Celebrating (Yes, Celebrating) My MSiversary

February will always be an important month to me. Sixteen years ago, on Groundhog Day, I was officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It’s a day that changed not only my life, but the lives of everyone in my entire family. While it’s been a long and, at times, painful road for all of us, I still celebrate this anniversary, this MSiversary if you will, every year. It’s become a much bigger day to me then my birthday or any other holiday. While many might see this as a day they’d love to forget, I like see this as a day of hope and prefer to celebrate the good (yes, there are good) aspects of my life with MS.

Despite the massive issues I have with memory, I still remember the day I got officially diagnosed. It came after a stint in the hospital, seeing numerous specialists, MRIs, CAT scans, not one but two spinal taps, and a ton of tests. While my family and I were certain what it was (I have a long history of MS in the family), it was still a pretty big moment when it was confirmed. My neurologist at the time called and I was handed the phone. He told me what we all had guessed, that I did in fact have MS, and that I needed to come in and discuss treatment options soon. I thanked him and then broke the news to my parents. It was emotional, as you might expect. I was just 21 at the time and again, we had history with MS, we’d seen what MS can do in a time before Disease Modifying Drugs and it’s awful. I hugged them as they wept and tried to explain that, at least it wasn’t another awful disease (in a moment like that, you look to find something, anything, comforting to say). At that moment, I was more worried about them than me. I think it was at that moment, that an MS Warrior was truly born.

Something about being diagnosed with an incurable disease that can lead to being in a wheelchair or even death can really help focus a person. And I fully admit, at that time in my life, I needed that focus. I was young and bright, but I never worked hard. I was lucky enough that things came easy to me at times, but I never really worked hard for them. All I really wanted to do was play hockey and party. Getting diagnosed with MS really helped me buckle down, it helped me wake up, grow up, and helped me focus on others.

It may seem odd that I mention focusing on others, but it’s true. While trying to deal with my own disease, I really learned how it affected others. I saw how my diagnosis affected my own family and realized I needed to really fight this thing, for them. I also saw what the disease did to others who had it. I saw folks in need, people who had it way worse then me, folks with canes and wheelchairs (yet, at the time, maybe because of the naivety of youth, I never thought I’d ever become one of them). I was determined to raise money and awareness and help those the disease had impacted more than me. My diagnosis made me care more and concentrate on helping others. I poured myself into raising not only money but awareness (even today, I try to be very open about my issues). Again, not because I was worried for my future, but because it woke me up and made me see others’. That’s a profound thing for someone at that age and I am very thankful for it.

An MS (or any chronic illness) diagnosis is also a chance to really, truly, learn appreciation. Battling the disease this long has really allowed me to enjoy the small things in life. There is just something about living with the possibility of waking up and not being able to walk or see or talk correctly. You can either focus on how scary that is or enjoy every chance where you can do those things. I tend to look at everything differently now, I see how great the little things. From a cool breeze to having a beer, when you realize how they can be snatched away from you, you learn to love them in a way that some people just can not. That’s something I’m thankful for, that’s something that makes life, well, great. MS has really made me LIVE my life, and that’s a reason to celebrate.

Sure, MS has negatively impacted me as well. I’ve told the story of my cognitive problems and falls and various other issues before. But for me, my MSiversary is a day to focus on the good that can come from an MS diagnosis. And there IS good, you just have to open your eyes and see it. I can honestly say, I am a better person for going through the struggle of MS. In a disease that can cause awful depression, I hope others can choose to see their MSiversary as a day for joy, a day to look at the good things in life, as a day to be thankful!

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