About 21 years ago when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and given an extremely poor prognosis, the question was: “What do I do now?” The immediate prescription by my doctor was “you are a postmenopausal woman, overachiever, and you need to retire.”
And my immediate response at age 60 was, “I have too many things to do!"
I smiled, said “thank you,” and started my pursuit of health and well-being! I was devastated, and so was my husband, but we decided there must be a better outlook -- if we could just try to see what it might be.
To be candid, the diagnosis didn’t seem correct to me. I wasn’t the typical white female living in the North, and I was diagnosed at the age of 60, not 40 or younger, so this made me wonder if it really was an autoimmune disease. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy it wasn’t a brain tumor, which was another possibility that was entertained.
When I was diagnosed in 2000, they told me the multiple sclerosis prognosis was questionable for the average person. Treatments were limited, and times ahead would prove to be challenging.
For several years after my diagnosis, I kept busy working. But I didn’t focus on taking care of myself as mobility wasn’t yet a big issue. The establishment was telling me that MS would consume my life, but it was difficult to accept that fact. Denial was always present! It took me many years to really focus on healing and answering the question: What does healing really entail?
Upon finally accepting my reality, I retired completely from my career as an anesthesiologist in 2004. Quality of life became my new goal as I started dealing with the physical, psychological, and emotional consequences of multiple sclerosis.
What does a workaholic do when she stops working? I started my hunting games! I explored every nook and cranny I could find, and this is what I discovered after many years of pursuit: I feel the importance of nutrition, stress management, and exercise has been downplayed for too long by many practitioners.
With the right balance of nutrition, exercise, stress management, and alternative treatments, I was able to completely pull myself back from the brink of being close to bedridden from MS. The results -- in my mind -- don’t lie. It was an absolute revelation that I could modify disease progression if I took time to do the work, heal, and pay attention.
When you get MS, there’s a fear you’ll would have all the symptoms of this autoimmune condition, but this just isn’t true. Everyone is different, and I fervently believe that everyone can benefit from therapies in some meaningful way.
And you don’t have to take my word for it: In the words of Nancy J. Holland, EdD, author of several books on MS and former vice president of clinical programs for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, “Currently, there is no cure for MS, but there are treatments that modify disease activity, slow the course of the disease, and alleviate its effects.”
Personally, I agree with the following quote from actress Teri Garr, who was diagnosed with MS in 1999: “Oddly enough, MS has made my life so much better than it was before. I now appreciate what I have and I'm not running around like a rat in a maze.”
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