Tag Archives: MS

A Reason

In light of circumstances happening in my life right now, I am bringing back a post that I originally published in August of 2014. I think what amazes me most is that years later, I still feel lost at times and certainly abandoned by people I never would have imagined would leave my side. But life has a way of surprising me, and not always in good ways, which means I just pick myself up, dust myself off, and give extra gratitude for the ones who remain by my side for the long haul. You know who you are so allow me this moment to thank you and tell you that I love and appreciate you more than you know.


When looking back at my journey with MS so far, I think that the hardest part has been how my friends and family have reacted to the ever changing me. When I was going through the grueling process of endless doctor appointments and tests that ultimately led to my diagnosis, I learned a lot about myself, but also about my friends and family. I quickly discovered who was going to stand by me for the long haul, and who was not prepared to handle the obstacles along the way. Some learned as much as they could about MS in order to be more understanding of my situation and more aware of what I was going through. Others slowly phased themselves out of my life, unnoticed until they just weren’t there anymore. Still others ran from our friendship, deserting me in my time of need.

This was not easy for me to accept. I don’t like to say goodbye to friends. A quality of mine that is both good and bad is that I love fiercely and with every fiber of my being. I would do anything for any one of my friends, and have always put the needs and wants of others ahead of my own. I give without question and offer support whenever I am needed. It’s who I am. I admittedly don’t understand when people are not like me. All I know is that I could never just abandon a friend, especially during difficult times. I will never relate to the way that some people could let go of our relationships, seemingly without a second thought.

Each time I relapsed, more friends seemed to fall out of my life leaving an indelible mark on my heart. I wondered why it was so easy to give up on years of friendship for reasons out of my control. Why couldn’t they still see me, the person underneath? Why couldn’t they see that my heart was still the same, only now it was broken into pieces, with each person taking a piece of it when leaving my side?

Through years of heartbreak, I finally realized that if someone couldn’t accept me as I am then I should not expend any energy hurting over it. The fact of the matter is that energy is limited for those of us with MS, and I decided that I was not going to waste what precious little I had on people who definitely did not spend any time or energy worrying about me. I started to scale back my efforts with those people, and suddenly all new and amazing people came into my life! Instead of being bogged down by negative energy, I surround myself with wonderfully supportive friends who spew optimism just like I do.

I am adjusting to my new normal every single day, and I am incredibly grateful for my small circle of lifetime friends who have remained steadfast at my side. But now I have newer friends who have shown me such tremendous warmth and compassion, and I don’t know what I’d do without them!

Finally, I recognize that not everyone is meant to be in my life forever. I am able to honestly declare that I am thankful to each person who has walked by my side, however briefly, on this journey of mine. I wouldn’t be the person I am now, with the understanding that I now have. As if I needed further clarification on how I came to arrive in this place, my (always full of wisdom) therapist brought everything into perspective for me by sharing a quote: “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” Indeed!

 

Rest

Rest. Such an innocuous word. You’ve probably said it to every single person you know, and probably multiple times. But I bet most people have never thought about the true balancing act that happens when you have Multiple Sclerosis. I would venture to say that I have been commanded to rest more frequently than the average person, and that’s ok… because sometimes I really do need the reminder.

If you have followed my blog, you’ll recall that in my past life (before MS decided I could no longer perform my job) I was a high school teacher. I worked long hours, arriving at my desk before 6 am, and usually not leaving until at least 5 pm. I then took work home with me, along with the emotional baggage that comes from truly caring about each of my students. My weekends were spent grading, planning, and prepping for the week ahead. It was a job that fulfilled me yet was truly frustrating because my work could never be done. It was all about prioritizing. Add to that lifestyle a daily schedule that was made for me and that I was contractually bound to follow, and I truly had no life. “Rest” was built in in the form of a period off, but resting seldom happened during that time, and god forbid I drank too much coffee, using the restroom only happened on scheduled time.  And I was able to keep up that pace without blinking for the first ten years after my diagnosis.

It is impossible to go from the scheduled life, which I thrived on for the better part of my career, to nothing. These days I have a schedule for myself, far less grueling than the one that was made for me by the Master Schedule Gods. I try to stick with my schedule because it makes me feel like I am human and I can be productive even without that job that ruled my life.

Gym, yoga, volunteering, and doctors’ appointments are on my schedule these days in place of being confined to the walls of my classroom like in my old life.

These days, I walk a fine line between “doing” and “resting”. Overdoing anything causes a ripple effect resulting in being forced to rest simply because my body does not allow me to function normally, even according to the standards of my constantly changing “norms” which are a part of every MS patient’s life. Not functioning means that I am down for the count, with a completely empty tank, and not enough energy to do anything, even eating or getting up to use the bathroom. And forget about taking a shower, because that just doesn’t happen.

As much as I hate it when I am ordered to rest, I know I should listen. But I want to think that I can still do as much as I used to, which I can’t. It’s a lesson that is hard to learn because in my mind I’m still that same strong, tenacious person that I have always been. In fact, I believe that I am a stronger, wiser person than I have ever been. Here I am, approaching 15 years with MS and I’m still learning and constantly adjusting to how far I can push myself, whether it’s in the gym, on my yoga mat, or even just with how much I can do socially before my body has decided that enough is enough.

Marty was always ready to rest with me and he made it so much better when i didn’t feel well.

