10 years ago on this very date, April 26, in a matter of mere seconds my entire right side went numb and I lost partial vision in my left eye. After 6 weeks of uncomfortable tests and numerous visits to various doctors, speculation ensued as each physician was uncertain of the root cause of my symptoms. Their initial conclusion was to wait and see if it happened again. Not wanting to play Russian roulette with my life, I sought out a specialist who after a thorough exam and asking a multitude of questions to which he already seemed to know the answer, he uttered the dreaded words I never expected to hear, “My dear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you have multiple sclerosis (MS).”
Vivid images of that moment remain engraved in my mind’s eye forever. I still see my father slumping down in his chair and my mother quietly crying; both helpless to alleviate my suffering. And I still hear my brother’s questions to the physician to gain clarity on why he deemed this diagnosis to be true. Most importantly, I remember thinking to myself that my life had unexpectedly permanently changed in a way that rocked me to my core. Nothing would ever be the same. MS was an incurable disease that I would have to live with forever. And in the literature the doctor gave me to read, it was thought the disease would progress as I aged and I’d only live into my 70s, if I was lucky. At that moment, I was overwhelmed with anxiety.
Over time, as I processed my thoughts and feelings plus adjusted to my new normal, my thinking shifted to the more positive and I began to recognize the gifts that MS brought me.
Adjusting to my new normal meant:
- Learning new ways to exercise so that my core did not overheat (heat is the nemesis to MS);
- Eating an anti-inflammatory diet to keep my blood inflammation levels lower (since with MS they tend to run too high);
- Developing a routine so I would not forget to take my medication every day at the appropriate time (MS creates cognitive challenges like memory loss);
- Adopting a spiritual practice to lower my stress, increase my brain’s gray matter, and strengthen my faith in myself as well as a power greater than me;
- And ensuring to get adequate sleep/rest to allow my body to heal.
Recognizing the gifts MS brought me:
In this journey we call life, how we live and the legacy we leave is what matters most. MS has helped me come into my own; no longer being overly concerned about how others think I should lead my life but living true to myself and what I want. I have discovered my strengths and have become the person I want to be by personifying the change I wish to see in the world. Namely, I try to authentically walk my own talk and give of myself to others as much as possible. I am blessed to be able to do this as a motivational speaker, published author, wellness coach and consultant who inspires hope through mindful health and a meaningful life.
Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of negative things that come with my diagnosis of MS: Dizziness/lightheadedness, cognitive challenges, numbness and/or tingling of all parts of my body, and severe fatigue are a few of the things I experience on a fairly regular basis. Combine that with the fact that I now take a plethora of prescribed medications and vitamins daily to stave off disease progression that have their own negative side-effects including weight gain, excessive dry skin, and hair thinning/loss. However, I consider these to be a small price to pay for being well and I celebrate every day that I am able to get out of bed, stand on my own two feet, and walk without a struggle. My experience with MS is so much less than many others’. I was fortunate to be diagnosed later in life at age 44; to be persistent so as to have a definitive diagnosis within 6 weeks; and be on disease modifying therapy (DMT) within 8 weeks from disease onset. Research shows that the sooner a person is put on DMTs the slower the disease progresses. I am living proof of that.
Ten years have flown by and I am amazed at how strong I remain. Yes, I still have relapsing remitting MS and thankfully it hasn’t progressed. I believe I have more lesions in my brain than when newly diagnosed but nothing is clinically apparent. My neurologist claims that I am “incredibly and extremely lucky.” When I think about that remark and reflect on the past 10 years, I truly believe that “luck” has taken a lot of effort, discipline, commitment, positivity, and faith. And as I celebrate today I am hopeful that I will live well into my 80s or more and with the advances in medical research every day, I remain confident that I will live to experience a body free of MS.
Be Present | Be Purposeful | Be Well