Tag Archives: love

Vegas

Every year, my husband takes a guys’ trip to Las Vegas. For 13 years, without fail, this has been a ritual for Bruce and his friends. They aren’t really gamblers, but they love the sports book, so going in October allows them to bet on baseball, football, and hockey. Apparently it’s the manly man’s dream.

Back in the day, the wives/girlfriends took the opportunity for some female bonding time, which is equally as fun but definitely more tame. As the years have moved along, fewer guys make the trip, and the girls no longer have “girl time” because they have had kids, moved, or both.

This year in particular, the time leading up to the trip (just a week and a half before they were due to leave) was marred by the brutal events that left the city, and our country in shock and grief. But not going was not an option because as we all know, life must go on regardless of tragic events, because otherwise we let the perpetrators of such disgusting acts of senseless violence win.

Bruce sent me this picture from the makeshift memorial that has been established at the site of the massacre.

While I am happy that Bru takes his annual guy getaway, I hate everything else about him being gone. I realize how lucky I am that he takes care of so much around the house so I don’t have to. In addition to taking care of a house with entirely too many steps, I have the dogs to worry about as well. Bruce and I are a team and he picks up my slack so frequently that I often take it for granted, which is something I am reminded of every time he goes away.

Now as our dogs are aging, they are much more needy, and they require more care. When Bru is home we make a perfect team with how we care for them, but being alone is a whole different world.  In addition to them needing more care, so do I! This year I had a dizzy day, which I haven’t had in quite some time. I woke up and was stumbling all over the place, tripping over my feet, and I felt like the house was spinning around me. While dealing with that, I had to carry dogs inside and out (about 100 times thanks to Marty), pick up food, put down food, move the food while Marty decided where he would like to dine, and administer the medications all while barely being able to even stand up. Then to top it all off, I had to clean up dog vomit… from the dog who has only puked once before in all the time he has been with us. This gave a whole new meaning to the expression “when it rains it pours”.

Special needs dog does not even describe this guy. The amount of care he requires can be overwhelming to say the least.

Luckily I have an emergency medication that is supposed to help me on days like this. I’m not sure it helped as much as it allowed me to doze, which is extremely uncommon for me. I don’t even sleep at night, and napping is something that never happens for me. Luckily, the dogs did allow me some time to rest, and I woke up the next day feeling less dizzy but just exhausted.

It didn’t perform any miracles, but i think it might have helped just a little bit.

Even though it’s taxing, I still support Bru any time he wants to do the guy thing, and I’m pretty sure he’d say the same about me.  The important thing is that we miss each other like crazy while he is away, and it always feels so good to have him home.  And I get a dose of reality about not taking even the seemingly tiniest things for granted because it’s so blatant while I am alone. I’m reminded of what a great team we are, and if nothing else, I know for sure that home just isn’t home without my partner.

Plus, it sure doesn’t hurt when he wins big and brings me extra presents! 🙂

Enough

Recently I was introduced to a book that changed my life. First I listened to the audio version, which is generally what I do. But I found the book so powerful on so many levels that I actually bought it. Now it’s full of notes and highlights because I have read it over and over, and no matter where I open it to, I find something useful. It’s called “I Heart Me (The Science of Self-Love)” by David Hamilton, PhD.

I am enough!

(Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with the publishing or creation of this book, nor do I receive anything for endorsing it!)

Basically, the book explains that self worth is about biology and is in our genes, yet somehow we lose sight of it as we navigate our way through life. We seek validation from others, but our worth is within us when we reprogram our brains to acknowledge it.  In essence, the book helps us understand ourselves, learning to be truly authentic and happy, with the goal being the ability to say “I am enough” and truly mean it.

The phrase “I am enough” has become part of my daily intentions (or mantra). Every single day when I write my intentions in my journal, I start off with that phrase, even if I didn’t mean it when I first started doing it. But part of reprogramming our brains, according to Dr. Hamilton, includes repetition of this phrase because eventually we become fully aware of it and we believe it.

Thinking about what my blog would be this week, my MS sister (who actually introduced me to this book) suggested talking about all the reasons that make me feel that “I am enough” even though people with chronic illnesses often can’t recognize these things in themselves for a multitude of reasons.