One would think that after living a third of my life with MS, I’d have adjusted to all the changes that this invisible illness (and uninvited silent partner in my marriage) has brought with it. But a part of me longs to be, and often tries (without success) to be the person I was before my life was forever changed with my diagnosis. I am beyond grateful to my support system for their “gentle” reminders, because even though I want to be invincible and go, go, go, sometimes what I really need to do is just rest. It’s never what I want to hear but it is often what I need.

My biggest supporter and cheerleader. Without Bruce’s support I would not be able to live the life I am now.

Fall

There are so many things that suck about MS, but the longer you live with it, the more they just become a part of your “normal”.  I could list them but I honestly don’t really think about them all that often because I’m just used to living life with MS.

This week I was reminded of something very important that I tend to forget simply because, well… I have MS. Also I can do so many things but when I don’t think about small, menial things while I am doing them, I am inevitably made aware in sometimes painful yet always embarrassing ways.

Here’s what I mean. During the course of a typical work week, I take four yoga classes, I have two private sessions with my trainer, I volunteer one shift at Marty’s Place Senior Dog Sanctuary, and I get acupuncture and chiropractic care. And that’s just a normal week with no doctor’s appointments or other essentials like hair color, reiki, etc. I’m pretty active… and I would even venture to say that I’m fairly fit. As a former teacher, schedules are a necessity for me, and this one keeps me busy, builds my strength and centers me, and feeds my soul.

One thing I might mention is that most of my limbs are neuropathic, which means I can’t feel them. So if I’m not looking at my feet, I don’t really know where they are, except by habit. So when I’m working out or doing yoga I am completely focused on what I’m doing because I have to be.

One would think that with all the things I am able to do in the gym or on the mat, simply walking would be a piece of cake. Not so much. This week, I ran a very rare errand which required me to go into an actual store. It happens so infrequently, and I only do it when I am feeling up to it and at times I know the store won’t be crowded.

As dog owners, we burn candles every single day because we are paranoid that our house might smell like dog if anyone comes over. Also, I’m a bit of a snob and I only use the Yankee Candle jars because they somehow seem the safest to me. So every few months I go to the outlet and stock up on our usual fragrances. I “run” (but not literally) in and out within 10 minutes and I’m done. This week I bought three full crates of candles and the woman working there said if I pulled my car up to the curb, they would bring the crates out to my car for me. Excellent!

So I headed for my car thinking how efficient I was, and before I knew it, I was on the ground. Serves me right for getting ahead of myself! I couldn’t even tell you how it happened. I can tell you that I fell fast and hard. I can tell you that there was a really nice woman who saw it happen and asked if I was ok. I got up quickly, made a mental note that nothing seemed broken or dislocated, and feeling more embarrassed than I can even begin to describe, I told her I was fine, that I have MS and that I fall all the time. She asked if I was sure I was ok and told me I took it like a champ. I think that’s an observation of how hard I fell plus a compliment that I popped up so quickly. It was really out of sheer embarrassment. If I was at home (where I normally fall) I might have hung out on the ground for a bit longer.

I finally got to my car, brought it to the curb, and the 2 ladies from the candle store started asking me if I was ok etc., etc., probably more concerned about a law suit than anything else, but still. They were sweet. As I answered that I was fine, that I have MS, and that I always fall, I was half a step shy (because I wasn’t looking at my feet) and almost… ALMOST went down again. Thank the universe that I managed to keep myself upright, with a huge stumble, but upright all the same.

Most people looking at me would never guess that I have issues such as neuropathy because my body has learned (somewhat) how to compensate when it can. When we are going to places that generate crowds, or where I want people to be aware of my weakness (such as NYC) I use a cane as a visible statement to others. But on a normal day, I don’t use a cane, and certainly not when I have just had a private session with my trainer! My first instinct when I fall (even at home) is always to jump up and look around to see if anyone saw. I know I shouldn’t be embarrassed but old habits die hard, and in the world I grew up in, when anyone fell, it was followed by pointing and laughter, and often never-ending teasing. People always tend to be more sensitive if they see a cane or a walker, but I had neither. I’m so glad that there are some nice people out there, like the lady who said I took it like a champ, who didn’t make me feel embarrassed (I did that all on my own), but rather I felt that she was truly concerned.

Most people who don’t know me, might never even realize that I have MS. Hell, there are days that I don’t even think about the fact that I have it. But I do. Having MS means that I fall more often than your average person… and I have been that way since before I was even diagnosed. I remember the first time my husband witnessed me falling down the stairs, he came running to the bottom of the steps where he found me laughing. I have to laugh at myself because what I really need to do is take my sister’s advice. She tells me that I have to be careful when I am not standing on my head (see below).

2018

As we approach the end of this first month of 2018, I am marveling (still) at what a difference one measly year can make. It seems like such a short amount of time, yet for me, this last year was one for the record books and even though I never wish days away, in the back of my mind it just couldn’t end soon enough.

So here we are in 2018, and my word for this year (more than any other) is gratitude. I can’t say it enough. Every single one of us, regardless of our situation, has the ability to find gratitude in our every day lives. I did it at my lowest points in 2017, and I am already doing it at my highest points in 2018.

