It’s the 10-year anniversary of the MS community, and we’re sharing a story from one of our members, Jackie (OldSalt). Jackie was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) in 2007 and more recently, her condition transitioned to secondary progressive MS (SPMS). She found PatientsLikeMe in 2008 and believes that being part of the site over the last nine years has made a difference in her life, and the course of her illness.
A jarring diagnosis
“Some may say I was “lucky” that I had little trouble being diagnosed compared to many who spend years chasing answers to understand why they are feeling as they do. It can be frustrating wondering what’s happening to your body.”
The summer before her diagnosis, Jackie found herself suddenly unable to walk or move her limbs for nearly two full weeks. After diagnosing her with an unspecified virus, her physician prescribed an antibiotic over the phone. The antibiotic didn’t help.
A month later, after experiencing terrible pain in her left eye, Jackie went to an ophthalmologist. He believed she had MS and contacted her physician to request an immediate consult with a Neurologist for a Lumbar Puncture and an MRI.
“This all took place within a 48-hour period and I had my diagnosis immediately.”
Coming to terms with her new normal
“To say I was stunned would be a gross understatement. My only prior knowledge of this illness had been of my maternal uncle and his hard-fought battle with MS, which he lost while bed-ridden to pneumonia 25 years earlier. I was terrified.”
Jackie, a mother of three children over 15, was grateful that she could rely on her family for support, but still worried about her future and the future of her family. As an active woman who enjoyed downhill skiing, boating, working in the yard or just tending to her family business, she worried.
“What would this mean for me? For us as a couple? Would I be in a wheelchair soon or bedridden young as my uncle had been? I was only 44 years old and my husband and I had so many plans…so much life ahead of us. What would life be like now?”
Following the advice of her neurologist, Jackie began having monthly IV infusions of steroids After 15 to 18 infusions, Jackie thinks that, though an infusion of steroids may help hasten the duration of a relapse, she came out of it with additional bone damage.
“My bones and teeth have been weakened to a point that I am best described as “Humpty-Dumpty” if I were to ever foolishly attempt to ski and fall or merely slip on the ice in my own driveway.”
Jackie began taking a disease modifying drug (DMD) called Rebif that caused flu-like symptoms that severely impacted her quality of life. One week after starting the drug, she experienced full anaphylaxis. Jackie’s daughter found her unable to speak or breathe properly, requiring an emergency trip to the hospital.
She also tried Copaxone. Since she was still relapsing and paying out-of-pocket, (Jackie lost her insurance because she has a pre-existing condition) the price of $3,500 monthly just didn’t seem prudent.
Finding hope in the forum
“PatientsLikeMe is invaluable to me. I’ve learned everything of value about how to come to terms with (early on), live with and manage my illness through the people I have met here throughout the years. I’ve made some wonderful and lasting friendships and met many in person. I continue to communicate with several on a regular basis both on and off the forum.”
With an overwhelming diagnosis, difficult symptoms and frustrating treatment experiences, Jackie wanted to connect with others who were experiencing the same things. For Jackie, finding PatientsLikeMe changed everything about her life and how she views herself and her illness.
“There were so many people asking the things that I was too afraid to ask and the number of replies were staggering. I felt like I had finally found a place that I could really belong.”
Jackie found more than social support in the forum. After seeing a photo of a strange red line moving from Jackie’s foot to her calf, and thinking it might be MRSA, lady_express_44 (whom Jackie considers to be the guru of all things medical) encouraged her to go to the hospital immediately. It was MRSA and Jackie’s doctors told her she could have lost her lower leg.
Taking back control
Being diagnosed with a chronic and progressive illness is perhaps one of the most daunting things that can happen to a person. It’s frightening and for good reason. Jackie’s advice?
“Don’t waste time worrying about things unknown and make your best effort to live for today. Take charge of your illness and make the very best possible decisions for your health. We must advocate for ourselves and our future.”
Jackie also advocates for connecting for connecting with others, especially on a web site such as PatientsLikeMe where there are so many wonderful and knowledgeable people to share their experience and expertise.
“It has made a monumental difference in my life and I believe, the course of my illness. I don’t view my MS as an end to anything but rather as something I simply have and something I’m managing to live with. It truly isn’t who I am, but rather just one more aspect of my being.”
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