For example, many of us don’t work because we are on permanent disability. For someone who identified herself first and foremost as a teacher, when I stopped working it was hard to see that “I am enough” when the thing that most defined me was no longer a part of my life. But my legacy remains and because I am still surrounded by so many young adults who have been a part of my life since they were just teenagers, they remind me that I am enough.

This guy right here is just one of the many former students who remain constants in my life. #blessed

This book also taught me that I don’t need people to like me in order to be enough. I spent so many years putting other people before myself and I thought that doing more for them meant they would like me more, and therefore I would be validated. The truth is that validation comes from within and while I love doing for others, I don’t need to in order to be enough. Narrowing my circle of friends to those who truly love and appreciate me is so much more empowering, and no matter how much or how little I give them, I know that I am enough.

These friends never make me feel like I am not enough. #mssisters

As a perfectionist, I was never happy unless I achieved perfection.  This happened in all aspects of my life. Reading this book made me see that I need not be perfect in order to be enough. I learned that only I could see what I perceived as inadequacies and faults because I was the only one holding the microscope up to myself. As promised in this book, moving forward with self-love made the perfectionism fade. I’m not saying I have overcome it entirely but I’m a whole lot better than I used to be.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons that Dr. Hamilton taught me in this book is that I don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain size in order to be enough. Body image has long been an issue for me, and learning to love my body no matter what size or shape, without shame, comes slowly. I had to learn to think outside the stereotype I felt I needed to live up to, and instead focus on the many things I do to keep myself strong. Opinions are subjective and I might not fit anyone else’s ideal, but I am 100% me. Comparing to anyone but myself resulted in an unhealthy feeling that lead to never feeling I was enough, and I am.

It doesn’t matter what i look like. Whether heavier or thinner, I am loved. Sure, I like being thinner like I am now, but I face a lot of obstacles, and regardless of my size I am enough.

Allowing my vulnerability to show has also given me great strength. There is something very liberating about baring one’s soul, and other people appreciate it even if they can’t quite identify it. Vulnerability includes being honest and authentic with ourselves and others, and only then can a true connection be made. Even though we could get hurt in the process, it’s worth it because we learn that even though we are raw and sometimes flawed, we are still enough.

But by far the most valuable lesson this book taught me is that I need to be as compassionate, forgiving, and understanding with myself as I am with others in my life. We are always quick to comfort others when they feel they have made a mistake, but we don’t offer ourselves the same courtesy. I deserve compassion. I deserve forgiveness. I deserve understanding. I am human, too. And I am enough.

Bru always always assures me that I am enough.

This book was no ordinary book for me. What I learned is that it’s very liberating to go through the process of accepting that I am enough. In every way. If you are ready to learn how to accept yourself as enough, the minutia of daily life that normally makes you feel inferior, no longer weighs you down. The progress I have made has not been easy nor has it come quickly. But every day I am making steps to be the truly happy and authentic me that is just waiting to make her appearance. I am not sure the version of me that first listened to this book would even recognize me now, and I’m not even done yet. In the meantime, I can rest comfortably knowing that I am, indeed, enough.

Depression

Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in a place we are not accustomed to. I’m not talking about a physical space, but rather the space which occupies our minds. For this glass-half-full girl, it is very difficult when my mind wanders off the usual sunny path I follow.

Sometimes the inside just doesn’t match the outside.

People with chronic illnesses are definitely more subject to suffering from depression than your average, healthy person, and many of us do take antidepressants to help us manage the weight of it all. But even with medications, there are times when depression can overtake us, and that’s ok. One of my MS sisters told me she “doesn’t live there but she visits on occasion.”  I love this analogy because it makes me feel like it’s ok, especially because I so strongly believe that as human beings, we need to experience the whole range of emotions in order to appreciate everything in our world.

For me, my frustration has been building since I broke my toes. I never thought that two little toes could affect my entire body the way they have. But it’s true. Those two toes have affected my balance and stability, as well as the alignment of my entire body. I am beyond grateful for my trainer and her patience that tempers my disappointment even though she can’t make me heal any more quickly than I am. I am desperate to get back to working out like an athlete, not an MS patient. Anyone who has ever been an athlete can surely relate to this, the feeling of losing despite the hard work being put forth.

My ankle is wrapped in kinesiology tape in hopes that my stability will improve.