I’m starting this year strong and healthy (relatively speaking, of course). Check-ups with my oncology team in the last few weeks have shown that I’m doing great. Plus a change in my MS treatment made me realize that I wasn’t really feeling my best on my last treatment but now I am feeling so much better than any time I can even remember. I have been able to keep social commitments (that I have shied away from in the past), and that alone makes me feel more like a human being and less like a patient.

I am forever indebted to this woman who gave me back my confidence when an MS relapse took it away. Her training extends far beyond the gym and I consider her my family.

So obviously at the top of my gratitude list each and every day are three things: my scholarship at the yoga studio, my amazing personal trainer, and the best care partner in the whole wide world. These things are more connected than it seems on the surface. Here’s how it works: my trainer, Diane, has brought me so far in my journey to becoming (and staying) strong. She also instilled in me a love of yoga, which brought me to participate in a yoga challenge that ultimately earned me that scholarship. And now, to connect it all together, Bruce (my other half) has started his own journey with Diane. He is motivated to stay strong so that he can take care of me in the future, although I’m still not sure it won’t be the other way around. Either way, both of us are working for longevity so that we can spend as many healthy years together as humanly possible… plus there’s the little motivation of our wedding that WILL be happening 2020, so that helps, too!

The 12 days of yoga challenge.

What I love the most about this current situation is how much we support each other through this journey. I mean, Bru has always been incredibly supportive, but now that he’s trying to live according to my lifestyle more, there is simply no comparison. He gets why I do what I do, and why it’s so important for me to do the “homework” I am given while fueling my body appropriately. While my lifestyle in itself is empowering because I am fully in control of that single aspect of my life (which is full of uncertainty and question marks), with Bruce living it with me, I feel exponentially more empowered when we are both working towards the same goal.

Keeping each other motivated, knowing that each of us is committed to the other and our future together is beyond priceless. It seems like the older I get, the more quickly time goes, and when I am feeling well, I wish I could slow the time down just to be able to give Bruce time with the closest thing to “pre-MS Rennie” as possible. We have traveled a long way together, and now I know that we are en route to continue together, committed and strong. While we might not ever look like Mr. and Mrs. Olympia, I can assure you that we will always work our hardest to remain healthy and strong so that we can spend our life together however we choose. Just another item for my gratitude list…

From Mentee to Bestie

So not that long ago, one of my former students, now a college graduate wrote a blog entry about me , and now I feel it’s time for me to write about him. I even stole his title except instead of “mentee”, he wrote “mentor”.

On the day of his high school graduation… I was so proud.

I understand that I often talk about my former students on my blog, but sometimes I am just so proud of them, and they still play such an important role in my life that I can’t imagine myself being a complete person without them. They lift me up in ways no one else can, probably because I did consider them my kids when I was working, and now that I’m not, I have all these amazing young people in my life who I view almost as little siblings but way better. 

When I first met Josh, he was a withdrawn, shy, sometimes angry sophomore. Not only did I have him in my homeroom, which was five minutes a day, but I was also lucky enough to have him in one of my classes as well. We learned quickly that we shared a love of animals, we shared the same type of sarcastic, sometimes dry but biting humor, and we bonded every single day.

As a sophomore, with little support from administration, Josh fought to have himself de-classified. He had been classified with a “learning disability” in grammar school, and that classification followed him. When he realized that he did not require services and that he was not being challenged in his classes, he disputed the classification, and even though it’s very rare, he succeeded. Clearly, he was right that he needed no special education classification because after graduation he went on to Montclair State University, where he graduated in four years, with honors.

The biggest change I witnessed in Josh was when he was 17 years old, and he went from being a sadly closeted adolescent to an out and proud gay man. His whole demeanor changed, and suddenly he was more joyful, and full of confidence. I was so proud of him then (and still am) because we all know that the high school years are traumatizing for anyone, and even more so when dealing with the extra baggage that Josh had been carrying. Sadly, other teachers were not so respectful of Josh. One told him he better study so as not to end up back in the “retard classes” (not my words… ever). Another told him to work harder so he wouldn’t end up like his brother (who suffers from drug addiction). And yet another had the gall to make fun of the homosexual community in front of Josh’s entire class. It’s no wonder that he couldn’t wait to graduate and meet some more open-minded people. So off he went.

When he was in college, he would send me screen shots of his grades… Dean’s List. My heart soared with pride. He worked hard and was rewarded with stellar grades, good relationships with his professors, and friends who understood and accepted him. Whenever he was on break, we got together to catch up and it became clear that Josh was someone I truly enjoyed chatting with, and that he would be one of the ones who would forever have a very special place in my life (and my heart).

Now that Josh has graduated, he is going through the process of trying to get a “real” job, sending out a gazillion resumes hoping that just one person will take a chance on him. He is experiencing what happens so often: jobs want experienced staff but how do you get experience if no one gives you a job? He (like I did all those years ago when I graduated) is doing the retail thing in the interim, but not without questioning why the hell he worked so hard in college to be stuck in a small town (which he hopes to escape) working a retail job that anyone could do. I tell him when we get together (every week without fail) that it’s a rite of passage and that someone will take a chance on him and that he just needs to be patient. Easy for me to say, but patience does not come easy when you are in debt from your education and making drinks at Starbuck’s.

