Guest post by Lisa Mackintosh
The road to my diagnosis started when I saw my family doctor in October of 2014 because I was having issues with numbness and balance, which I originally thought was undiagnosed vertigo. It turns out I was in denial and had been experiencing a variety of symptoms for a while. When I ended up with numbness in my right arm, I was sent to get a cat scan right away. My doctor showed me areas of fuzziness on my brain and referred me to an urgent neurology clinic. Once at his office, the neurologist spent nearly an hour asking me questions like had I ever felt this, experienced that, or does this ever happen when I do so and so, and so on. Every one of my answers that followed his questions started out with “Yes… but.” The neurologist really made me think about when the initial signs of my MS started, and mentioned that he thought I might have had multiple sclerosis since my early 20s – when I had a case of optic neuritis – which makes sense now. If anything, I guess I had 20 some years of ignorant bliss! My third MRI, in 2015 confirmed it – I had MS, and now I have an explanation of why my body acts the way it does without warning.
My family doctor knew that my job was quite stressful, so when I had my initial cat scan her direction was, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but you’re not working – you need to eliminate any stress you’re dealing with.” And I never returned to work from that point on. One thing that I miss – which may sound funny or superficial to some – is wearing fabulous high heels. I used to have the most amazing collection of shoes. In my first career, I worked for North America’s largest tradeshow producer. I mingled with HGTV and Food Network celebrities and everyone was so incredibly fashionable – so through all those wonderful people I met, my collection expanded. I had some amazing shoes, but slowly over time I experienced increasing problems with my balance and couldn’t wear them anymore – which I blamed on my vertigo, or that I wore them too much. I’ve given away or sold most of my collection – I couldn’t stand looking at them. I managed to keep a few with hopes of someday getting my balance back, but in the meantime, I keep my eye out for great flats.
I have a St. Bernard – she’s three, her name is George and she weighs 120 pounds (which is quite light for the breed). We got her about a year before I stopped working, and spending time with her is one of the most significant ways I keep well. I take her for walks and to training classes (it’s important to make behaving her idea). I try to remain relatively active, and getting out and doing things with my dog over these two years has been a key part of dealing with my diagnosis. When I was first diagnosed, people would say “You need to get rid of that huge dog” and “You won’t be able to take care of George with your MS” – boy, were they wrong.
I’m currently taking Copaxone, and haven’t had a new attack since I’ve been on it. I’ve also been able to take advantage of the MS clinic here in Calgary, Alberta, which helps connect me with classes on mindful meditation, reducing stress, and cooking classes for people living with neurological diseases as well as the amazing physiotherapists and occupational therapists. I’ve found that eating well has helped me manage my MS – right now I follow the Canadian Food Guide. People are always pushing these miracle diets, and when they do, I just say “Thanks. That’s interesting, I’ll talk to my dietitian.” I find this to be the best response, instead of “Sounds good, I’ll only eat grapefruit and peanut butter to cure myself!” I also don’t often stay up late into the night visiting with friends like I used to – I just can’t do it anymore – learning to pace myself has been the best lifestyle change for me.
I participated in MS Walk well before I was diagnosed. Being from Alberta, everyone knows someone with MS – it’s one of the biggies around here, and hopefully MS Walk is a top of mind event in all provinces. I’ve noticed that in other places I’ve visited, you could tell someone you have MS and they wouldn’t know what it is – that’s not the case here. I was in University when I first participated in MS Walk, I’m now 49, so I’ve been involved for quite some time. The MS Society has always been a charity I’ve supported – we donate monthly and walk every year we can. I like to think that I’ve been fairly lucky in life and feel like it’s my responsibility to give back where I can. I enjoy helping others, so having people fundraising and walking for ME was hard to reconcile. I almost felt selfish, and that I was somehow making the event about me, but I soon realized that that wasn’t a rational way to think – the more I raise the profile of MS and funds for research, the more all people living with MS are helped. My favourite moment at MS Walk was when my husband and I were walking along the route last year – he stopped to take a photo of a sign that said “I’m walking for my wife.” He shared it on social media, and we both got a lot of support and love from our friends and family.
We’re lucky to have some of the most cutting-edge MS research being done right here in Canada – if we could be the place that figures out the cure for MS, it would be very special. When we fundraise for MS Walk, we make a significant impact on the amount of funding that can generate even more research. And the cool part is that it goes towards MS research in Canada!
Lisa is an #MSWalk ambassador. She lives in Calgary with her husband Troy, and her St. Bernard, George. You can be like Lisa and sign up for your local #MSWalk today. Tell us in the comments: who do you walk for?