This little setback came right on the heels of breast cancer. It seems like I didn’t deal with the emotions of a cancer diagnosis because I just put myself on autopilot to do what I needed to do, the way I always do… with a smile on my face. Now I have completed treatment,  but opted out of the prescribed protocol of endocrine therapy in favor of handling the continued treatment with a naturopathic oncologist. But I feel like I’m hanging in limbo, waiting for someone to either tell me that I am cancer free or that I have a recurrence of cancer. Plus, while I felt loved and supported through my entire cancer journey, now that it’s “over” (for the others in my life, but will never be for me), life goes on for everyone else while I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. And meanwhile, breast cancer precluded me from going on a new Disease Modifying Therapy for MS which I have had my eye on for years as it progressed through clinical trials all the way to approval. This was a huge blow and as I see more patients that are lucky enough to take it, I get more bummed out.

Then there are the relationships that have changed, for reasons I don’t understand but I am working hard to accept. I generally find comfort in my MS sisters but it seems we are all in a bit of a funk and dealing with our own issues so it has been way too long since we have been able to spend any quality time together. All of these things together have been adding to the weight I’m carrying that is diametrically opposed to who I am. I mean I cried for six hours the other day, which is so NOT me, especially considering that I often can’t cry even when I want to, thanks to the antidepressants that usually help maintain my emotional stability!

This little girl knew I was upset and she sat on top of me as I cried.

I recognize this place, as I (like my MS sister) do visit occasionally. While I am here, I take note of all of my feelings: the good, the bad, and the ugly, so that I can further appreciate all of the amazing things that I am blessed with when I leave. And I always leave, knowing full well that it’s ok to come back to visit, but it just isn’t where I live.

Vacation

This week, Bruce and I were able to get away to one of our favorite places ever: Burlington, Vermont. When we booked our trip (months ago), we had envisioned jeans and hoodies, beautiful foliage, and the usual excessive beer and decadent food. We had been looking forward to this trip, especially when we learned that it was actually the weekend of Oktoberfest in Burlington. Having friends from high school who live there, it was such an incredible treat to hang out with them, as if no time had passed since we were all together last, probably when we were just 18 years old. It was unseasonably hot and humid, but we enjoyed it just the same, even if we were wearing shorts and t-shirts instead of jeans and hoodies! Also, I did feel a little naughty because I have never taken a vacation in September before because teachers just can’t do that. in place of my usual blog entry, please enjoy some shots of Burlington through the eyes of #TeamRankin.

We love this hotel. The restaurant is great, the bar is great, and the view of Lake Champlain can’t be
beat.

First night: reunion with my girls.

First night sunset… can you blame me for never wanting to leave?

If you find yourself in Burlington, go to the Penny Cluse Cafe and order the ginger bread pancakes.I promise you will not regret it.

On our way to explore Stowe.

Stowe

No foliage but plenty of flowers!

Beer for him. Smuggler’s Notch vodka and soda for me.

Apple berry pie with salted caramel and vanilla ice cream. I said decadent, right?

Sunsets for days!

We might….

Mural that I love with a pan-handler right in the “V”!

Oh… hello there!

Like I said… not much foliage but plenty of wildflowers.

I can never resist a sunflower.

Crazy fun night with Bru and my girls.

Sunset over Lake Champlain.

My friend Peg and I were among the first to go down the hops slide. Its very steep from the top! I am still trying to get the hops out of the shoes I was wearing!

So. Much. Fun.

Sugarbush Resort.

Got my ticket for a bucket list item for me: zip-lining!

That’s me there!

Flowers upon flowers!

Upon flowers.

I am obsessed with this church and I have taken pictures of it from every possible angle!

And of course… no trip to Burlington is complete without a stop at Ben & Jerry’s!

Our last night in Burlington did not disappoint.

After a great vacation, i know it will take me several days to recover, but that’s ok. It was worth every second, and it is a trade-off I am willing to make because otherwise I would never leave the house. Even though travel has changed for me and Bruce, we still do it, with accommodations, just like everything else in my life. It’s not such a bad thing. After all, my glass of lemonade is still (and always will be) half full.

As Is

Some things are so hard to explain to others when you have a chronic condition. It seems like no matter how many ways I try to describe what it’s like, it just doesn’t matter, and because others don’t understand it’s all the more frustrating for me, and thus I feel pressure when I shouldn’t.

