Friday, December 28, 2018

Ending 2018

This past year has flown, but so have many years before it. And because it has flown in so many ways, this blog has not been as active as I would like. This blog is meant to tell my journey as I navigate disability, change, and faith.  Several times I would start to write something and those writings are sitting as drafts because for me, they didn't go anywhere and I found them boring.  But here we are at the end of 2018 and even if boring, I can attempt to summarize the year.  Quite a few people have said I should write a book, and I have thought that if I knew how to download the contents of this blog all at once, that would be a start to a book - about my life, and mostly the life-changing things that have happened to me in the past almost 8 years...  8 years that I never saw coming, but I did cling to hope, and these last 8 years have been about answers to that hope.

This fall I had more breakthroughs, which is intriguing because I really thought that the fall of 2017 was my breakthrough time that couldn't be matched, and then it was, this fall of 2018. Things that change for the better in my life may or may not be able to be seen by others.  People who haven't seen me in a while usually react to seeing me by noticing how straight I can stand. Standing that straight feels natural now.  It didn't used to feel natural - it started to feel natural this fall.

The big thing, and maybe the hardest thing I have done in my life, happened this fall.  I bought walking sticks and have been learning to walk with them. One Friday, I just decided I needed something different, and on Saturday morning I started calling places to see if they had walking sticks.  I have tried versions of crutches in the past.  Actually crutches that work for me are the ones that you stick under your arms.  For a long time I tried using them but would always hang onto something in addition to walking with them, until one day my daughter decided I was going to cross a small distance on the floor that didn't have anything on which I could hang.  I remember the 6 steps that I took.  Imagine when you learn to swim and the swimming teacher makes you cross a distance of water without clinging to her.  It's like that. After the first step, I panicked and exclaimed, "I can't do this!" And my daughter declared "yes Mom, you can, it's just a few steps, you are fine." "No, I'm not (panic in voice), I'm going to fall." "No, Mom, I'm right here, you are not going to fall."  And then I made it!  And without this happening, there would be no walking sticks months down the road.

So, back to the walking sticks... a guy who worked at a store that sells outdoor stuff convinced me that their walking sticks might work for me. I went into the store and discovered a whole section of walking sticks! Never mind that they are for hikers. The very, very nice guy who had talked to me on the phone asked if I needed help. He knew all about walking sticks and I had no idea there are so many kinds! Even the part where I grip can be made of various different materials. I chose my walking sticks, bought them, and proudly left the store.  I came home and showed them to my husband and daughter, who both seemed happy that I had done this. I practiced with them around the house that day.

The next day I decided to take them to church.  Why not?! Church is generally a safe place for me where I try various things and people probably do not realize I am trying things. Learning to use walking sticks is the hardest thing I remember doing.  That day at church, it took all of my concentration to walk with sticks instead of my walker. Walking sticks require more balance than my walker.  Strangely, it is not about legs at all. It is all about core muscles. With walking sticks I can't bend over as much when I walk and I can't sway back and forth.  There is also a sense of rhythm - when I first start I am not as steady, but then I find a rhythm and can go.  

I reach a point where I have gone a distance and my core muscles (stomach, back) have had enough. After I used the sticks at church. I took them other places.  I take them to work, walk in with both my walker and sticks, and do several walks each day with the sticks. I have taken them out on the bike path. One day I went a bit too far on the bike path.  I decided to do an out an back and I made it out fine, but coming back was questionable, and there were no stopping points and nothing to grab. It felt like being dropped in the middle of a body of water with limited swimming abilities and no one near, and having to figure out how to make it to land.  Step by step I gradually made it, but I reached a point when I was at the end of the path and had to get to my car, across a parking lot that was a bit uneven, and my core muscles were done. I made it about halfway and found a curb with a fence right behind it and I sat and rested.  Whew!  The gift of a curb! In days where I couldn't do as much, this curb wouldn't have helped, because I couldn't have got up from it. But these days I can get up so after resting, I got up and made it the rest of the way to my car, deciding that the next time I decide to do that walk, I'll take a friend.