Josh has become such a staple in my life that he has even been to my home to watch some of our favorite shows together, and has met Bruce. Josh is motivated to do better and to be better than all the BS that surrounds us all. He is smart, well-spoken, intuitive, witty, and I adore everything about him. We share so much and I trust him implicitly (and vice versa). Every week I think to myself that this young man could not possibly be the child I once met. He has grown more than probably any other former student of mine, and I just couldn’t imagine my life without him. As much as I have been the “big sister”, Josh has stood by my side through MS, cancer, and everything in between, and I would not trade him for anything.

So if you are reading this and looking for someone awesomely spectacular for your company, Josh has a degree in Communication Studies (Public Relations), and I can promise that you will not be disappointed. 😉

Yoga

I know that I have written about yoga before, but my practice has evolved so much in the two short years that it has been a constant in my life. In that time, I have gone from “tolerating” it to loving every single thing about it. The beauty of yoga is that they call it a practice for a reason, and on good days, I astound myself, while on others I try to figure out why the heck I can’t do what I just did the day before. Then I remember that I have Multiple Sclerosis and there is literally a disconnect between my body and my brain. But I never regret my practice because it is so much more than physical for me.

Downward facing dog.

When I get on my mat, I am truly in my space. It’s my time for me to be genuinely present with myself without feeling any pressures from the outside world. I love removing myself from the real world while I connect with my body and feel what I can do when I give my body permission to open up. The mind body connection is so powerful and it puts me in a very meditative state. Now I didn’t always love yoga, but once I found the right instructor, as well as the right mindset, everything changed for me.

Upward facing dog.

In December, a local yoga club ran a “12 Days of Yoga” challenge on Instagram. I was skeptical because in the scope of the world of yoga, I’m an average yogi at best. I work harder than most because MS makes me do that, but I’m ok with that. I don’t compare myself to anyone except me so I am happy with my progress. A friend of mine, who is a teacher that I used to work with, and has since become a yoga instructor (shout out Jess!) tagged me and told me that I should definitely participate in the challenge. I got all frustrated with the logistics: post a flyer indicating your participation, tagging the sponsors, etc., and I found it overwhelming. Then my beautiful friend, in true teacher fashion, messaged me and broke down exactly what to do… for those out there who know teaching terminology, this was true differentiated instruction for this girl (me), who really needed it.

Chaturanga. And Scarlet!

The challenge included a pre-set list of poses, and each day I was to post a picture of myself, with any variations or modifications necessary, and tag all the sponsors of the contest. I do yoga every day anyway, and thought it would be a great way to keep me on my mat and also give me the opportunity to win prizes. Truth be told, I never win anything, so that wasn’t really a motivation for me. I just wanted to prove that an MS patient need not be limited to chair yoga.

Crane (or crow) is a very difficult pose that I have been working on for a while. My modification here is one foot on the wall to help the balance.

I must have made my point because (amazingly) I won a beautiful new yoga mat… more specifically, an amazing Lululemon yoga mat. I was beyond grateful, and also incredibly surprised. The mat is so nice, and like I said, I generally never win anything, especially something so perfect for me and my lifestyle. As if that was not enough, I found out a few days later, that the yoga studio that sponsored the challenge has a foundation, and that they are giving me a year membership to the studio, paid for by the foundation. I was almost moved to tears. Yoga studios are expensive, and rightly so because of the personal attention that is given. It’s something I couldn’t afford without making major sacrifices financially. I have been known to do drop in yoga classes at random studios for $15 or $20 a session, but an actual membership is not something I ever imagined I could have. I couldn’t be more appreciative.

On the day that I picked up my brand new Lululemon mat.

I didn’t love yoga from day one, but once I found the right instructor, I got hooked, but I never thought it would change me so much. I am more in tuned with my body, and I’m aware of what it needs when I get on the mat. I am able to transcend anything that is happening in my life when I am focusing on my practice. I have learned to keep the positive energy flowing through my body, and to look at others with more compassion as a result. Most importantly, I have learned to challenge myself, without fear of failure. Yoga is a practice, and challenging myself in my practice only helps, even if I can’t do everything perfectly all the time. Like MS, every day is different on my mat, and that’s ok. If I never challenged myself, I might never have grown to love all the different aspects of yoga the way I do.

This one was a modification because I was supposed to do a handstand, but my recently dislocated finger was not ready to bear my weight that way yet.

This is all a metaphor for life itself, really. We never know what we are capable of (or consequently the rewards that await us) if we don’t challenge ourselves to do the thing(s) that feel(s) intimidating. There have been many challenges in my life, and the only ones I regret are the ones I didn’t accept. This yoga challenge was something I knew I could do, even if I had to modify a pose or two in order to participate, and I’m so glad I did. More than anything else I know that taking on a challenge is nothing to shy away from. In the worse case scenario, you learn a lesson to help you succeed at the next try, and that’s as valuable as anything. The next time you are faced with something you want to try but you are afraid, I dare you to try. You just might surprise yourself! Namaste.

For the plank day, I added some variations to challenge myself. See that? I challenged myself within the challenge. It’s how I roll.

Happy New Year!

The end of 2017 had me taking inventory of everything that I went through along the way. New Year’s Eve always has me in a hopeful place, looking forward to a fresh start in a brand new year. But this year, I found myself especially excited because looking back on 2017 made me exhausted just thinking about the many, many obstacles I faced from day one. I realize that I gathered strength from every single challenge that the universe sent my way, and I faced each one the way I have learned to do having lived with MS for almost 15 years now.

