Lisa Doggett, a 45-year-old family physician in Austin, Texas, follows the advice she gives her patients. She eats a vegetarian diet, rarely drinks, avoids smoking, and exercises regularly. She’s even run a couple of marathons and hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Because Doggett is so active, people are sometimes surprised to learn that this mother of two has MS. She has had the illness since 2009, and has experienced several relapses over the years. But she’s also found ways to be at peace with the disease, and stay busy and fulfilled.
“MS can be a reason to not get up in the morning,” Doggett says. “But it’s also a reason to get up and do everything I possibly can with that day, push my limits, and make the most of it, because I don’t know how long I will be able to.”
Doggett hasn’t gotten a lot of the MS symptoms that other people have, such as problems getting around physically, but others, particularly dizziness, bother her a lot.
“I can still work, I can still drive, I can go about my day,” she says, “but I found it [the dizziness] can sap my energy and my motivation and just make me feel horrible.”
Basically, Doggett has found an approach to life with MS that works well for her.
She continues her work as a physician, for example, but in a new and fulfilling way: She helps people with high-risk conditions through a national health management company. She also spends time giving tips and information to other people with MS on her blog, lisadoggett.com.
Staying physically active has been very important for Doggett as well, and has kept her feeling strong and upbeat. She’s pursued a slew of athletic goals. Not only has she run marathons since her diagnosis, but last year, she biked from Houston to Austin in the MS 150, a 168-mile disease-awareness event — and she plans to do it again this year.
Another key ingredient of Doggett’s formula: finding a consistent route to peace and calm.
At first she tried acupuncture, yoga, and physical therapy, and eliminated caffeine from her diet. But it wasn’t until she started practicing meditation that she began to see an improvement.
Five years ago, she took an eight-week intensive meditation training class called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. “Not only does it reduce the dizziness, it helps me live with it a little bit better without as much questioning and frustration,” she says.
Motherhood in the Mix
As the mother of two girls, who were ages 2 and 4 when she got the MS diagnosis, Doggett was concerned she would be too sick or tired to be the parent she wanted to be. “The dizziness affected my mood, and I was worried about how I would interact with them,” she says.
One challenge centered on getting enough sleep. “Until very recently, one of my daughters did not sleep through the night consistently,” Doggett explains. “I’ve always been very protective of my sleep, and so that created some conflict. I wanted to be patient and gentle and to sympathize with her growing pains or fear or whatever it was that was causing her to wake up, but I knew I needed to sleep. I need sleep for my health.”
Signs of MS surfaced for Doggett in 2009, but she didn’t know what was going on. “Looking back, I think, ‘Duh!’” she says about what was happening in the very beginning of her disease process. “That said, I had never diagnosed anybody with MS before, and had only seen a handful of patients with it. Even my husband, who is also a physician, didn’t pick up on it.”
The first symptom Doggett developed was some cloudiness in her vision. So she went to her ophthalmologist and then to a retina specialist. The diagnosis they gave her was dry eye. “I felt that was odd,” says Doggett, “but symptoms improved, and I really didn’t think anything of it.”
Then, a few weeks later, she woke up feeling dizzy. “It wasn’t like a balance problem or motion sickness. I felt like I flew overseas and drank champagne really fast on the way there,” she says. “I thought, ‘I’m just getting a virus. It will be better in a couple of days.’”
Instead, things got worse. Doggett started having bouts of double vision. Foods started tasting different. She worried she might have a brain tumor. “I could not think of anything else to explain my symptoms,” she says. Finally, a doctor friend urged her to get an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which revealed the telltale lesions of MS on her brain. The finding — and MS diagnosis—stunned Doggett. “I associated MS with people in wheelchairs and significant disabilities,” Doggett says. “So, that’s where my mind went.”
‘Was This My MS Life?’
Doggett’s doctor immediately started her on steroids to stop the disease’s activity. Around the same time, she had a spinal tap to confirm her diagnosis. Then she started feeling more ill. “I don’t know if it was the spinal tap itself or if I happened to get sick at the same time, but I was just bedbound, vomiting, really weak and dizzy, and unable to do anything,” she says.
“I wondered if this was the way MS was going to progress in me,” she says.
Testing This, Testing That
Doggett started a daily injection of a disease-modifying treatment, and her symptoms began to improve. But five months later, she had a relapse, and was switched to another medicine.
Doggett had no new symptoms for five years, but then she started experiencing numbness in her legs and feet. An MRI showed she was having a relapse.
She started an oral medication, but yet another relapse and numbness eventually followed. Now she’s on another medication, which is delivered by infusion every six months.
It took some time, but all in all, Doggett’s approach is working for her now. Yes, there have been relapses. But she feels she’s doing well, and able to live a pretty normal life. She’s rarely fatigued and has been able to keep up with the things that add richness to her life.