A Letter to My (pre-MS) self


Dear Steve

MS will invade your world very soon. When it arrives it will be unexpected, shocking, and you won’t know what to do. Your inclination will be to ignore it. Don’t.

Your mind will swirl and you’ll become consumed with worry, so these words are intended to provide you comfort and advice. Whether you heed them or not is entirely up to you, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Your symptoms will be similar to those of the millions that suffer world-wide from this disease, but they won’t be identical because the way an individual experiences MS is as unique as their fingerprint. It’s different for everyone, so what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you.

MS comes in different flavors. The most common is RRMS, or relapsing-remitting MS, which is the come and go kind. Those with RRMS experience symptoms, called flares, and these can raise hell with them in a variety of nasty ways over a short or extended time period, but they go away. This process repeats itself, but the frequency in which it does varies.

You will be lucky in one respect with your MS, but not here. Your MS will be the  primary-progressive kind (PPMS), which means it comes and stays, and gets gradually worse over time. Tough break pal. Your goal will be to limit the progression to a snail’s pace.

That’s all the detail I’m going to offer in terms of what you will have to deal with. No sense in causing information overload since you are still trying to grasp the reality of the situation. For now, I’ll keep it basic and offer you these suggestions that I hope you take to heart.

Learn as much as you can about the disease. Go on web sites and become your own expert and advocate. Beware of the message boards, however. It isn’t that they provide bad information, but those who post are generally going through a bad time and are looking for help. Happy stories are in the minority, so focusing on these boards can give you the impression that you’re royally fucked. That isn’t the case, so glean what you can from these platforms, but don’t let them be your bible.

Create a network of MS friends you can share information and commiserate with. You can try support groups in your area, but I think blogs are a better place to start. Not only are these a good place to get information from people who are offering to share their experiences in a less sensational and often humorous manner, but many of these authors are a hoot and more than willing to stay in touch. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll start one yourself.

Get a good neurologist, and don’t be surprised if you go through a few before you find one you trust, who is knowledgeable, who has an open mind, and is willing to work with you.  They must specialize in MS.

Don’t waste your time and money by travelling out of state to visit an institution that is re-known for MS research and treatment. You’re stubborn though, and are going to ignore this advice. So don’t be shocked when you are dumbfounded and pissed about what they tell you, and wonder how in the world they got their reputation.

Get used to needles because they will become part of your life. When you start self-injecting, it takes some getting used to. Please concentrate on what your doing, otherwise it will sting like a bastard and the resulting bruises will be impressive. And when you have your spinal tap, don’t let your neurologist talk you into having it done in his office. Have it done at the hospital. Trust me on this.

Self-injecting will be temporary, and you will graduate to an infusion center. Make sure you drink plenty of water in the days leading up to and the morning of the infusion. This keeps your veins plump and makes it easier for the nurses to hit one. Of course, you will learn the hard way and start following this recommendation religiously only after  it takes six attempts to get two needles in, and your arms look like raw hamburger.

Get used to drugs, and not necessarily the ones you did in college. Most MS therapy involves pharmacology. Your drugs of choice will be steroids and chemo, believe it or not. Get these infusions on a Friday because the chemo will knock you on your ass two days later (Sunday). Why use your PTO if you don’t have to?

Another area you won’t be lucky about is a rare and little known side effect from steroids: hiccups. They will occur the day after your infusion, come and go for the entire day, and be annoying as hell.  When you get the three-day course of treatment at home, they appear on day four and will last for three solid days. I shit you not. They will literally persist all day and night, and you will want to shoot yourself.

Apheresis: you will learn what this is when you go to the infusion center the first time and see other patients hooked up. It isn’t as bad as it looks and it will help you.

Get rest and watch your diet. Fatigue is a very common symptom so there is no need to make it worse. You will become less active over time, so watching what you eat is important because you don’t want to become a blimp. Oh, by the way. You are going to be ravenous the days you get infused with steroids.

Stay out of the heat. Increasing your internal body temperature raises hell with your symptoms, so avoid prolonged exposure to hot and humid conditions. And say goodbye to hot tubs and saunas. Yeah, I know, that really sucks. Deal with it!

Here is the one area where luck will be on your side. Pain is a very common MS symptom, and it can be excruciating at times. You, fortunately, will not have to deal with that, at least not for the first eleven years. If it finds you, you live in a state that has legalized marijuana for your condition, and it’s great for pain. I’m not sure if what they provide will give you a buzz though.

Don’t give into the disease, but don’t be stupid either. Exercise regularly and keep your core as strong as possible. Stay active, do as much as you can, whenever you can, but know your limits and don’t exceed them. The truth is you’ll be able to do mostly everything you can do now. The only difference is you will need to do it more slowly, more carefully, and in stages.

Don’t give up the intimacy in your life. You don’t have to.

half full

Most importantly, living with MS is all about attitude. If your glass is half-empty, you will focus on the negative, what the disease has taken from you, believe you have become a burden to everyone around you, and that your life sucks. This will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and cause your life to spiral into the toilet. Don’t go there.

If your glass is half-full, on the other hand, you will view this as a bump in the road and be fine. Granted, this is a huge bump, and there will be days where optimism is hard to find and you’ll want to scream, but ride that wave. If you do, you will learn to notice and appreciate many little things that you once took for granted, which is never a bad thing. You’re self esteem and sense of worth will also remain intact. Having a good attitude is vital, because MS is part of who you are now. It will not define you or rule your life unless you let it. And really, what choice do you have?

Remember, you are still the same guy you have always been, albeit with a big hitch in your giddy up. You’ll still have the same hopes, dreams and desires. You may have to amend them, but you don’t have to lose them.

Good luck.