One last thing about walking sticks... they are not ski poles and I am not using them to train for this year's ski season.  It is kind of funny how many people comment on my "ski" poles and wonder if I am using them to train for skiing. I try not to roll my eyes when someone says something about my "ski" poles since it did used to think that was funny.

Walking sticks are only one part of 2018, but they are the most difficult part.  I am getting better with them, but I have a long way to go to feel really comfortable with them.  Because I use them, my skiing is actually better, so it's a side effect, not a reason.  This year in December I skied once. I ski standing using something that looks something like a walker and is called "ski legs." Last year I leaned on the ski legs with my arms holding my body. This December, I tried not to put weight on my arms and instead use my legs more. It has worked!  By the end of the day I could feel my hamstrings working. The next day my hamstrings were sore which was very exciting because my legs have not had that post-workout soreness for at least 20 years. That feeling of soreness means they were really working - who knew it is so exciting to have pain? (recognizing it is a certain type of pain that also goes away)

Then there is the track.  I do keep getting faster although I know I am very close to a speed limit unless I can figure out how to walk without locking my knees with each step. In late November I broke 8 minutes going once around the track - that's a 400 that in high school I did in under 65 seconds so I sent an email to my high school coach to tell him I only had a few minutes to go to get back to my high school time.  On the treadmill I am now walking 3.2mph for 16 minutes - the treadmill supports 25% of my body weight so I can walk faster than over ground. Again I am very close to a barrier of speed that I can't break unless I figure out how to walk without locking my knees.  But you never know.  At physical therapy we joke that one day I will break out like Forest Gump did and someone will yell "Run Beth, run!" as the Bioness devices I wear on my legs pop off and I begin to run.

Bioness!  New this year - there are no longer heel sensors or remote controls because they have a new model where a signal is sent to my lower legs when I lift my leg (instead of when I land on my heel). This is very exciting.  Also, there is an app for Bioness that counts the steps I take. Unfortunately I used this a bit too much and got too excited, so my shoulders (that I use when walking) got injured and I had to take about a month off and still am being careful.  Part of this is that I am not 25 anymore. Because the app then started not working due to an iPhone upgrade, I realized I don't need my Bioness leg devices everywhere I go. I need them to walk long distances and I also need them if I want to make sure my right leg isn't swinging out and around, because the Bioness helps my legs to go straight.

There is a summary of 2018, but it is a pretty limited summary.  It has been a fun year. A lot happened.  I have come much further that I expected.  I have much further to go.  I hope to write more in this blog in 2019, and I hope what I write means that I am continuing to improve. Hope can disappoint, but hope can also bring things like what has been happening to me.  I feel lucky.  

And I have to figure out how to download the contents of this whole blog.

And always along the way, through the good times and the bad, God is there, surrounding us as we hope and as things happen in our lives.

Peace.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Walk for MS - 2018


It has been a year of breakthroughs for me, individually, as I enter the short time in which I ask friends and family to donate to the MS Walk so that research can continue toward ending this disease. Before I tell about the exciting breakthroughs, here is the link to donate any amount to sponsor me in this year’s MS Walk in May: http://main.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR/Walk/COCWalkEvents?px=1946588&pg=personal&fr_id=29425
Every little bit helps!!!

This past year has been very exciting. I have been on Ampyra for 8 years.  It is a medicine which is only supposed to improve walking speed by 25%. But in 8 years on Ampyra, I haven’t had an MS attack (when things get worse all of a sudden). And in those 8 years I have improved so much in so many things - not just walking.

This past fall was a surprise.  Pretty suddenly, I began to be able to stand up straight without a huge arch in my back - standing and feeling relaxed. I began to be able to stand for more than 30 seconds without getting tired. Now I can stand without getting tired for I don’t know how long - at least a half hour. And then I let go of my walker's support when standing. I can hold that for quite a while. Near Christmas, I got another gift. From sitting on the floor, I stood up without holding onto anything. It has been probably 16 years since I have been able to do that. In recent months I timed myself walking around the high school's track and walked a lap in 9 minutes and 30 seconds. For perspective, I didn’t used to be able to walk 30 feet. 

