When I hear about someone being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), I feel sad – sad as I do for anyone who has received any diagnosis; but also sad because I personally remember and understand the impact of hearing the words “you” and “MS” in the same sentence. I know well the uncertainty that invades your life when you are given a diagnosis that abruptly moves your status from healthy to unhealthy. When you hear the words “you” and the name of a disease in the same sentence, unpredictability appears and hovers over your future like a dark cloud. It’s scary.
I had my first symptom of MS in 1986 when I was 26 years old. When I heard the words “you” and “MS” in the same sentence, it sounded like a death sentence. That was 31 years ago. THIRTY-ONE years is a long time ago. Thirty-one years ago, there was nothing that could be done. I was told to go home and come back if I had other symptoms.
Things have changed and medicine has advanced dramatically over the past 31 years. There are now disease modifying drugs (DMDs) that can slow the progression of MS. There are many to choose from; so if one isn’t effective, it can be changed until the best one is found for each individual. There are also new and improved medicines to deal with symptoms. There is research being done, and there is a cure coming – I believe that with certainty. I have every confidence that someone today who is having a first scary symptom and hearing the words “you” and “MS” in the same sentence, will not follow the same course I have. So when you see me now in a wheelchair, don’t assume this is what MS will look like for you or anyone else being diagnosed today.
I know the power of fear. But after the fear subsided, I lived an incredibly full life. I had and raised three children. I traveled. I have experienced wonderful highs, and I’ve laughed and I’ve loved more than I could have ever dreamed I would have after hearing those words together in a sentence.
Yes, I know the power of fear; but I also know the power of God. He knows our fears. He listens to our prayers. He does not always answer yes when we ask Him to take bad things out of our lives, but He walks through life with us as we experience and learn from them.
To you, who heard the words “you” and “MS” in the same sentence…to you, who has been given any diagnosis that feels like you’ve just smashed into a wall – there is hope. Be assured, the sun is still there behind the cloud, and you will see it again. And I have found it’s true that even dark clouds have silver linings.
Life is like a road. It’s not always a smooth ride. There are speed bumps and potholes and detours along the way. MS is a detour in life, it is not a stop sign. The detour is just a different route to travel than the one you planned.
It’s going to be okay. Not perfect (as most of us picture the rest of our lives when we’re young), but okay. There is still a road ahead of you. Like I couldn’t years ago, you cannot guess now what the rest of your road will look and feel like. Don’t waste time thinking the worst. There are good things to come. There are smooth stretches and beautiful scenery down the road and there are loved ones to share the road with you. Don’t let fear overtake you and steal good things from you.
Any loss requires grieving. You’ve lost your health status and you must allow yourself time to grieve. But don’t give grief more time than it deserves. Grieve, but find hope. Adjust your expectations and embrace hope. You are not alone. God loves you. He wants to be on the road with you. Let Him comfort you. Let others who love you comfort you. There are organizations to help inform and support you – use every resource you can find; but don’t live your diagnosis…live your life.
That sentence, when said to me, was not a death sentence; and it’s not for you either. My detour showed me many beautiful things along the way that I would not have seen on the road I planned to travel. Yours will too. There have been cracks and potholes in my road, but also patching and resurfacing. There have been mechanical breakdowns, but also road assistance and mechanics. Don’t look at me in a wheelchair and be afraid of becoming like me. See beyond my wheels. Look at me and plan to have as wonderful of a life as I have. Look at me and know you will have even more chances than I have had to have a full and beautiful life.
Everyone has challenges in life. This is yours. You can handle this. You are stronger than you know; and if your strength runs out, let God and others refuel you.