I couldn’t ask for a better big sister and bro-in-law.

I have simplified my life because I have had to, not because I wanted to. Things I used to do with no problem have become exponentially harder as the years pass and my condition throws more challenges my way. Gone are the days when I could plan to do anything I wanted: travel to Florida to visit family, zip in and out of the city on the train, spend hours shopping, or even just have firm plans for both days on any given weekend. But alas, those are all parts of my past because I am no longer as capable.

My beautiful MS sisters showing their support by wearing my warrior shirt.

People look at me and think I look fine.  But they don’t know how hard everything is for me. When we have firm plans (such as this week when we are attending a concert), I know that I need take time to prepare, both mentally and physically. I will limit my activities so that I am well-rested and in the right mindset to completely enjoy what is planned to the best of my ability. It’s not that I don’t want to be social and do things, but everything is so hard. Even things like taking a shower and getting myself to look presentable are difficult for me for so many reasons, not least of which is what I call “painsomnia”, a condition that affects me every single night. I challenge even the healthiest of individuals to live a “normal” life with serious sleep deprivation.

This girl gets me on a level that most of my friends can even begin to understand. Notice she is wearing my warrior shirt? Love her.

Often times when we have plans, I say that I am a “game day decision” because I never know how I’m going to feel. And if I should happen to miss an event, I am accused of being purposely “absent” because I do attend other events. Unfortunately, MS does not care what things happen on which days, and frankly, MS simply does not play nice! I don’t use it to “get out” of things, but I do realize how it limits me. I know which scenarios are doable for me, and which are not.

This guy showed up when others ran away.He is my brother from another mother and I am so grateful for his friendship.

This has not been an easy lesson to learn and I have often struggled with it through the years. I walk a fine line between happily doing the things I can and want to do, and being sad and frustrated because I know that I can’t do certain things that I used to love. Being who I am, I have learned to look at everything in my life through the glass half full lens.

Sisters from other misters.

Simply put, that means that I am grateful to have had so many wonderful experiences even if I can’t still enjoy them. Instead of dwelling on what I can no longer do, I focus on what I can do. I no longer care what anyone else thinks or says about me because I have so many awesome people who accept me exactly as I am now, not least of whom is my partner in crime, Bruce, who has never wavered. Skinny or fat, makeup or none, blonde or pink, mobile or immobile, it just doesn’t matter.

The. Best. Ever.

Now I only surround myself with people like Bruce who never make me feel anything but whole… a human being not defined by my diagnoses but rather by my character. Never do I have to explain “why” because the people that matter already know the answer, and they love me anyway. I am beyond justifying it or defending myself, and with my peeps I never have to. Even though my inner circle may have gotten smaller through the trials and tribulations of life, it offers me more strength, support, and love than I ever thought possible.

Never any shortage of laughter (or love) with my guy…

Thank you to my inner circle for keeping me whole, grounded, and genuinely happy. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but it doesn’t really matter I guess. I’ll just continue to thank the universe every damn day, not for giving me MS, but for giving me all the gifts (in the form of lessons learned and an extra special MS family) that I have been given as a result.

Relative

I hate it when people say to me that they feel bad complaining about things to me because “I deal with so much”. On the one hand it is kind of sweet of them to say that, but on the other hand, I’m still a human being and friend, and my problems don’t preclude me from being able to listen to others and offer my advice.

The truth of the matter is that everything, EVERYTHING is relative. I understand that on the surface people might think that their issues are unimportant but, as I always say, the only person you can compare yourself to is you. And that goes for every aspect of life. When one of my MS friends tells me that her knee actually started bending (after lots of hard work) when it hadn’t bent like that in years, I get so excited because relative to her past, it is huge. She may as well have run a marathon, as far as I’m concerned. I never compare anyone to me, nor do I compare myself to others. It’s all about personal progress, and the same goes for personal hardships.

I realize I have had my share of personal hardships, but I don’t look at things that way. I am of the mindset that my lot in life is exactly that: mine. It’s unfair to compare myself to anyone else, and if I did I would be a completely different person than I am today.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t look at other people and compare them to me, questioning why I have been dealt the hand I have while others have a seemingly “better” hand. Problems are problems, and like assholes, we all have them. Mine are no more important than anyone else’s, and in fact I’d venture to say that mine are easier because I’ve had to deal with so many through the years, and I have gotten pretty good at handling them in my usual glass-half-full way.

