Encounters such as this have reinforced to me the power of storytelling. Your story is your power. Many of us living with multiple sclerosis get stuck in the same depressive rut that I experienced when I was first diagnosed. When you are able to open up and share your story with others, you will realize that you are not alone. Each one of us living on this planet has some cross to bear. Ours just happens to have a name: MS. Sharing may make you vulnerable, but you’ll also find that when you open yourself up to others, you truly see the good in people. To the stranger in Savannah, thanks again for the burger and the beer. I will pay it forward.

*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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