And so I have been leaving my wheelchair in my car and walking most of the time. I leave my wheelchair in the car when I go to work. I still go to physical therapy twice a week and am walking 2.9mph for 16 minutes on the treadmill there - I never thought I would go faster than 2.0mph. When we went to the beach in March, I navigated through the sand with my walker (not easy!) and got to experience the waves hitting my legs while I stood on the beach, digging in my toes.

A few weeks ago I went to see my rehab doc for my usual checkup. He checks a bunch of things, including my leg and arm strength, which he ranks from 0 to 5 where 5 is “normal” strength. My arms always get 5s. My legs used to get 1s and 2s. Six months ago my leg strength got 2s and one 3. This time I got all 4s for leg strength. That is due to the breakthrough this past fall.

And, for the first time ever, this past ski season I stood up to ski instead of sitting. It is amazing how much more I can see around me when standing to ski than when sitting, because I am so much taller. I can see more mountains in the distance and I can see the expanse of the town below me. I was so happy when this happened and kept exclaiming to my instructor how much I could see and how amazing it was.

One last thing. My daughter is 15. She got her learner’s permit. Driving with her tests me as I can’t control the brake. But because I can now move my feet and toes, my imaginary “Mom brake” on the passenger side works well. Unfortunately it is still imaginary so it can’t stop the actual car. 😀

It has been an amazing year. What would be more amazing is if there were a cure for MS. What would be amazing is if you, the people who are reading this, could find a way to donate, as so many of you have done for years - to sponsor me in the MS Walk, no matter if it is $1 or some huge amount of money - so that someday we can say there is no more MS - so we don’t have to look for someone to improve - but so that we can say people do not have to even be diagnosed with this disease. That is my great hope.

Thank you for all you have done in the past in terms of sponsoring me. Words cannot express how grateful I am.

Much love.
Peace.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Feeling the 400

Back in high school, my favorite race was the 800. That’s 2 times around the track.  My second favorite race, even though I really only did it during relays, was the 400. That’s once around the track. That means that I was a middle distance runner. And what I loved about those races was that I went all out in them, without as much pacing as longer distances, coming to the end completely out of breath - having gone my fastest the entire race - with nothing left to give - giving my all - I loved that feeling. 

The past 7 or so years I have gone back to the track to walk that same 400 that I used to run all out. At first it was a marathon to me, taking an hour. And it always has felt like a distance race these past 7 years, where I need to pace myself so I make it the whole way without falling apart.  But the most recent time when I went to the track I found my middle distance self again - not realizing it at first - but having a feeling that something was different. I went all out, without pacing, coming to the end completely out of breath - having gone my fastest the entire race - with nothing left to give - giving my all - I loved that feeling.

My goal was to break 10 minutes, and to do that, I knew I had to start fast and just keep going, without worrying about pacing myself - without fearing I would fall apart. So I started fast and thought these things to myself:

   (First 100) turnover, leg turnover - Rhythm - keep the rhythm all the way around the track - 1 2 1 2 1 2... 
(first bend) shorten your strides, keep the rhythm, get ready to GO on the backstretch - 
(backstretch) GO! - open your stride  - keep a rhythm - 1 2 1 2 1 2 - long strides -
(final bend) heel. heel. heel. rhythm. rhythm. rhythm. - push it in - win the race - don’t let them catch you - 
DONE! Breathe (gasp) - relax - check the time - that had to be under 10 - and it is 9:25!

Those thoughts - what wasn’t there that used to be there - were thoughts of how I was slowing - there was no slowing - and instead there were only thoughts of increasing momentum. Thoughts came back of races where I didn’t “kick it in.”  But not this time - I kicked it in. And that is how I realized I found my middle distance self again - because I gave everything I had for that finite 400. It was all about keeping leg turnover, going as fast as I could - changing the rhythm a bit when the track opened - and then finishing strong, completely out of breath - giving everything - and that is the amazing feeling I love. 