So it’s not like I’m saying I want more obstacles to overcome, but I never thought I’d appreciate them the way I do, because each one makes me a better version of me. The strength I’ve derived from all I’ve been through makes me a kinder, more sensitive, more understanding human being, and overcoming the bumps along the way is perhaps the most empowering feeling I have ever had.

The challenging parts of life are not easy, but the way we respond to them molds us into who we are. It’s unfortunate that so many people can’t see the beauty that awaits when you overcome those difficult times because it is powerful and we all deserve to experience that feeling. Plus giving up, for me, is simply not an option. We get to choose our fate (in a way) by how we handle our life circumstances. Why would anyone not choose empowerment over the alternative?

Lucky to have this guy who supports me through it all, which makes everything just a little easier.

Nephew

Just over 28 months ago, my life most certainly changed for the better, and I never expected it to happen this way. Especially since the reason for such an amazing change entered this world at just over four pounds. That’s right… I am talking about my nephew, Lucas Scott Rankin.

 

I have a small family, and like most, we have our fair share of dysfunction. But even before he arrived, I swore to him that I would always be there to be his cool auntie, and that I’d never leave his side. And as cliche as it sounds, I have loved him from the first moment I found out about him.

It’s pretty awesome. Although he isn’t my nephew by blood, he most certainly is through my heart and soul. I have always felt a deep connection with him, and he is an endless source of happiness for me. This little guy has huge power. He has brought our little Rankin family even closer than we already were, which I never thought possible. Last year on Christmas night, Lukey gave me the best gift ever, when I heard him say “aunt” for the very first time. I thought my heart would burst right out of my chest because I had never felt that kind of pure love before, because I don’t have children of my own.

“Uncle Booce” with Lukey. Ahhhh those curls!!!

 

These last two and a half years have been a great experience, marveling at how much more he can do and how much he learns in between our visits. I have made a conscious effort to be a constant in his life because I always want him to have the same sweet memories that I do. Quite frankly, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for Luke, and I am hoping that as he grows up he will never doubt that his auntie is there for him. I will love him unconditionally and forever, and I hope he will trust me enough and confide in me because nothing will make me happier.

When I’m not feeling well, a visit from him, and now that he’s old enough, even a FaceTime call makes a world of difference and is better than any medication I could take. This past weekend, he sweetly pointed at my foot (in the oh-so-lovely boot) and asked about my “boo-boo”. Then he kissed it and hugged me, patting me on the back as he did so. Every time he says my name (Aunt Wennie), I melt because hearing it in that little voice of his is something that I have never experienced. He fills up my heart with so much love, and I find myself awe-struck by how this little boy, just twenty-something pounds, has the ability to make me smile so hard, laugh with my whole entire body, and love so deeply.

Although I wish he would stop growing up so quickly, I look forward to many fun times with him as he gets older. I envision sleepovers with me and “Uncle Booce”, and going on many adventures together. But for now, I am drinking in every last detail of him while he is toddling around, talking up a storm, repeating everything (uh oh.. time to start censoring my potty mouth!), and playing trucks everywhere. Plus, nothing in this world feels as good as Luke’s little hand in mine, and I will savor that feeling for the rest of my life. Even though we don’t share the same bloodline, we do share a last name. That automatically makes him the littlest (and most adorable) member of #TeamRankin, and I know that he will someday learn that membership does, indeed, have its privileges!

I showed Lukey the leaves that look like hearts so he pointed at it and told me “heart”. He has mine, that’s for sure.

 

 

 

Partner

The other day, Bruce turned to me, and asked me why I always refer to him as my partner rather than my husband.  It’s not that he was upset or angry about it, it’s just that he was curious. And looking back at the many blog posts that include him in any way, I do always refer to him as my partner.

I looked at him and I almost didn’t even know where to start explaining. I mean partner encompasses so much more than saying husband or spouse. By being partners, Bruce and I share every single aspect of our life together.

This is the exact spot where Bruce first saw me walking across campus, and last summer we went back to the scene of the crime!

