Lisa is like many supermoms we’ve heard of: She juggles a busy home life with three young children, all while running a company she started with her husband. But she’s also been living with MS for 13 years. How does she manage her family, job, and staying on top of her health? Here’s Lisa’s story:
Q: How did your MS diagnosis impact your plan for the future?_Lisa: _ When I was diagnosed with MS, it came as a complete shock. I was misdiagnosed initially, like almost everyone with MS. I was diagnosed in 2003, when I was in my late 20s. I had no kids at the time, and my focus was entirely on my career. I had big plans for the future. Then I experienced three flares in my first year after diagnosis. MS made me take a hard look at my life. I felt I needed to prioritize what were truly the most important things to me.
Q: Did your diagnosis affect your decision to start a family?_Lisa: _ Having a family was very important to me. After I found out about my MS and had some time to adjust, I decided I didn’t want to wait to have kids. In 2006, I gave birth to my son. I really struggled when I went back to work full-time when he was three months old. It was very stressful balancing family, career and not feeling well. A few years later, when my first daughter was born, I was faced with the decision of returning to work full-time or quitting my job. I decided that this was too important of a time in my life and was fortunate to be in the position to be able to take some time off to raise my kids.
I have a degree in chemistry and I’d been working in the research field for 10 years, so I wanted to keep my brain engaged. I feel that’s very important with MS: you need to stay mentally active and I decided to remain at home and finish my MBA. My second daughter was born shortly afterwards but about five months after her birth, I experienced a significant relapse and had problems walking, and thinking clearly. I had three children under 5, a household to run, was continuing to work on my education, but I realized I was trying to do too much. I again had to take a step back and re-evaluate my life and my priorities. MS reminds you that you need to slow down and take care of yourself sometimes, regardless of what you want to do.
Q: How did pregnancy impact the way you manage MS?_Lisa: _ I wasn’t as fatigued during pregnancy. It put some of my symptoms into remission. But three to six months after you give birth, there is a heightened time of relapse. You are more likely to have a flare due to your body’s hormonal changes. This is important to know so that you can plan an MS care strategy for after the baby arrives. This is a personal decision between you and your doctor.
Q: How does your MS affect your relationship with your family?_Lisa: _ I try to stay on top of everything by organizing as much as I can each week. That way when I’m having a flare, I know that all of the meals for the week are planned out. My husband and kids are taken care of, so I can rest and take time for myself without feeling guilty.
I also openly talk to my kids about my condition. My son has been to my infusion treatments and previously saw me give myself injections, and my oldest daughter plans on finding a cure for MS! You can’t hide your condition from your kids. You need to be honest with them. They ask lots of questions. They know that Mommy isn’t going away, she just doesn’t always have the energy to play.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who was recently diagnosed with MS?_Lisa: _ Educate yourself about your condition, work with your doctor, be kind to yourself and ask for help when needed.
I personally need to have health goals to measure changes in my condition. My personal goal is to walk a mile each day. MS symptoms can really sneak up on you, so you need to a goal or some measures to go by, so that you are aware if your symptoms are getting worse.
You must be your own health advocate. I had a relapse recently after being relapse-free for five years. I had stopped monitoring my condition as closely as I had upon initial diagnosis and my symptoms snuck up on me. I always feel fatigued but this started becoming a larger issue and harder to manage, my feet were burning by the end of the day and I found I could only walk a third of a mile at a time. I started feeling depressed and getting headaches. I just thought it was my “new normal.” Turns out I was having a flare. New changes should be reported immediately to your doctor — you shouldn’t have to suffer through it.
Check out more of our MS Profiles: ** Profile in Courage: Cory Martin**
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Carmen is a registered dietitian who specializes in weight management and nutrition therapy for chronic disease. In addition to nutrition counseling at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Carmen teaches undergraduate health and wellness courses and provides corporate wellness seminars on exercise and nutrition.
Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian, receiving her undergraduate degree in dietetics from James Madison University and her master’s degree in health education and administration from Towson University. She is a certified specialist in adult weight management and teaches cooking classes. Carmen enjoys educating her clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness. She also loves volunteering, including as a Girl Scout troop leader.