When I break down each situation individually, maybe it doesn’t seem like I went through all that much… and let’s face it: people have been through way worse. But looking at the big picture made me realize how much I overcame, even if I did start complaining towards the end of the year. I complained, but I laughed my way through because it’s what I know, and if I didn’t laugh I probably would have cried. So I’m sharing a recap of 2017, knowing 2018 can only be better, and because it’s a reminder to be grateful for every single day you are given on this planet. And I believe even on the worst of days, beauty and happiness can be found, as long as you open up your eyes (and your heart) to seeing it.

2017 started out with a huge question mark for me, even more so than just living my life with MS. I knew I had breast cancer, but that’s all I knew. I had no idea what kind of treatment plan was in store for me, not to mention the number of doctor appointments, tests, and ultimately, waiting (the most torturous part) I would eventually have to endure. When you start off a new year in this way, it’s incredibly difficult to feel optimistic about what lies ahead or even to feel the usual excitement inside as you face a brand new year. I was stuck in limbo, questions and darkness circling around me constantly. I had no idea how to move forward when I had this gigantic somber truth to deal with. So I did what I always do, partially using advice given to me back when I ran that 5K: I simply put one foot in front of the other, and smiled my way through it. With Bruce’s hand in mine, we got to the other side stronger than ever.

Gnarly finger x-ray. Who knew how much you use one silly finger on your non-dominant hand??

I’m proud of how we handled my cancer situation because so frequently these things can drive a couple apart, but not us. One year later, I can confidently say that although I never thought it possible, our love and the strength of our relationship has grown exponentially since then. Unfortunately, cancer was not the only health concern we faced in 2017…. I also broke some toes, dislocated a finger, injured a hip with a slip on the ice, and closed the year with a lovely MS relapse along with a change in my Disease Modifying Treatment (DMT) that I had been on for over eight years. There were also some personal issues with some relationships in my life that hurt me almost as badly as all the physical trauma I suffered. At times I felt like staying in bed with the covers over my head for fear of anything else happening, and Bruce even jokingly wrapped me in bubble wrap at one point.

For real: wrapped in bubble wrap!

But everything I went through made me stronger, and reinforced for all who know me that this girl does NOT give up. It’s simply not an option. I have a natural instinct to persevere and a work ethic (thanks, Dad!) that is second to none. I’m not sure why the universe gave me all of these obstacles to overcome in 2017, but whatever the reason, it was my haul to carry. Luckily I have the best guy in the world at my side who never gives up on me, and my motivation still remains staying strong for him and for us. And I know for sure that I am starting 2018 stronger than ever (both physically and emotionally), and I can handle anything… ANYTHING the universe decides to throw my way because that was the overarching lesson I learned in 2017.

One of our NYE projects: a hand casting of Bruce’s hand in mine, because that’s how we survived 2017.

Today I am looking forward with hope and excitement, instead of fear and dread like last year at this time. Life is not always what we plan it to be, but as long as we acknowledge our gifts, like the qualities I inherited from my dad, my guy, who supports me no matter what, and the handful of dear friends and family who I can always count on, it can still be pretty sweet. I, for one, am psyched to see what 2018 has in store for me, since I know whatever it is, I am ready for it because of everything I have already been through. Considering the year I am coming off of, I’d like to think that I am due for a fantastic year, but I also understand that I am partially responsible for making that dream a reality. That being said, I can guarantee that I will be doing everything in my power to uphold my end of the bargain, and I know the universe will be on my side. So today I say goodbye to 2017 and welcome 2018… bring it on!

We are ready for you, 2018!

 

Gifts

As a former high school teacher, one of my greatest joys is watching as my “kids” grow up and start their lives on their own. I feel incredibly lucky that I maintain such special relationships with so many of them. Many people do not understand (nor do they think it’s normal) that I have been able to do this. If I’m being honest, I consider it a gift, because fostering lifelong relationships is something that you will never learn how to do in any education class in college or in graduate school. I am humbled and honored when my former students choose to keep me in their lives because it validates my life’s work somehow.

So today, let me tell you about Ashley. She was a freshman when I first met her. She was sweet, and enthusiastic, and she was an amazing student. Her smile always brightened my classroom, and I was lucky enough to teach her again when she was a sophomore. She was an asset to any classroom because everyone loved her and she set such a great example for the others. I got to know her extremely well, because during those years, I also ran a very successful Walk MS team, which I ran as a school club. She devoted endless hours to our fundraising efforts and to raising awareness of Multiple Sclerosis in our community. Basically, if I could have cloned Ashley and had all of my classes full of more Ashleys, I would have been ecstatic. Coincidentally, Ashley has a little sister (who is equally as awesome), and through the years I have forged a special friendship with their mom, too… how lucky am I to have these three amazing friends just because Ashley was randomly placed in my class when she just 14 years old?!

Here’s my little Ashley, working hard to distribute a fundraiser as on of my key go-to people on my 450 member Walk MS team.

As luck would have it, Ashley chose to attend my own alma mater, Rutgers University. Not only was I beyond proud, but I was so excited that she would be living just a few miles away from me. We had meals together here and there, and always, ALWAYS kept in contact. Perhaps you can imagine how I felt when she graduated at the top of her class and got herself a full ride to Seton Hall Law School.

It was a special Rutgers homecoming when little Ashley joined us for a tailgate.