By simply calling him my husband, no one would know that he is my care partner. He is the one I lean on when I’m not feeling well, and he puts everything else aside for me during those times. He supports me physically when I’m not well by picking up my share of the slack around the house while still working full time. He does this without complaint, knowing that if the roles were reversed, I would do the very same for him.

Calling him my husband doesn’t reflect the depth of our friendship, that started when we were just 18 years old. He was my best bud for years before we started dating, and the history we shared during those years made our relationship much more special when we finally did get together. That’s how I knew it was for keeps because he’s still my best friend. He’s the first one I turn to when I need love and support. He makes me laugh so hard that I cry (and maybe even pee a little bit… but that could be MS too!😉), and having him beside me, even if we are just sitting in silence, provides me with the kind peace of mind that calms me to my very core.

Saying that Bruce is my husband can’t possibly do justice to the guy who loved me even when my entire life revolved around my job… and even more when I added graduate school to the mix, taking away more time together from the already limited amount we had. Even when we were spending time together, I was always thinking about school or grad school. I was seldom fully present, but he supported me anyway because that’s what partners do.

Being my partner means that he has chosen to continue on our journey together despite the many obstacles we have faced. Being my partner means sharing the burden equally, and that burden can be pretty weighty at times. But when we each take half, it’s not so bad. Bruce wears many hats in our world… best friend, care partner, husband, fiancée, soul mate, and partner.

A reenactment of one of the very first pictures of us, taken in New Hope, PA.

I can’t even remember what it’s like to not have him as my partner, or when his title evolved to partner. What I do know is that having him as my partner in life has made everything better, including MS and breast cancer. Having him as my partner means I smile wider, love harder, and give thanks every damn day that he is there.

The truest sign of our partnership is that we complement each other so that each of us is better because of the other. With all that being said, it is true that Bruce is my husband. But he is my partner in this life, and being my partner entails way more than just being my husband. Plus, he’s the captain of #TeamRankin… and as we all know, #TeamRankin never loses!

Ocrevus

So I’m not your typical patient. I don’t blindly do what doctors recommend unless I have spent time learning and researching. Hence, my recent decision (which I still stand firm on) to not take the recommended Tamoxifen as part of the “protocol” for breast cancer treatment. I have learned to be a professional patient through my years of experience living with Multiple Sclerosis.

I happen to have a unique relationship with my neurologist, in that we discuss in detail the treatment options that are being created and tested in clinical trials. We always have. I appreciate that he is always willing to answer my questions honestly, and he fully supported my decision to participate in the clinical trial for what later became known in the MS community as Gilenya. He understands that I am proactive, and that I can intelligently decipher data to reflect the truth, not just the numbers. It’s a relationship we have built over the last almost 13 of my 14 years living with MS, and I trust this man implicitly as the “captain” of my healthcare team.

While my MRIs have been “stable”, this only means that the changes are not yet detectable, and I have had two major relapses in the last four years, one of which was most definitely a brain stem occurrence, which is generally difficult to read on MRI anyway. I always use the same facility for my MRIs, for the sake of comparison, but they don’t use the most powerful machines available. But that part doesn’t even matter because regardless of what the MRI says, clinically, (while not horrible) I am not doing as well as I was several years ago, despite me working harder and harder on the things I can do to help myself.

For years now, I have been watching a new MS treatment (Ocrevus) through development and clinical trials. I do things like set up google alerts so that any time the drug is mentioned, I get a link to the article sent to me. I then read and research more on Google Scholar. I combine data with testimonials, and of course discuss these things with my neurologist every chance I can get. On paper, it seemed like this was going to be a perfect fit for me. The efficacy resulted in NEDA (no evidence of disease activity, something we all strive for since there is no cure) with a very impressive safety profile. Initially, it was due to be approved in December of 2016, but due to “marketing issues”, the date was pushed to March of 2017.

A lot of things happened in that time. Like breast cancer. When I found out I didn’t need chemotherapy and that radiation would do the trick, I was so incredibly relieved, not just for the obvious reasons, but also for the fact that chemo would have excluded me as a candidate for Ocrevus. Additionally, however, it was discovered that in a trial comparing Ocrevus to an existing MS treatment (Rebif), there were six cases of breast cancer in the Ocrevus arm, and none in the Rebif arm. As a result, the packaging insert contains a warning about possible malignancies that could not be explained in the trial. The insert states that women should be screened regularly for breast cancer, and I thought, “Well damn! No one is going to be screened more regularly than I am from here on out,” convinced that I was still a candidate.