Some say people should not dwell on the past or “live” in the past, but my past drives me forward - I am still the same person - who just never got to break times that were so close to being broken as a runner, when things went wrong and I couldn’t finish races as I wanted -but finished feeling as if my body was just crumbling into a pile of nothing. 

Now I chase different times - 10 minutes for a 400 - and when I finish and do not crumble - it feels amazing. Gasping for air at the end while still standing feels amazing. I will never forget these times. 

There is much that has changed in the past few months for me. It is as if a nerve connection that had been broken for a very long time got connected overnight. I can stand without holding onto something. I can stand up from the floor without holding onto something - that is so new and was a big surprise as I had been trying to stand for some time when all of a sudden, one day, it just happened. 

Now that I don’t use my wheelchair much, I have figured out how to put it into my car without having to take all the pieces apart. Wish I could have done this when I needed the chair more, but oh well. Imagine this scene: I was in the parking lot of a store attempting to hoist the whole chair into the back of my van when a nice guy came to offer his help. Me: “No. I. Am. Trying. To. Learn. To. Do. This. Myself.”  Nice man: “Well, ok, but I thought I would let you know that your tire there flattened out and that is why it is stuck.”  Oh...  My mom showed up and it was in and I proclaimed with a big smile, “See?!!”  And at the next place I insisted in trying again myself.  That time she informed someone who was coming to help that I was working on doing this myself. And we all laughed. And at the next place she informed me that I should walk and leave my chair in the car, which I did. 

I told my husband recently that it is more difficult for me to use my wheelchair in places because it feels a bit ridiculous and really feels like I should be walking. He asked, “why don’t you?”  And part of it is knowing my walking looks pretty goofy. To this he asked “Who cares?”  Well, someone close to me does care and would rather I use my chair than walk, and I explained this to him. His response: “This is your life, not theirs.”  Yes, it is - it goes deeper - it goes to knowing people look at me strangely - to walk I stick out more - I get more questions - or I used to get more questions. But he is right and so I am trying to move past these anti-walking thoughts I have.

I need to live my life. If I want to walk, and I can walk, I should walk. So we went to see the musical “Chicago” on my birthday this year downtown. And I walked - and it really wasn’t that far. The people who opened the theater doors for us smiled at me. The ushers smiled at me. I think they are used to seeing me in my chair. And for the next production, I walked. And I realized funny things like there are a lot of people who are shorter than I thought they were!

I walked into Target to shop for something, walked into Walgreens and shopped for multiple things, and have walked various other places where I used to wheel. I smile and people smile back and they don’t question if I need help as much as people question if I need help when I am using my chair. That is intriguing to me. 

If you made it this far, thanks for reading about all that is happening in my life in surprising and unexpected ways. 

And, as always, I feel God is on this “journey” with me, even as I become more independent and want less help, thinking “I got this!”


Peace. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December

I hardly write this blog anymore.  There are multiple reasons.  I wonder if anyone even looks at it anymore. Several people have told me I should compile all the entries and make a book - maybe someday that will happen. I’m writing this entry just for me, but this blog is a good spot to put my thoughts.

December comes each year and used to be a happy time every year - it’s my birthday month - it’s Advent and then Christmas.  And then one year something happened that changed everything and made everything so hard - impossible.  Since then each December comes and each December I am met with a sense of dread, often losing my appetite and when I look at food, getting the feeling that I can’t eat anything.

This December was the same and I couldn’t piece together why because it has been so long that I forgot about dreading December.  Years ago I was on one medication that made me feel so good that I stopped taking another medication and that was a big mistake. Over just the next few days I launched myself into a deep depression.  I cried all the way to work, anytime I could find a bathroom, all the home, when I got home... my daughter was very young.  One day I came home from work, drove into the garage, sighed, and strongly considered ending my life there.  The only reason I didn’t proceed was because then there would be no one to pick up my daughter from daycare.  And so I continued to live.  I felt a presence at church urging me to seek help.  I called my doctor who told me he would get me through this.  I don’t think he understood how serious things were.  Somehow I made it through the next few days after that day in the garage.  But December was ruined.  I felt fragile.  Everything felt “too much.”  Food would be placed in front of me and it was “too much.”  I think someone else did the holiday shopping that year.  Gradually I got better.  But December comes each year and along with it, a feeling of dread.

