We’re In This Together

This month we’ve been focusing some of our entries on care partners. We often think of the individual who is diagnosed with MS or cancer or mental health but what is not as often associated are the family, friends and care partners who journey along with them. While each person’s story is of course very different and I don’t want to generalize the experience of everyone I thought it would be great to get more of a perspective from a care partner of someone living with a chronic illness. We’ll call him Tony and in addition to being a masterful golf player, jazz enthusiast and retired teacher he is also the caregiver for his wife who we’ll name Maria (west side story anyone) who has been living with a chronic illness, Parkinson’s Disease for the last decade. Tony was gracious in giving me some of his time for this.

Me: What is one thing you want others to know about being a care partner?

Tony: Oh, we’re just jumping right in! Umm, I think It’s important for people to know that it’s hard. And not just in the sense that people think of. I love my wife and I take care of her because I love her, I want her to taken care of, I’m physically able to and as old [fashioned] as it may sound I promised to be there for her in sickness and health. I know she would take care of me this way if our roles were reversed. Umm, but also being a care partner it’s hard. I know lots of couples who are no longer together and we shouldn’t shame them for that. It takes a lot to take care of someone in this way. It’s hard, you know… it’s hard.

Me: Yea, I think what you said about shame is big. We sometimes look at a spouse or a family member and ask why didn’t you stay and be there

Tony: Right, Yea. I’m in support groups with people in that boat. And I think people don’t realize how difficult it can be. The hardship it can be, mental[ly] and physically too. And it’s not usually for a lack of love that people don’t stay. Which is I guess what most people would think when they see that but it’s, it’s hard.

Me: Yeah. You mentioned support groups. Do you run one or what has that looked like for you?

Tony: I’ve been part of a couple of them. I’ve never run one…maybe I should have! But I felt lonely before getting connected to my [first] support group. When I walked in it was like having mirrors or copies of myself around. Here were these other people who understood me. Who listened not with pity but with understanding. I found a place where I could be less alone. Where I could be upset or angry and not feel bad about it. Not every support group was for me but being in those places I’ve found that I’m not alone and there are other people who are there in the same boat

Me: What was Maria getting diagnosed like for you?

Tony: It was kind of crazy. She has other members of her family who have diagnosed with it and I just didn’t think it would be her, it would be us. But it made me aware and think of a lot of things I never had before. Like what it was going to be like to take care of her and then who would take care of her if something happened to me.

Me: You always seem upbeat though.

Tony: There are days when it’s rough. But for the most part I think about the fact that I love her and she loves me and we’re in this together. She has lots she could complain about, but doesn’t… so why should I. We take it one day at a time, that’s all we can do

Being a care partner isn’t an easy thing to do and I’m sure Tony and Maria like all care partners have waves that ebb and flow. Seeking out a support group is a great way to find a group of people that can be in your corner.

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Mining the Web for MS Resources

By: Matt Cavallo 

**Disclaimer: For any new or worsening MS symptoms, please contact your doctor immediately**

The internet is full of good (and not so good) information about multiple sclerosis. There are trusted sources, personal blogs, and social support groups regarding MS. Like everything else in life, when seeking more information about the disease, you must consider the source. The following blog will discuss some online traps that I have fallen into and how to avoid them.

In my mind, a good site for healthcare information should never promise a miracle or solicit patients for money. For example, I was following a very compelling Facebook thread posted in an MS support group linking to the story of a patient. I’m a sucker for a good story, so I started reading about this person and how they overcame all of their MS symptoms. At the bottom of the page, there was a link to their “miracle treatment,” and it brought me to a multi-level marketing website ad for some vitamins.

They drove me to the site with a good story, but their promise of a cure for MS was way off base. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition with no known cure, so to promise the people who click on this website a cure is false advertising. Be skeptical of buying any supplement that is either not prescribed to you by your doctor or that you have not discussed with your doctor prior to purchasing. This goes for assistive devices, as well. Before considering any assistive devices, contact your doctor or insurance company to see if the device is approved. You may get an idea from a website, but by going through your doctor and insurance company, you may find that the device, or a similar device, is covered.

As for trusted information, my favorite site is MSAA. In fact I like them so much, I am a contributing blogger for them. I found MSAA because I was looking for educational material to help explain MS to my young boys. What I found was a free picture book that I read to my boys that helped explain daddy’s condition. I found other resources, like their online Relapse Center. Every resource on the MSAA website is evidenced-based and peer- reviewed, so I know that the information is coming from a reliable source.

Another source for MS information that I trust is Healthine.com. Healthline takes complicated medical terms associated with MS and other chronic illnesses and puts them into slideshow format in words that are easy to understand. They also have great weekly columns from fellow MSAA blogger Jeri Burtchell and provide links to MS resources. MSAA and Healthline are my two personal favorite websites to find objective, clinically reviewed information about MS.

Social media is also a great place to find MS support groups and information about the disease. I belong to several social media support groups where members interact online. If you are going to engage in these activities, you must keep in mind personal biases. Participate in an online support group for support, but not for medical advice. These groups are great when you are having a bad day and want validation from your fellow MSers, but I have also seen solicitations or treatment recommendations based upon personal bias. Remember, you and your doctor should make all treatment decisions together, and what you read in an online forum may not be entirely accurate.

The internet is a great place to mine MS resources. There are trusted sources, like MSAA and Healthline, great personal MS blogs, and social media support groups. Just remember to be aware that some of these sites may be trying to solicit, not support you. Any research-based article will say something to the effect of “clinically reviewed” or have a clinical reviewer in the credits. Any website that promises you a cure is a red flag to stay away.

As a person living with MS, the best thing you can do is educate yourself to the disease and others’ experiences living with the disease. The internet is a great place to find resources, but make sure that you can trust the source. Let me know if you come across a good MS site that I haven’t mentioned. Happy mining!

MS Web Resources:
MSAA – https://www.mymsaa.org/
MSAA Relapse Resource Center – https://relapses.mymsaa.org/
Healthline Multiple Sclerosis Center – http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis

*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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