The date was Feb. 14, 2007 — Valentine’s Day. It started off like any other morning. I had been seeing my doctor for about a month for a strange weak feeling in my leg. First, he suggested a nerve test to make sure I was feeling everything properly. Then he did some blood work. Next, he did an MRI. I don’t know why none of this stuff fazed me, but it didn’t. I was wholly unprepared for what was to come next.
It had started to snow – a light snowfall – at my home in Elizabeth, N.J. I had a doctor’s appointment in Teaneck (about a half hour away) with a neurologist – I assumed just to discuss the next steps to figure out what was causing the rather mild weakness I was feeling. My husband was working from home that day, and I decided to drive myself to the doctor. Even though it was snowing, Teaneck was home to my favorite coffee shop. Maybe I would stop in for a coffee and a muffin on the way home, a little treat on a frigid morning. I was blissfully unaware of what today would bring.
I got to the doctor’s office a little after 10 and flipped through magazines in the waiting room. When I was finally brought to the little room to wait for him, I started to get a bit nervous. Everyone around here was so serious.
The doctor walked in, after what felt like an eternity, with three binders and started going over treatment options. Treatment options.
My head started to spin. I stopped the doctor mid-sentence as he was explaining the side effects of a certain drug and asked him why he was showing me all this stuff. Did I miss something? “You have multiple sclerosis,” he replied. “Nobody told you?”
I don’t know how I made it through the rest of the appointment. Especially when the receptionist said on my way out, “Glad you could make it. I’m sorry it’s MS” as if she had just told me she didn’t have change for a twenty.
All I remember was stumbling outside, into the freezing temperatures, and trying to clear off my snow-covered car through stinging, hot tears. I breathlessly jammed my husband’s number into my cellphone and told him I had multiple sclerosis through tears. He was so confused.
Driving home was a blur. The roads were icy. My eyes were hot with tears. I was sobbing. I almost spun out a few times and thought about what would happen if I died right then and there. When I arrived home, I collapsed into my husband’s arms, convulsing in tears. How could this be happening to me? I felt like I was suffocating. I was only 26. My life was perfect. What happened?
Ever since my mom died suddenly when I was 8 years old, I had always thought I had been given a free pass to a great life. I mean, what else could go wrong? That was pretty bad, right? And then this happened. I honestly don’t remember much of the rest of the day, but I know I spent most of it in tears, feeling sorry for myself.
Over the next few months, with the help of excellent neurologists (not including the one I saw above), I learned about my disease. I learned that it wasn’t a death sentence. I learned how to advocate for myself medically, since no one else would. I learned that getting a second opinion, and even a third, is more than okay when it comes to your health. And I also learned that the ones who really care stick by you.
I consider myself blessed. Blessed because my multiple sclerosis isn’t so bad. I can walk, I can run, I can dance. And I do. I am also blessed because I live with the sense of urgency that most people live with only after something terrible happens. You know that feeling you get when you hear about a young child dying tragically? The one that makes you want to hug your children or call your spouse and tell them you love them? I live with that feeling every day. Sure, it comes with its setbacks. I am that mom who constantly thinks something terrible is about to happen. I see a mild rash on my daughter and my mind immediately jumps to cancer. I hear my son cough in his sleep and I think he must be choking. Sure, I’m a bit of an alarmist. But that's what comes with having a disease that could literally leave me helpless at any moment. I am blessed. No matter what may happen tomorrow, I am blessed right now. Sometimes (more often than I’d like) I have to tell myself that. But in the moments that I just remember it, I am truly happy.
I used to have a saying on my fridge from an evangelical pastor named Charles Swindoll. The quote is a general one about having a positive attitude in life, but one line has always resonated with me. It reads, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.”
We all have struggles. I know I do. But life is all about having a positive attitude and living each day to its fullest, so that when it is our last, we can look back with no regrets.
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