But there are good parts of December also.  Today I walked 2.5mph on the treadmill at physical therapy for 16 minutes, and I have never walked that fast since my comeback started - and certainly not for 16 minutes.  I keep gaining strength and getting faster.  I can stand for extended periods just holding onto my walker with one hand. Around our house I am using crutches instead of my walker.  And all this is exciting.

Life is such a mix - hold on - it’s quite a ride.  And God is with us, through it all.

Peace.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Grateful

Today is such a big day.  It is my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.  It is also my daughter's dance recital and the first time she has a real dance solo (Scuttle from The Little Mermaid).  So it has been a very hectic week as she is also in a musical theater camp, so I have gone between camp and dance dress rehearsals, work and physical therapy, all as summer hits, the temperature rises, and I find myself in situations where the air conditioning doesn't seem to be working, and my whole body is numb.  And I go on.  But 7 years ago so much was different - this week would not have been possible.  My daughter is 14.  7 years is half of her life.

The big thing is that 7 years ago today I went on steroids for the last time - it was the last time I had an "attack" - when things get drastically worse all of a sudden - walking becomes impossible - energy is gone - standing may or may not happen - a lot of time is spent "connecting" with the floor.

But then I went on Ampyra which works for only about 30% of the people who try it.  And I felt my balance come back.  And my legs felt stronger.  And I began to be able to stand straighter, and walk further.  Then I got Bioness devices for my legs which help me to walk.  Then I could write again.  Other things work better as well.  I started physical therapy.  I went from only being able to walk 50 feet to walking once around the track in an hour.

Things continue to improve.  I now walk around the track in under 13 minutes.  I keep improving to this day.  I have the energy to make it through this week.  My daughter knew me for 7 years getting worse, and for 7 years improving.

I am grateful.  I am grateful someone asked me if I planned on trying Ampyra.  I am grateful for the physician who jumped through several hoops to get me on Ampyra.  I am grateful to my family and friends who have always supported me.  I am grateful to be here today, watching my daughter dance, doing what seemed impossible, and continuing to move forward, on my journey, with God there along the way, through the bad, the good, and the impossible.

Peace.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bam

My stomach didn't feel quite right throughout the night as I tried to sleep in a hotel on a work trip this week.  When I awoke to get ready for the day, not feeling quite right, I went to the bathroom, in front of the sink, to stand.  But instead of standing, my feet slid under me and I landed on the floor.  This really was not how I planned to start the day.  And then I had the realization that I had a fever. Fevers with MS mimic having an MS attack, where all of a sudden, a person can't walk.

There I was, on the floor, in a strange state of wondering what exactly I should do next.  Gone was the strength to pull myself up onto my wheelchair (I use a wheelchair on things like trips, for longer distances, etc.).  When I removed the cushion from my wheelchair to make the seat a bit lower, I still wasn't strong enough to pull up onto it.  My cell phone, in case I wanted to call someone to help, was in the next room, seemingly a world away.  Eventually I dragged myself to a lower chair in the bedroom, rested, pulled onto that chair, rested, took Tylenol, and eventually re-started the day, a day which was slower as I struggled with a stomach bug and keeping my fever under control.

What this reminded me was the uncertainty that MS brings.  While a fever caused me to suddenly be unable to move, that is because I have probable MS and cannot tolerate the heat.  MS itself can cause someone to wake up one day and be unable to move, for no reason, out of the blue with no warning.  I have been very fortunate to not have had an MS attack in almost 7 years, to be getting stronger, to be able to stand up each day.  And now I am fine - the fever is gone.  But this was a stark reminder of the unpredictability of MS, and the need for more research toward either a cure or a vaccine.