Last week I had the appointment that my neurologist and I had carefully scheduled, hoping that by the date chosen, all the red tape would be sorted out, both by insurance companies as well as by the hospital’s review board, which it has been. But when he walked in the room, I knew from his face that the conversation I had feared was about to happen.  He looked at me and he told me that we were going to have a very difficult conversation, and one he had been dreading for some time. The bottom line is that my neurologist is not comfortable putting me on a treatment that caused malignancies when I have just finished treatment for breast cancer. This was a short study, just two years, and that’s a pretty high number of breast cancer diagnoses in a short amount of time. He also admittedly said that because the study was short, he fears longer term effects which are not yet available until extension trials produce more data. He said he would do it but he would worry about me all the time. And to be perfectly honest, if this guy, who has had no motive other than my health for 13 years now, is not comfortable, then neither am I. That’s how much I respect the relationship we have built, even though I was (and still am) utterly devastated. My dreams of NEDA came crashing down, and I found myself crying buckets of tears of disappointment.

Instead of dwelling on that, because he’s not all that comfortable with tears, he told me about another treatment in development that he likes very much, probably because he knew I’d write it down and do the same due diligence I always have. When he left the room, he acknowledged that my reaction was better than he had anticipated, and I told him that’s great, but I’m just going to sit in here and cry a little more before I come out of the exam room. I was mostly joking but I did my share of shedding tears. I had placed all of my energy on this and for a brief minute, very out of character for me, asked why I had to get damn breast cancer. But only for a minute because that’s not me. I moved on. Reality is what it is, and I am grateful for stable MRIs even if clinically I’m not as stable as the MRI reads. When I finally emerged from the exam room, the nurses started in, joking with my neuro saying things like, “Why did you make Rennie cry?”. It’s just one of the many reasons why this is my chosen team to manage my illness.

When I left the MS Center, I felt lonely, afraid, and pissed off that breast cancer robbed me of this dream I have been chasing for so long. At that moment, it didn’t matter how many people in my life make me complete and happy every single day. I chose to give myself a very brief pity party, which was pretty easy since Bruce was away, and my friends weren’t around. I never overstay my welcome at these parties, but I’d be lying if I said I never threw them. Being human means that we experience all of our emotions, good, bad, and ugly. And believe me, I am an ugly cryer! So I did a little wallowing, and I came out the other side with more perspective and more certainty that the only predictable part about MS is its crazy unpredictability.

Although I am not a candidate for Ocrevus (sadly), I applaud the fact other patients are benefitting from it, because our options as MS patients are so very limited. In fact, this is the first treatment that is approved to treat progressive forms of Multiple Sclerosis, which definitely makes me happy when I look at the big picture. So instead of focusing on myself, I simply turned my focus to the greater good of it all. Scientists are making great strides all the time, and while there is no cure, there are new treatments in development all the time, and maybe the next one will work for me.

In the meantime, I remain committed to my wellness, both inside and outside. I nourish my spirit and my soul as well as my body, because that’s the one thing that I have control over on this crazy journey. Like I have said many times in the past, this is not how I envisioned my journey, but it’s mine to walk, and I choose to do so with a smile on my face, love in my heart, and a glass of lemonade, half full (of course), in my hand (even if it is a “sippy cup”).

Whether it’s hot coffee…

…or a cool beverage, I always drink from a “sippy cup”. I drop things way to easily and I trip over nothing, so this is our accommodation for me not spilling everything everywhere.

Diagnosiversary

In preparation for my blog this week, I decided to read what I had written about my diagnosiversary last year and the year before, because I just can’t let June 2 slip by without acknowledging it. I read through the entry, and I realized that on this, the 14th anniversary of my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, I would have written the same exact thing I shared last year (which I shared from the year before) on the topic. The feelings I experienced on that day, and during the weeks and months that followed, are still as raw and as powerful as they were 14 years ago. It doesn’t matter how much time passes, telling the story immediately brings me back to that moment in time, so here’s what I have shared in years past. Nothing has changed about that day, except year 14 has brought many more challenges (like breast cancer… an entirely different diagnosiversary!), but it has also brought many more rewards for which I am grateful every single day. 