I celebrated Ashley’s bridal shower with her (seated next to her mom, of course). I watched her marry the love of her life through my tears of joy, and was honored to be seated with her parents (now my friends) at her wedding reception. Similarly, Ashley (and her husband) were there to celebrate the renewal of my wedding vows with me and Bruce. They were also there (with her mom and sister) when my husband threw a party for me for finally earning my masters degree. These are life moments… milestones, really, that we have chosen to share with each other. No conscious decision was made, we simply allowed our friendship, born out of mutual love and respect, to grow organically as the years passed.

Showers of happiness celebrating little Ashley and her soon-to-be-hubby.

Now, more than 14 years since I first met little Ashley, she is married, she owns a home, and she is a damn good attorney. (I keep tabs on her because she happens to work at a law firm where one of my best friends is a partner… the epitome of the expression “it’s such a small world”!). I treasure the relationship I share with Ashley (not to mention the ones I share with her sister and her mom), and I do believe that my world would be a much emptier place without all three of these beautiful (both inside and out) women.

These are just a few shots from the day I watched little Ashley get married.

Now, that little girl who brought sunshine and smiles into my classroom every day continues to do so, especially when I recently learned that my little Ashley is going to have a little one of her own! My heart almost exploded when I found out, and I feel as happy as I did when I found out that there was going to be a baby Rankin (in the form of my own nephew) on the way. I feel like I’m going to be an auntie again, and I offered myself up as a go-to baby sitter, because there is nothing I wouldn’t do for Ashley & Co.

Here’s me with little Ashley at the after party when Bruce and I renewed our vows.

Not every single former student of mine occupies the same special place in my heart as Ashley does, but the ones that do know that they can turn to me for anything. I may not have had children of my own, but I loved all of my students as if they were mine. Fortunately many, like Ashley, have been able to transcend the teacher/student relationship and we now share relationships as human beings, without titles.

A sampling of little Ashley (and her sister little Britt) through the years.

I knew I’d never be rich when I chose to become a classroom teacher, nor would I earn bonuses or even be given accolades that are so prevalent in the private sector. But because of the profession I chose, my heart and soul are full of love and pride, which makes me richer than I ever thought I could be. And while money is nice and we all need it to survive, I guarantee that the bonuses I have been given are way more special than any amount of money I might have earned. Money is quickly spent, but what I have been given will last me a lifetime.

Mandatory selfie with my little Ashley while she was studying to take the bar.


I love you Ashley, Bobby, Britt, Diane & Greg! Thank you for being part of my special extended family! xoxox

Hungry Years

Today I am bringing back an old entry, written by Bruce. I love his perspective, and recent conversations with some of my very special former students has had me thinking about the time in our life that we can look back upon, knowing that we were living in our “hungry years”, but also that we were blissfully unaware of how different things would be (for the better) once we established ourselves. Please enjoy this very special entry written by my favorite guest blogger.


Recently, I was listening to an interview with an older male actor (exactly who he is doesn’t much matter to the story here, plus most readers wouldn’t even know who the hell he is anyway), and in it he referred to his “hungry years”. By this he meant the early years of his marriage, when his career had not yet taken off, and so times were lean for him and his wife. When asked if he looked upon this time negatively he responded that they were actually some of the best times of his life, as he was still so young and naive, and didn’t fully grasp the struggles he was enduring. This made me think about our own “hungry years” in the early years of our relationship, and when I mentioned it to Rennie she felt it might be an interesting topic for the blog. The catch was that since I was the one that brought it up, I’d have to write it. So here it goes…

In the summer of 1998, after dragging my feet for the first three and a half years of our relationship (not to mention the fact that we had been such close friends for over seven years), Ren and I finally moved into our very own apartment. It was a beautiful place in a brand new development in North Brunswick, one town over from Rutgers University (where we’d met), and while it might have appeared to those that saw it that we had it all together, it wasn’t really the truth. Like most couples in their 20s, we were still finding our place in the world. Both of our careers were still in their infancies, and while Ren had spent the early years of our relationship working a high-paying retail job, that lifestyle just could not be sustained. The stress it was putting on her mind and her body, as well as our relationship, was too much to bear. A few short months before we moved into our new place she’d made the move out of retail, but there was a price to be paid for the more humane lifestyle…a huge pay cut. At the same time, I was working at my first “real” job out of college, and was finding it hard to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. So while we weren’t anywhere near the poverty level, we certainly weren’t living in the lap of luxury either. But we had each other, and considering everything that had to happen just for us to end up together in the first place, I often felt like I was living in a dream that someone would be waking me up from at any moment. I had zero complaints.

This one is from the "really hungry years", before we even lived together.

This one is from the “really hungry years”, before we even lived together.

With no money to do anything all-that-exciting, we quickly stumbled upon what would become our usual weekend routine. On Friday nights, we’d start with dinner at whatever “gourmet” chain restaurant we had a coupon for that week (Applebee’s, Chili’s, Bennigan’s, etc.), and then follow that up with a leisurely stroll through Target, where we hoped we could cobble enough cash together to buy the things we actually needed for the new palatial Rankin/Leighton estate. Once done, we’d come home and watch the ever so thrilling “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and whatever else we could find on the basic cable package we were lucky enough to be able to afford. Saturdays and Sundays were much the same, but since we’d already splurged on one meal out, Ren would cook…and often with food we’d lifted from my parents’ pantry the last time we’d visited them. Crazy stuff.

The spacious kitchen from our first place. It was bigger than some of the places Ren lived in by herself before we moved in together.

The spacious kitchen from our first place. It was bigger than some of the places Ren lived in by herself before we moved in together.

There’s one memory from this period that is still so vivid to me that I almost feel as if I’m traveling back in time when I think of it. It was a Saturday night in December 1999, and we’d recently booked our wedding in Las Vegas for the following April. Christmas and Hanukkah decorations lit up our apartment, and we were spending our weekend the way we’ve always loved to…talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company and the life we’d built (or were building). As the evening got later, we both drifted off to sleep in our living room, with Ren on the couch and me in the recliner. Sometime after midnight I awoke to the sounds of Beck performing his song “Mixed Bizness” on Saturday Night Live, and I looked over to see Ren peacefully asleep. I then slowly panned around the apartment that was so unmistakably “us”, smiled and then marveled at how perfect everything was in that one moment. A moment that could have easily been innocuous and forgettable ended up perfectly capturing that exact time in our life.

Our very first Christmas tree in our very own apartment. Together.

Our very first Christmas tree in our very own apartment. Together.

The most beautiful thing about those hungry years was that we were so young and that simply placing down our roots together, on our own (except the usual raiding of my mom’s pantry) felt truly blissful. Now with hindsight being 20/20, we can look back on the years of living paycheck to paycheck and understand how much we struggled and how we always made do with what we had…because we had each other. We now recognize that even though we were struggling then, there was no preparing us for the real battle that had not yet presented itself to us: life together with Multiple Sclerosis.  

Taken on Ren's 29th birthday, just shy of two years before her MS symptoms first presented.

Taken on Ren’s 29th birthday, just shy of two years before her MS symptoms first presented.

Now, with over two decades together to look back upon, it’s easy to recognize the times that weren’t so easy…even if at the time they seemed oh-so-normal. But as with many things in our life, there’s the time before MS, and the time after MS. That line of demarcation provides all the perspective we’ll ever need to realize that even though we had good times, and we had bad times…we had times. Times together, which is all that really matters, even if you’re hungry.

This summer we ventured back to the very spot that I first saw Ren walking across campus. We'd just graduated high school, and were attending summer orientation before starting our freshman year at Rutgers.

This summer we ventured back to the very spot that I first saw Ren walking across campus. We’d just graduated high school, and were attending summer orientation before starting our freshman year at Rutgers.

Thankful

Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, I am feeling a need to talk about gratitude. Most people don’t think enough about how many blessings they have in their lives because they focus too much on the daily humdrum of life. It is much easier to focus on negativity when it sometimes does take more effort to open your eyes to all the beautiful things that are right in front of you. I live my life, acknowledging my gratitude twice daily: morning and night (through journaling), making a conscious decision to do so. In honor of this month of gratitude, here are 30 (thirty!) things for which I am grateful, and believe me, I could list about a gazillion more than what’s here:

(Aside from the first one, listed in no particular order!)

1. Bruce: my other half, my partner in crime, my best friend, my husband, my fiancée. He never wavers, and he has taught me how to love purely, and with all that I have. No matter what obstacles life throws our way, we conquer them together.

2. A roof over my head, food in my fridge, and love in my heart. These all go together because we had to live in a hotel for 5 months while our home was being built, and I can never take for granted how it feels to be home. We spent plenty of our younger “hungry years” food shopping at my mother-in-law’s pantry, and now we have a well-stocked fridge and pantry, and even when we neglect the food shopping, there is still always enough to make a simple meal. And love because no matter where Bruce and I live, there is always love in my heart.

3. Autumn in NJ. There is nothing more beautiful than the palette of oranges, reds, and golds that naturally decorate our environment, even on years when they say it’s a bad season for foliage. Sometimes I wish I could pull my car over even in the worst of places because the view is that beautiful. The fall also reminds me that I survived another summer and that the coziness of winter is imminent.

4. Every single day when I can put my two feet on the floor and walk unassisted. I work hard to stay strong, and after 14 (+) years with MS, this is something that I am truly grateful for. (Don’t ask me about going up and down steps though!)

5. Yoga. It has taught me to connect my mind, body, and spirit. As much as my lack of balance can make things difficult, I like the challenge, and I never give up. Walk into my house almost any day of the week and you’ll see my mat, evidence that I am constantly practicing.

6. My family (steps and all!). They are spread all over the east coast, but their support is felt from all corners.

7. I feel a special sense of gratitude for my sister, Lorri, and my brother-in-law, Ken. They have been by my side (literally) through all the ups and downs. My sister was there with me the day I found out I had cancer, and both of them were there the day I celebrated the end of my cancer treatment and they witnessed me ringing the gong.

8. My Rankin family. For almost 23 years they have loved and supported me without question. And because I am a Rankin I have been blessed with a little sister and a nephew, both of whom I absolutely adore.

9. My MS family. This motley crew of crazies is essential to my mental health. Although support from family and friends is great, nothing replaces this group who can truly understand the challenges that I face every single day.

10. Living in this day and age where there are treatment options for MS patients to help slow down illness progression, giving us all a better quality of life. While I don’t think I’ll see a cure in my lifetime, as long as they continue to find more treatments for us, my gratitude is infinite.