The good news is that you can help!  I am raising money, as I have done for quite a few years, through the MS Walk which is held May 6.  You can sponsor me by using this link to donate:
http://main.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR/Walk/COCWalkEvents?px=1946588&pg=personal&fr_id=28339

And, on this link, you can see a picture of me running in college!

There are also good things that have happened this year in the search to eliminate MS:
- For me, with Ampyra and physical therapy over the past almost 7 years, I walked under 13 minutes one time around the track.  Yes, I am the only person I know timing myself doing laps around the track using a walker! To put this in perspective, I used to only be able to walk 30-50 feet.  After I started taking Ampyra I walked around the track in an hour.  Gradually I got faster - 40 min, then 30, then 25, then 20, then I wondered if I could walk it in under  15 minutes, and I did.  And now I have walked it in under 13 minutes. 
- At physical therapy I am now walking 2.1mph for 16 minutes in a row.  To put this in perspective, I started 3 years ago walking .5mph for 5 minutes.  Zoom!
- This year I started to be able to color using pencils.  Seems simple. Before Ampyra, I had trouble writing at all.

- The first therapy to slow the course of MS for people with all kinds of MS was recently approved by the FDA.  This treatment is the first treatment to slow a cruel form of MS called Primary Progressive MS, which is a type of MS that gets continually worse from the time it starts (whereas other types of MS have remissions - times when people do not get worse).  This is the biggest breakthrough in years!

As always, thank you so much for your support, which many have given over many years.  I continue to hope that through each and every donation, there will be a day when no one has to hear the words, "You have MS."

Peace.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Through the noise

Last Christmas Eve I wrote about finding silence with my cup of coffee each morning, and thinking of my godparents and how they were great role models for me, and how last Christmas was the first Christmas without both of them.

I really did love my morning coffee and quiet time. After an iron deficiency problem was identified, triggered by my diet of too much coffee and dairy, not enough foods containing iron, and resulting antacids to combat the too much coffee, I gave up coffee, which meant no more antacids......  But I miss my period of silence in the morning and instead find myself trying to get a bit more sleep and then rushing to get ready.

Earlier this week I had a somewhat panicked feeling - a friend of mine decided to stop what had become absolutely miserable chemo treatments and choose quality of life over quantity, which means that she is now in hospice.  I hadn't heard from her in more than the usual time period in which I hear from her, but I didn't want to bother her either, knowing there is a ton of fatigue and pain right now.  I finally did reach out and there she was - sending me a message back that she is ok, has pain and fatigue, but it is being controlled as much as possible.  I struggle with this - not wanting to ever lose my friend, but yet knowing that life never goes on eternally here on earth.  But I have my friend for this Christmas, while I remember loss last Christmas.

Advent does tend to have this strange cycle for me - we should experience joy, and some years I do, and yet other years not so much, and this year seems to be a mix.

This year my daughter started doing competitive dancing which makes me feel always on the go to something, between that, working, and trying to keep the house so we can still see the floor.  And in December, with the Nutcracker, she had plenty of dance rehearsals.

In between work, dance, and other things, somehow I found time to get presents this year.  That was a challenge.

Physically, I am doing very well.  I keep improving, thanks to Ampyra and physical therapy.  It might be invisible to most, because improvements tend to be in functional areas, like I can now pump gas without feeling like I am going to fall.  I have started to climb steps without needing someone to always lift my legs for me.  When I go to concerts this really gives great concern to people who do not know me and tell me I can always sit where there are no steps.  What?!!  Give me steps - they are fun!  And the view from higher is often better than the lower view.

All of this stuff happening is noise.  As I was preparing a devotion for church council last week, I got to the prayer part, where I was to say a prayer.  And I didn't feel like filling a prayer with words.  So I found silence in the midst of prayer.  And it hit me that silence can be found there - finding those moments to pray, one can simply insert silence.  And silence has its own way of being beautiful.

Merry Christmas, and as you enjoy great joy accompanied by the noise of spending time with family and friends, may you also find moments or times of silence where there is so often

Peace.