When were you diagnosed with MS and what was the first thing you did after you found out?: I was diagnosed in October 2006, but the symptoms that led to my diagnoses started January 2006.
I had a doctor’s appointment during my lunch break when I found out I have MS. I had to walk back to my office afterward. My husband, Brian, was with me. It was only a one mile walk but it took forever because I had to stop to cry. When we got to my office, my coworkers saw in my face that something was wrong. We sat on the floor and cried together. Then I walked home with Brian and cried some more.
What advice would you give to someone just finding out they have MS?: When I was diagnosed, I heard it all. “Be positive.” “This is the best time to have MS because there are so many medications now.” “You should try the Swank Diet.” I seriously did not want advice. I just wanted to cry.
It may be too soon to give such weighty advice to newly diagnosed, but my advice would be to live by this motto, “Do what you can and never give up.” MS is a disease that can potentially stop your body from moving. If there is a sport that you love, but are having a hard time due to MS symptoms, figure out an alternative solution. Maybe you are a runner like me and have foot drop. There is possibility for you to keep running with an ankle-foot orthotic. Another example: I really like tennis, but I cannot move laterally to cover the court and my hand is too weak to hold a tennis racket. I play table tennis instead! I know an amazing girl with Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome. She can walk, but does not run well so she plays wheelchair basketball! Try to find alternatives for the things that you want to do.
What is something good that came out of your MS diagnosis?: I hate to admit it, but MS made me a stronger person. When my neurologist told me to lower my expectations for running because of foot drop, it lit a fire in me to prove her wrong. I found an awesome orthotist and he fitted me with an ankle-foot orthotic made out of carbon-fiber. It is light, yet sturdy enough, for running. Since 2008, I have completed 30 half marathons, 31 marathons (49 lifetime) and one 30 mile race with the AFO strapped to my leg!
What is your morning routine?: I roll out of bed at 5:14AM, chug a cup of coffee and go to the gym! Exercising before work is so important to me because it helps me deal with stress.
How has MS affected your daily life?: I have typical MS fatigue. I get lethargic (like jet lag) by the afternoon, sometimes overwhelmingly tired. As a result, I have gone part time at work. I try to do all of my activities in the earlier part of the day before I get tired.
Can you remember your saddest memory of your life?: My supervisor had Sjogren's Disease. He was in and out of the hospital for a year. He passed away last February. I keep having dreams where someone runs into my office and says everything is really okay. He didn’t die. I actually wake up excited, only to realize it is just a dream. My boss is the first person close to me who has passed away. I miss him terribly.
Can you remember the happiest moment of your life?: This is a hard choice. It is either the day Brian and I got married in Jamaica in June 2005 or when we renewed our vows in the Bahamas in June 2015.
Brian is the love of my life. We have been together more than 20 years and we still giggle like high school kids!
What is the greatest achievement you have done since being diagnosed and how were you able to achieve it?: Definitely running marathons is my greatest achievement with MS. I am able to achieve this because I have discipline to train, stubbornness to never give up, and a lot of heart to keep my passion for running. My biggest arsenal, though, is Brian. He runs all of my marathons with me now. Not only do I have foot drop, but the entire right side of my body is weak. I can only lift my right leg a few inches from the ground and it is hard for me to grip things. He is my one-man support crew, not just physically, but also emotionally.
We are going to embark on a new adventure. I want to be the first person with MS to run 7 marathons on 7 continents and I am going to do it all in a 12 month period! We start with the Cape Town Marathon in September 2016.
Any other thoughts you would like to share?: I want to encourage people, with or without chronic disease, not to let others dissuade them. Had I listened to my neurologist, I never would feel the pride of crossing the finish line and wearing a marathon medal around my neck! My little accomplishments are sweeter and more gratifying because “I do what I can and never give up!”