By Jennifer Becwar
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in July 1996 when I was just 22 years old. At the time, I was a single mom of an 18 month old and working the graveyard shift 45 minutes from my home. Within one week, I went from having weird feelings on the bottoms of my feet to extreme fatigue with no feeling in my legs and feet, accompanied by loss of control of bladder and bowels. Immediately, my primary physician sent me to the top rated medical facility in our area. It took a team of Neurologists, an MRI and a Spinal Tap to discover that my symptoms were conclusive…I have Multiple Sclerosis. With an active toddler, I was scared, felt helpless, and was quickly losing hope that I would ever walk again.
A month long stay in the hospital was next in my MS journey. After starting a regimen of prescribed medications, the pokes and pins from the doctors overseeing my case were numerous and seemed scheduled. Most of the time each of those pricks to my legs and feet were unfelt; each indicating and proving more and more that the diagnosis was correct. Very quickly it was apparent to me that I was about to embark on a new journey of learning to walk again. Along with administering Avonex (MS medication) by means of a very large needle directly into the leg muscle.
I gradually learned to walk again, going from a wheelchair to a walker, and upon leaving the hospital, I was using a cane. Determination to walk with my daughter and the need to take control of my life and health drove me to push myself and I am proud to say after about another month, I put down the cane and walk without assistance.
Since my initial symptoms, I have experienced Optic Neuritis and MANY exacerbations of numbness and tingling in my hands, feet, and legs. I am grateful for the medication that always seems to bring everything back to “as normal as possible”. I also struggle with our local Wisconsin weather. The high humidity in summer causes migraines, fatigue, and numbness in my hands and feet, and the change of seasons causes numbness and pain. Along with MS, I was also diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, which adds to the intense pain I feel on a daily basis.
Prior to getting married, I always wanted to have at least one more child, but I feared going off my MS medication in order to start trying. Everything I had read warned that women usually feel great during pregnancy, but after they have the baby, they are greatly affected with symptoms of MS. With this in mind, I finally decided that after I got married in 2003, we would start trying for a baby. It took over two years, and during this time I was freaking out because I had been off my medication that long and knew I was tempting fate. I finally got pregnant, and was due the end of December 2006.
By November of 2006, I was having a great deal of numbness in my feet and legs, and once that feeling moved up past my knees, I started feeling anxious. My MS doctor and my OB doctor worked well hand in hand on my specific case to make sure we were on track with doing what was best for my baby and me. They were ready to induce if need be, but luckily my son came a little early on Christmas Eve 2006!
I was so relieved and started up taking the medication about a month later, but of course, now I was dealing with fatigue from taking care of a baby as well as the changes in my body. My neurologist decided to do my yearly MRI a little early. When the results came back, neither of us could believe what we saw…my lesions in my upper back and neck had either lessened or cleared up completely!
I call my son my Miracle Child. Not just because he came out a boy instead of the previewed girl, but I sincerely believe he is the reason my long-term prognosis improved substantially.
After several years of medication and MRI’s not showing any change in those lessened lesions, I was actually given the opportunity to go off of those dreaded shots. I have to admit I was scared, but not having to poke myself every day helped my decision. That was in 2009, and today I am still not taking anything. I know this disease can creep back into my life at any time, and that scares me more than anything knowing I have not been protecting against it for the past 7 years. I am prepared the first time my MRI shows anything new, to start back on something.
I have found several things that help me feel better. I get regular massages and try to exercise. I have yet to conquer exercising regularly (despite my sister Mary’s friendly reminders and invitations to her stability ball classes!). Yes, exercise in the past few years hasn’t been my friend. I go too hard right away (being a former athlete just makes you want to push yourself), and then I end up hurt. Last time, I tore a muscle in my stomach that still aggravates me when doing any type of ab work. This time, I just am determined to start slowly and gradually build my stamina up. I want to lose weight so I can move onto other forms of exercise. I’m also going to try a trainer again. I know many patients are helped greatly by making exercise part of their daily routine. Slow and steady…
Another treatment I found are essential oil blends. They have helped considerably to alleviate muscle soreness and other symptoms of MS. I simply rub on any sore or painful areas. Peppermint soothes my headaches. Four Thieves (and/or Nature’s Shield) for my immune system as MS makes your system weaker. I also will rub Cedarwood on top of my head and bottoms of my feet for help with sleeping. I love to diffuse throughout the house to purify, energize and relieve stress. If you struggle with MS, fibromyalgia, or any other health concerns you may want to consider implementing essential oils into your daily life. They have really proven to be a great help in my relief.
I don’t know why it’s played out like this, but I like to think it’s because I said I was never going to let MS decide my life. Not once, even while in that wheelchair back in 1996, did I feel that I was going to be riding in that the rest of my life. It was a roadblock, heck, it was a traffic jam! I don’t know if that worked, but I decided that I wasn’t going to dwell on the MS. Yes, I was going to make sure I tracked every odd feeling or sensation I had anywhere on my body, but I wasn’t going to make that the #1 thing in my head from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep.
During this entire whirlwind of life with MS, I often had visions of my life going in a completely different direction from what I had always envisioned, but I never gave up. I just kept telling myself that I was GOING to get back to my normal life.
Every person with MS has a completely different story and completely different symptoms and results. I know I’m extremely lucky. And for this, I thank God and my family and friends for all their prayers initially and since then. I urge anyone who even knows someone with MS, inform yourself on what MS is and its’ possible symptoms. Most symptoms are not noticeable to the naked eye. Many of us with MS don’t want to share how we’re doing each time asked as you start to feel like a hypochondriac or “Debbie Downer”, so you’ll get a “good/great/wonderful” when asked much of the time. Actually, the less I think about it, the better I feel.
Being in the MS community for this long, I have many friends dealing with MS in their lives, and I have to admit I feel a lot of guilt that I get to say I’m in “remission”. I realize this may not be until my final day, but whatever comes up, I will deal with it and make the best of it. After twenty years with this disease, I have learned to walk again.
I want to keep raising awareness of MS, I continue to help chair the committee for the MS Walk in Platteville, WI where we are on our 6th annual walk this year on April 30th, 2016. I urge you to walk in honor of someone you know with MS, or even join or donate to my team, “Team Suppz Supportz MS” at www.walkMS.org.