11. My fur babies, past and present. Rescuing these poor pups that never would have been adopted otherwise has added so much joy to my life, and although it’s heart-breaking to lose them, the happiness they bring on a daily basis is worth it.

12. Diane, my trainer. In addition to working me out, she has become a trusted friend, who I consider family. She plays many roles for me: cheerleader, therapist, trainer, sister, and friend. She has helped me change both my body and my mind, and for that alone I am eternally grateful. She knows what I need when I need it, and words can’t describe how important she is to me.

13. My volunteer job at Marty’s Place Senior Dog Sanctuary. The “residents” are so loving, and I have met so many other like-minded individuals in both the many other volunteers I have met there as well as in the very skeleton crew of paid employees. They never waste an opportunity to thank the volunteers and to let us know how important we are in the daily upkeep of this extremely special place.

14. Having taken my cancer diagnosis and used it to build more inner strength.  Today I can look back at the beginning of my journey (starting just about one year ago), knowing that I faced it head on, with a smile on my face…and kicked ass.

15. Being proactive in my medical care, knowing how to use the tools at my disposal and sift out the fluff to understand the meat. I’m not afraid to advocate for myself, and I can do it without getting angry.

16. Having learned to listen to my body, and to understand what it needs and when it needs it. I know when I am over-tired and need rest, and I know when I can push through. I know when I have a gut feeling, I need to listen to it, and I’m grateful that I have learned this lesson.

17. My former students, near and far, who continue to play such an important role in my life. They help me to see the good in others as I watch them blossom as adults, doing amazing things. They make me happy just thinking about how far they have come, and they fill my heart up with endless amounts of pride.

18. Meditation, specifically Transcendental Meditation (TM). Through the process of learning TM, I am generally a more self-aware, calmer version of the person I used to be. TM allows me to settle my mind and give myself those 20 precious minutes of clarity.

19. Air conditioning. It sounds trivial, but when you suffer from heat intolerance due to MS (and you lose your vision when overheated), it takes on new meaning… especially when you live in NJ where the summer months bring what feels like never-ending heat and oppressive humidity. Also, the curly girl in me appreciates the AC as well, but for completely different reasons!

20. On-line shopping. Being that crowds make me anxious (mostly because I can’t feel my feet which throws my balance off), being able to still do my holiday shopping on my own, without fear of walking into people (or things) and embarrassing myself, helps me maintain my independence.

21. Social media. How else could I have reconnected and stayed in contact with so many amazing people from so many different aspects of my life? (Pssst: if you don’t see me on Facebook, it simply means that things got too political for me and I took a little break, but you will always see me on Instagram!)

22. Photography. This little hobby of mine has given me friendships with some pretty spectacular people. I never knew I could feel such a strong connection with friends simply because of a shared passion!

23. My forever friend, MHP, for always ALWAYS loving me. We don’t live ten minutes from each other like when we were younger, but it doesn’t matter. She is forever in my heart and no matter how long we go in between visits, it’s always like no time has passed at all.

24. My “brother from another mother”, BH, for coming back into my life at a time when we both needed a specific kind of friend to suit a specific purpose. He has seen me through so much and I am so thankful for his kindness and support. Not a day goes by without a text or a phone call, which in itself is hugely comforting to know that he has my back always.

25. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and On-Demand. Being able to watch anything we want so quickly, without having to go out to the movies is the best. Aside from the germaphobe in me who gets grossed out by sitting in chairs that who knows what kind of person sat in last, the MS patient in me appreciates not having to choose the right moment to go to the bathroom without fear of tripping in the dark. At home I can press “pause” as many times as I need to!

26. Having chosen a profession and worked long enough to earn disability retirement so that I could collect my pension early, allowing me to take care of myself and my illness, and still contribute to the household bills.

27. The families of former students who have brought me into the loving fold of their own families because of the relationships we established so many years ago. It’s hugely validating to me, not just as a former teacher, but also as a human being. All I did was love their kids and help them to succeed, but that’s all I had to do, apparently. I’m so thankful to feel so loved.

28. Coffee. And certain medications. When chronic fatigue rules your life, you must give thanks for anything that helps you push through the day, whether prescribed by a doctor or otherwise.

29. Texting. Sometimes I just don’t have it in me to have a full conversation over the phone, and texting allows me to check in with (or be checked in on by) friends and family, with less effort expended. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to loved ones, but sometimes, I simply do not have enough energy.

30. I am grateful for this life I’m living. It’s not perfect, nor is it what I envisioned for me and Bru, but it’s the only life I have been given. Despite the obvious, our life is perfectly imperfect, and overcoming so much together only makes it that much sweeter.

So there you have it. With very little thought, I have listed a whole month’s worth of people and/or things for which I am eternally grateful. I’m not saying that you need to physically acknowledge your gratitude twice daily like I do, but I am saying that if you start and end your day with gratitude, there’s no way that you will be able to fixate on any negativity that arises during the day. We all deal with stress in our lives, and I have found the best way to counteract stress and negativity is by focusing on gratitude. I dare you to try it. You’ll be amazed at how differently you view your world. So tell me… What are you thankful for?

PS. I took a little tumble and dislocated my finger the night before posting this blog, so I am adding the fact that I’m grateful that my finger isn’t broken, and should heal up much more quickly than if it were broken. I’m also grateful that I didn’t dislocate a body part more important than a pointer finger.