This is the sign that marked my 14th radiation treatment, and I think it is a perfect representation of how I feel 14 years into my journey with MS.


June 2 is a very special day for me. It’s a random day, and it probably means nothing to anyone but me (and possibly my husband). It’s an anniversary that does not celebrate a milestone or an accomplishment, but June 2, 2003 is a date that I will never forget. On that day, I was given a diagnosis that undoubtedly has changed the course of my life.


Every year on June 2, I am brought back to that day, now [fourteen] years ago. I relive the details of the day moment by moment. I remember what I ate for breakfast (oatmeal), and I remember what I was wearing (white and blue plaid capri pants, a blue button down shirt, and white and blue sneakers). I remember stopping at Dunkin Donuts for a large iced coffee (black) on the way to school. I remember the panic attacks. All. Day. Long. I remember that I had permission to leave after my last teaching period so that I could get to my appointment on time. I remember that my appointment was at 2:30, and I remember that Bruce took a half a day so that he could go with me.


So we got in the car, not talking to each other at all. On the way to the neurologist appointment, we stopped at the radiology office to pick up a copy of the MRI results, just in case the doctor hadn’t yet received them. They kindly folded the paper and put it inside an envelope. In the elevator up to the doctor’s office, Bruce asked me if I was going to open the envelope. Without hesitation I said no way. I knew I wouldn’t understand what was written there, and why not just have these last moments together before the inevitable?


We sat in the doctor’s office, staring at each other, waiting for for him to deliver the news. We didn’t talk. I was too busy having one panic attack after another to even attempt a conversation. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally heard his footsteps approaching. We heard him pause outside the door, and we heard him pull my chart out of the bin outside the room. Then, to our complete and utter shock, we heard him let out a huge sigh, before knocking once and entering the room.


The doctor walked in, greeted us, and told us that I have Multiple Sclerosis. From that moment on, it was as if I was watching someone else’s life unfold. I only heard bits and pieces because my mind began racing. To be fair, I was not yet educated on MS, but at that moment, it felt like I was given a death sentence. We know now that MS is fatal in only the rarest, most severe of cases, yet there was a part of me that did, indeed, die that day. The road ahead of me required a complicated detour that I was not sure I could even navigate.


We left the doctor’s office in a total daze. Suddenly we were occupying space in a world that was completely different for us, yet for everyone else it was unchanged. In this drastically different world, what did we do? We went to Target. I guess we were searching for some sense of normalcy in this new, unknown world of ours. We sat in the car afterwards and called our families to share the news. It wasn’t exactly the kind of news I looked forward to delivering, but at least I finally had an answer. After months of appointments, X-rays, MRIs, blood work, evoked potentials, and cognitive and neurological tests, I was done. It’s not what I wanted or expected, but it was something. The phone calls I made on June 2, 2003 were some of the most difficult conversations I have ever had in my entire life.


Following my diagnosis, Bruce and I holed up at home, and didn’t speak to many people other than each other. Some friends called to offer support, and others dropped off the face of the earth. All the relationships in my life were tested, and certainly the dynamic within them shifted. I learned a lot about my friends, and mourned the loss of many who did not know how to deal with my diagnosis. Sadly, this happens with every relapse, but [14] years later, my coping mechanism for that kind of loss has been fine-tuned, and I have built a support system that holds up.


On this day every year, I take inventory of my life since diagnosis. It has not been an easy journey, but it has been amazingly rewarding in so many ways. Since my diagnosis, I have learned that I am stronger than I ever imagined I could be. Everyone has an inner strength, but not everyone realizes it because you don’t summon that strength until you need it. I have discovered my voice to educate and to raise awareness, and my passion for patient advocacy. These are integral parts of who I am, and without MS I don’t know who I’d be right now. One thing I know for sure is that on my diagnosiversary, I always give thanks to the powers that be for all of the parts of me that MS has made better, and for all the things I am still capable of doing despite the MonSter.


For [14] years I have acknowledged the importance of my diagnosiversary, and this year is no different. I’m still grateful for the many gifts I’ve been given, and even though my journey has not always been an easy one, I know that every bump in the road makes me a stronger, better version of myself. I don’t celebrate the anniversary that falls on this day. I celebrate all the things that I have managed to accomplish, all the things I can do, and all the things I am, MS and all.