You have multiple sclerosis and I have multiple sclerosis, but I have not walked in your shoes. People with MS do not think or act more alike than any other segment of the population. We are a diverse and complex group of individuals and despite all we have in common, our experiences with MS are uniquely our own.
One thing we do all have in common is the need to make decisions. How and why we arrive at these decisions is complicated and personal. Our particular symptoms, age, other medical conditions, family, medical advice, financial status — and yes, our health care coverage — are just a few of the issues we each have to take into consideration.
Some people with MS reject medical intervention, opting instead for lifestyle changes and 100 percent natural methods of dealing with the condition. There are many diets aimed at people with MS, most notably the Swank Diet. Controversy about the benefits and risks of these diets is ongoing, but one thing is certain — lifestyle choices like diet, rest, and exercise can play a large role in how we cope with MS.
Some of us choose a healthy lifestyle while taking one of the disease-modifying drugs for MS in an effort to stave off permanent disability. Some people also fight individual symptoms with prescription medications. Whether or not you do so is an intensely personal decision.
Others ways of tackling MS include dietary changes, exercise, acupuncture, stress reduction techniques, relaxation methods, yoga, and various holistic methods. Used in conjunction with conventional modern medicine, these are called complementary; when used in place of conventional medicine, they are called alternative, though one might question the use of the word alternative when it comes to practices that pre-date modern medicine.
As with conventional medicine, when considering complementary or alternative medicines, the burden falls on us to research and familiarize ourselves with the risks and potential benefits. The decision is ours, but it is vitally important that we share these decisions when visiting with a physician.
I’ve been writing about MS for several years now, and am still taken aback when my fellow MSers pass judgment about the opinions and choices of others, creating a divisive atmosphere rather than a supportive one. Since there is no clear-cut cause of MS, no obvious path to easing symptoms that applies to everyone, no bonafide cure all, it seems rather presumptuous and mean-spirited to harshly criticize other people with MS for doing what they believe to be in their own best interest.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t engage in animated discussion about MS treatments — after all, research has taken some exciting turns with startling breakthroughs in recent years giving us plenty to consider and debate. It is well known that the symptoms of MS vary greatly from person to person, making prognosis near impossible, and it stands to reason that treatments will also have widely differing results.
I like to caution folks about the many “cures” and the scams that land in your email inbox, the purpose being to separate desperate people from their money. I advise extreme caution and serious research before moving forward with any new treatment. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect your right to decide for yourself. Hopefully, you give others the same respect. Mutual support among us takes the edge off.
Writer Ann Pietrangelo embraces the concept of personal responsibility for health and wellness. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, she combines a healthy lifestyle and education with modern medicine, and seeks to provide information and support to others. She is a regular contributor to Care2.com’s Reform Health Policy blog in Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo.