1. Do you have a primary diagnosis, if so, what is it?
A: Yes, Multiple sclerosis
I also have endometriosis (diagnosed in high school) and Hashimoto’s thyroidits (diagnosed in college)
2. How long did it take you to get diagnosed?
A: My orthopedic colleague threw the diagnosis out to me day 1 when I was symptomatic and went to him for xrays of my back. I didn’t believe him or entertain the possibility much. In total it took about 2 months to be definitively diagnosed
3. How did you feel when you were first diagnosed? (ex: relieved, upset, numb?) What was the first thing you did?
A: Numb and relieved. The hardest time for me with this disease was the 2 months of not knowing what I was up against and what I had to beat. I also couldn’t stand not being able to deliver babies, be on call and operate. My patients were amazing and either delayed their surgery to wait for me to be better or were gracious enough to see one of my partners but I was most fearful that I would never be able to do what I had spent 30+ years doing whatever was necessary to get to where I was. That’s where the numbness came in.
4. What advice would you give to someone who is chronically ill but undiagnosed?
A: Hang in there. Take care of yourself the best you can. Do whatever you can to get some relief. Mostly, my advice is to stay mentally strong. Our minds are the strongest thing we have and if you stay positive you will do so much better than if you let it get you down.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a 2nd, 3rd, 4th opinion. However many opinions you need to feel educated and comfortable with your diagnosis, understanding it and formulating a plan moving forward for treatment and lifestyle changes. I’m a physician and saw three neurologists before I started taking medications. Two additional neurologists remotely reviewed my case. That might be a little overboard but just don’t be afraid to talk to someone else. Sometimes it takes more than one person to explain something or to find someone you feel comfortable with and can relate to. Your results will be much better if you are educated about your illness and your options. You can’t take care of yourself if you don’t have the knowledge of how and WHY to do so.
5. Has your chronic illness changed your perspective, and if so, how?
A: Yes, I’m a worrier and a bit OCD about things. I sometimes slip back into those old habits but mostly I have a new outlook. Life is precious, short and can change literally overnight like it did for me. I try not to spend time being concerned with things that don’t matter in the long run. I follow the good advice that if it won’t matter in 5 years, don’t give it more than 5 minutes of your time! Fret, worry, cry for 5 min – then let it go!
6. What moment are you most proud of in your chronic illness journey thus far?
A: I’m most proud of being back to work at my dream job and to be able to show people that chronic illness doesn’t mean you can’t still fulfill your dreams. I am proud of each and every person that tells me I motivate them because they see me living life to its fullest and that gives them hope.
7. What was your hardest (or lowest) moment, mentally and/or physically, that you’ve been through on your journey
A: The hardest thing was dealing with depression and anxiety that was worsened by the medication that was keeping me healthy. I was clinically depressed and when work got overwhelming last year due to a number of transient things, I truly felt an empathy for those that battle such severe depression that they consider or attempt suicide.
8. What or who has helped you the most during the lowest days?
A: The tribe of people (family, friends, colleagues, patients, my IG family!) that support me are incredible. It’s easy to forget or know the people in your corner cheering for you and supporting you when you’re having a bad time. They’re there and they love you.
9. If you had any words of advice for someone struggling with a similar diagnosis, what would they be?
A: You can do anything you want to. This is not a death sentence. It’s going to put some bumps in your road but you don’t have to stop – you may just have to slow down or change your way of moving forward. This disease isn’t going to stop you if you don’t let it. How you do something might look different than you had imagined or planned, but you can absolutely do it. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that because you have X disease you can’t do Y. You can do A through Z if you want to!
10. What would you like the world to know about life as a chronic illness patient?
A: I have good days and bad days. I may not look sick but I struggle daily with all sorts of things. I am met with shock and awe each and every time I tell anyone that I have MS – especially my healthcare colleagues. That makes me happy because it means that I’ve continued to put my best foot forward and that I am a warrior. That doesn’t mean that I’m ashamed of my diagnosis. If I can help just one person struggling with multiple sclerosis or other chronic illness, then I’m fulfilled. What has worked best for me is to live as normally as possible. I’ve found my new normal – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world other than a cure for this illness!