Defeating MS: What I've Learned in 12 Years Of Living With the Disease

Wednesday, 16 Oct 2013 10:10 AM

By Heather Collins Grattan

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I’m not a doctor – I have no medical training whatsoever. But I am a 37-year-old woman who has kept her MS under control for a dozen years.

One day recently, I was in the checkout line at Walgreens, and there was a woman sitting in one of those wheelchair-alternative scooter-chairs at the front of the line, paying for her merchandise. She gingerly stood up so she could validate her payment information on the little padscreen, then she sat down again.
 
Hmm, I thought. Her legs work just well enough for her to stand up, so her condition isn’t caused by full paralysis. I wondered if she had MS.

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As she gathered up the plastic bags with her goods to get ready to roll out the door, the young man in line behind her (and in front of me) asked her if she needed any help. After she declined, he asked the cashier for a pack of cigarettes.

“Oh, I forgot the milk!” exclaimed the woman in the scooter-chair. She turned her head toward the young man behind her and said, “I need my milk just like you need your cigarettes.”

That solidified it – I was 90 percent sure she had MS now.

“So, you’re a big milk-drinker?” I asked her.

"Yeah,” she said.

“Do you have the B blood type?”

“What?”

“Do you have the B blood type?” I repeated, adding, “B positive or B negative?”

“No. [Pause.] Wait – yeah! I do!” she said, incredulous that I’d guessed it correctly.

“So do I. That’s also why I have multiple sclerosis.”

“So do I!” she exclaimed. At that moment, I had to hide my excitement over the possibility that I might be able to help this stranger control her condition, or at least help her to be able to understand it more thoroughly.

She looked me up and down, obviously amazed at how healthy I look, and asked me how long ago I was diagnosed. It turned out that she was diagnosed only one year before I was – eight years ago for me (with a warning that I “might have it” four years before that), and nine for her.

I told her about how I’ve been following the blood-type diet for over 10 years, and how people have had amazing results by following the diet – and that milk is a very good food for “Type Bs like us.”

But it was my lunch hour, and I had to get back to work – so I didn’t have time to delve into the details about how the diet’s developer, Dr. Peter D’Adamo, points out in his book Eat Right 4 Your Type that Type Bs tend to be more susceptible to MS and similar immune-system disorders than are people with the other three blood types (O, A, and AB).

As I fished in my purse for a piece of paper on which to write the name of the diet book for her, I saw the little Blood Type B Food, Beverage, and Supplement Lists booklet (a condensed version of the main book) that I keep on hand for reference when dining out at restaurants. Of course! I thought.

“In fact, why don’t you have this?” I said, and I handed the booklet to her.

“Oh, I can’t take that from you!” she said politely. But I insisted, and she accepted it and thanked me.

I desperately wanted to chat with her further and tell her about all the other things I do to help control my MS, but I really did have to get back to work. The only thing I wish I would have done differently was to take an extra minute and offer to write down my phone number in the booklet so she could call me if she had any questions. So she’s in God’s hands at this point – I have no way of contacting her! But perhaps she’ll read this article and will re-introduce herself to me.

Defeating MS is like defeating alcoholism – you have to take care of yourself at every moment and not get careless. The approach is similar: always “recovering” (doing your best to keep it under control) but never “recovered” (cured).

I’ve developed a list of strategies and habits that have enabled me to control my MS. Please share this article with your friends and family members who have MS or have been told they “might” have it:
  • First, follow the blood type diet. This is delineated in Eat Right 4 Your Type by D’Adamo and has been further solidified in its efficacy by others, including fitness guru and author Joseph “Dr. Joe” Christiano, who is also a certified naturopath. This research has found that people with the B blood type tend to fend off cancers better than folks with the other three blood types, but type Bs tend to be susceptible to odd conditions like MS and lupus. People with MS who have a different blood type should also consider the diet, as people of all four types have experienced wonderful health benefits as a result of following this regimen.
  • Second, use traditional medicine. I take an interferon medication once a week. Different people tolerate medicines differently, but there are plenty of options on the market – so if one doesn’t work for you, another one will. I have a great neurologist who’s very positive and encouraging, which is incredibly helpful psychologically. In fact, none of my doctors have pooh-poohed my diet – they’ll say, “Keep doing whatever you’re doing” or “Whatever works for you, do it.”
  • Third, take supplements, but be careful. Folks with MS should not take multivitamins, as these pills have vitamin B6 and other immune-system–strengthening components; the issue in MS is that the immune system is a bit too strong already, so strengthening it is a no-no! But I do take Evening Primrose Oil (omega-6), ginkgo biloba, vitamin B-12, and – to help me sleep, but skipping Friday nights to avoid dependence – melatonin. Each individual with MS should try supplements and get their neurologist’s input about them first.
  • Fourth, stay cool – literally. I live in South Florida, but I always have cold water to drink. If someone with MS is going to be in a hot environment for any length of time, they can drink cold fluids to keep cool on the inside. For reasons still not understood, heat can exacerbate MS and its symptoms.
  • Fifth, make your mantra to “sleep it off.” When anyone gets a cold, the body activates the T-cells – which are “good guys gone bad” if you have MS. When T-cells are activated in someone with MS, these macrophages gobble up myelin, which is a protective fatty layer covering everyone’s brain and spinal cord. If myelin is gobbled up, it forms scars, or “sclerosis,” in their place. But what I’ve found is that, if I catch myself coming down with something, I take a pre-emptive sick day (or partial sick day) to sleep it off. It works every time! Even if you’re not fighting a cold, sleep and rest are of utmost importance in tamping down MS.
  • Sixth, don’t overthink the condition. Even doctors have to be careful not to talk themselves into having the various health conditions of their patients, as too much awareness can make your body actually have “sympathy” symptoms – almost a “reverse placebo” effect, whereby your subconscious can cause you to experience what you’ve been reading or hearing about. I try to read enough about the latest MS research without learning too much, because I don’t want to talk myself into having symptoms that I don’t have, or wouldn’t have had. The mind is a powerful thing – “be careful, little ears, what you hear.”
  • Seventh, find a good house of worship, and attend services regularly. You will not only gain spiritual strength, but you’ll make friends who will encourage you; you’ll realize that your condition is a challenge and a badge of honor, not something to bemoan. Everyone has stories of their own health issues or those of their relatives, and all that puts it in perspective. The feedback from others will reinforce the fact that you’re not the only one who’s going through something. The apostle Paul spoke briefly about his own “thorn in the flesh,” and it might have indeed been MS!
 The incredible thing about having a chronic condition like this is that it forces you to prioritize. You learn to say “no” to things that will get in the way of simply taking care of yourself; you have to assertively protect your downtime. Otherwise, you can develop symptoms, which can range from numbness (which can cause partial paralysis) to vision problems (such as partial blindness or double vision) – and symptoms are usually temporary, especially if you have a mild case.

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Author J.K Rowling has written about how her mother, who had MS, died in her 40s because she never took care of herself – she just kept staying busy and didn’t rest, ignoring her condition – even though she knew she had MS.

Probably the strangest thing about this condition is that you can stay “in the closet” about it and never tell anyone. With modern medicine and new knowledge about managing the symptoms – by resting, keeping cool, etc. – someone may have MS and you’d never know it.

It just takes a blabbermouth like me to tell it like it is! But this blabbermouth might have helped that woman in the Walgreens checkout line. I pray she’ll be able to sell her scooter-chair on eBay sometime soon.
 
 
Heather Collins Grattan is a freelance writer and editor based in Boynton Beach, FL.

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