Yes, I believe it can be done. As a person who has been winning the battle for 18 years, I write this blog to provide hope, inspiration and knowledge to those confronting the challenges of MS.
I first encountered the symptoms of MS on New Years Day, 1992 with an onset of Optic Neuritis. At that time, there were many things that I did not understand about the disease, especially the profound changes it would bring. Now stick with me on this. Little did I also understand the true blessing that MS would be to me and my family. It may be difficult to understand that being diagnosed with MS has changed my life for the positive.
In reading this blog, you will get a better sense behind my logic and the steps that I've taken that give me pride in successfully confronting MS. Although my story is a positive one, please keep in mind that there have been many struggles along the way and times when I really did not think I had enough mental or physical toughness to conquer the challenges of MS. I've fallen while walking through airports, tripped going up (and down) the steps, bumped into many a door jamb, and so on. I've felt shame and embarrassment in not being able to teach my daughters how to play soccer, hit a tennis ball or run together. But I have never given in nor given up and have continually pushed myself to emphasize physical fitness and exercise as a key lever in winning the battle. So let me start off with a little background.
I am 52 years old, with a wonderful family: my wife (of 21 years) and three daughters of 20, 16 and 16. Before the onset of MS, I played tennis, soccer, golf and was an avid runner. When first diagnosed in early 1992, I was devastated by the expectation that my future would be one that involved a lack of mobility, a cessation of athletic endeavors, limitations on my career and a burden to my family. To summarize and simplify my journey with MS, I believe there have been four stages.
Stage 1 - Denial (1992 - 1994):
For the first few years I practiced denial, constantly looking for doctors who would find some other cause than MS for my poor balance, lack of coordination and blurred vision. I was actually happy when various doctors found a spinal cord compression to be the cause and a subsequent spinal cord fusion surgery was performed. In retrospect, the surgery only made my symptoms worse, but emotionally, I was still contented that I was not an MS "victim".
Stage 2 - Regretful Acceptance (1994-1998):
The negative progression of symptoms made me continue to seek out more medical advice and after numerous MRI's, CT Scans and spinal taps I did eventually accept that I had MS in 1994. It is at this point that I decided that MS would not define me. I am an inherent optimist and have always believed that the future holds the promise for individual improvement, whether as a father, husband, son, or in one's career. I had no intention that MS would change my basic nature to fulfill on my expectations for myself. So I bought fitness equipment and configured half of my basement as a home gym. I decided that I was the one who would decide how this disease impacted me and committed to a five day a week exercise program. Working in the gym most evenings for 60 minutes gave me a sense of pride and a feeling that I was in control. I still was worried about the unpredictable course of the disease and unsure what the future would hold, but just kept heading to the basement on most evenings, whether fatigued or not.
Stage 3 - Physical Erosion (1998 - 2007):
Unfortunately, the disease did continue to progress and my physical abilities continued to erode. Fatigue played a more central role in the theme of each day. Just getting up and down the stairs in our home was a difficult chore. There were many times when I would occasionally wallow in self-pity, but these moments of emotional weakness tended to be short-lived and relatively infrequent. As a competitive response to the negative course of the disease, I kept pushing myself to "hit the gym" most nights. I pushed myself. Perhaps to the extreme, yet I would always feel better at the end of a workout session, with sweat dripping from body, I'd feel enriched. These workout sessions were my physical and emotional tonic that gave me a sense of control, but in the recesses of my mind I still wanted more.
Stage 4 - Physical Renaissance (2008 - Currently):
With my physical condition sliding down, in the spring of 2008 my doctor suggested an alternative therapy that involved a monthly infusion of Zenapax. Little did I know at the time how profound a positive impact that change would have on my life. Now keep in mind that I have always been vigilant about maintaining my fitness level, but I quickly discovered abilities that I had thought would be gone forever. I began playing golf again. The limp that I had developed seemed to be less noticeable. My balance improved. In the fall of 2008 I decided to try a triathlon and my training regimen involved running, biking and swimming. These are activities that I thought I would never be able to do again. Pre-MS my typical mile would take about six minutes, but I can not adequately convey the absolute pride and joy I felt when running my first post-MS mile at a 15 minute pace. Just being out on the road again and doing something that had been taken from me was just so exciting. An emotional zenith was reached in the fall of 2009 when my three daughters and I pushed a young man with cerebral palsy through the final stage of a marathon.
So, in summary the four stages have really brought me full-circle. Although I have had my ups and downs in dealing with the disease, I intend to use this blog as a forum to convey the approach I've taken and help the reader gain insights on the positive and negatives of fighting, yet winning the battle against MS.
Through all the stages, I have always convinced myself that commitment to working out on a five or six day a week basis would be crucial to my future. This approach was actually a bit in contrast to some of the "conventional wisdom" I received in Stage 2 that espoused a "shut it down and don't overheat yourself" mantra. It just was not in my DNA to cede control and accept that the disease would negatively progress my physical condition downward. Ironically, the disease has been a constant and vigilant reminder that has motivated me to hit the gym on most days.
I am blessed with a terrific family and a meaningful career; however, I honestly believe that I was put on this earth to help others successfully fight MS. I view each day as a blessing and a challenge. I can't say that the battle has been won, but I am proud to say that I am winning. Writing this blog is an honor and a privilege. I will feel good if just one person reads this column and it motivates them to take control. I look forward to writing about many topics, but always focusing on stories and information that convey the positive and pragmatic aspects of how to beat MS.
Published On: January 13, 2010