A week ago I accompanied a good friend to a doctor’s appointment. I’ve known her for exactly 8 years 7 months and a week. I don’t usually keep such close record of when I connect with friends but we have a timer that evolves before our eyes, reminding us of when we met. Her son was born in the same hospital a week before Madeline and we did our new mommy class together. I was going through a very difficult post-partum-oh-my-god-how-will-I-care-for my-new-baby-when-I-have-MS thing. Challenging times at best. And when I walked in the room on the second week of class I immediately felt that she would be a good person to get to know… kinda like you know a good melon. 😉 My instincts proved true and we’ve been friends since. With our husbands, we enjoy a lot of common ground. We are all in education and thus have similar interests. Of course we also enjoy marveling at how much our kids have grown since we first met, when they were little more than cute, high maintenance blobs in a carrying basket. And over the years since, though distracted by life’s happenings, we found time to connect once or twice a year. Considering how time moves when you’re distracted by your child , it seemed frequent.
Two weeks ago we gained more common ground. Linda (she’s my other Linda, btw) called to tell me that her doctor thinks she may have MS. I was stunned. I tried to keep it together to be positive and helpful when we shared this conversation. I spend so much time thinking and talking about what newly diagnosed people need and it all fell to the ground when this good friend came to me. How can she have MS!!
Linda and her husband have always been very supportive of my efforts and challenges. They’re the kind of people that are sincerely listening when you talk to them. (Awesome eye-contact… I’m sure you know the type!) And it made them stand out as friends. So, I repeat, how can this be? I replayed the tape of our friendship, highlighting the caring moments and discussions about my MS. And like that moment in a movie when the plot comes to a screeching halt and nothing is what you thought it was and you have to watch it again from the beginning with your new knowledge (The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects come to mind.) I went back and looked at our friendship over these years with the new perspective; knowing we would come to this point. And ultimately, I’m back at the same point. It’s just bizarre! I’ve become close friends with many people who have MS over the years. Introduced to them because of our commonality. But this is the first time a good friend of mine has been diagnosed with MS and it seems like a freak occurrence. It got me thinking about where I was when I was in her place.
Everything was different when I was diagnosed. As a 20-year old college girl, nothing in my life was permanent. I struggled with the question marks of what my future would hold, a fear that sits on everyone’s diagnostic examining table. The big difference is that I had no stability. Nothing was permanent and in experiencing this with Linda, I found comfort in the place she is today. With her husband and kids, her career and identity, she is well established. She has a wonderful support network to help her navigate this. And while she has the strength of character to get through it on her own, she also has much more than I knew in 1988. As the anxiety wells up in me, her place in life brings me relief.
Going through this experience with her, I feel good about the comparison. I want to support her through it, in ways that weren’t available to me, to be that reassuring person I didn’t know. And there is something reparative for me in that role. It’s a great time to come home with this diagnosis. There are so many treatment options, so much hope. She will begin treating the “MS” immediately; she’ll hit the ground running. With all the anxiety and uncertainty, this is truly something to feel good about. And I hope ours is a comparison that helps her, makes her recognize all that she has. And together we can have the “Damn, that must have sucked for you!” moment.
She invited me to come with her to her new neurologist to confirm her diagnosis. It was a very powerful experience. There were many things rushing through my brain, dodging the scars, while I tried to be present for her. We managed to bring laughter to the day in spite of the obvious emotional drag to the contrary. At one point, during the familiar exam her neurologist had noticed that her one leg was weaker than the other. She wondered whether he was pushing too hard on her leg. So he turned to me for a baseline. We laughed as I told him my deal. And his response was, “ Great, you have had MS for 21 years and you would never know.” Then he noted my stick propped up in the corner. And I wondered, am I an encouraging example for Linda or a frightening one? So we left and drove right to the local CVS and picked up some M&M chasers. This is a very important part of any diagnostic experience. And there are no side effects if you practice moderation… not that we did, just saying . 😉
Quite frankly I was excited to have an MS pal. (Though I tried to keep that to myself!) While I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, I can’t help but to appreciate having someone who is already a good friend to share this experience. It makes my two decades with this disease more valuable knowing that I can use it to help Linda. And the truth is, I can heal the parts of myself that have a 21-year old hurt from the time I went through this alone, not knowing about the healing properties of M&Ms. 😉
In this introspective time (seriously, all times are introspective for me!) I reread a comment she made on my blog back in October, in response to “this-ability.”
Amy, I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason – even if you don’t know what it is right away. It seems, though, that you were able to figure this one out quickly. And, now you are able to enjoy the parts of your life that mean the most, (without feeling guilty about falling asleep during a bedtime book.) I am always inspired by you. Enjoy this time ~ Linda (the other one)
Because I have lived my entire adult life with MS, I have grown in ways that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve seen this familiar strength and resilience in everyone I have met who endures this challenge. Looking back at Linda’s words, I know that she has that strength already and that she will do well no matter what her future holds. So Linda, text me if you need me. I will always drive over with all your favorite M&Ms. (Did you know they have coconut now? Life is rich, isn’t it?)
Another powerful and insightful essay! I am reminded yet again of something I have observed in my 10.75 years with MS, and that is: Only the best and the brightest and most tenacious people get MS. (the chosen ones)
This is not a club I would invite people to join, but Linda is fortunate to have you in her life as she enters this new phase.
I am so happy you were with her for the appointment, and I know your continued friendship, love,and support will be an important part of her life–with and without the MS factor.
Thanks Connie. It is so nice to read responses to my writings and you are so reliable in that department. Writing and reading is so important in my healing process and hearing how it touches others ups the power even higher. I thank you for the role in that. Your responses are so meaningful to me.
Most certainly inspiring to read truth I’ve known with a positive attitude. I wish the best for your friend, as I’m certain she’ll certainly benefit from having you by her side as she goes through this. BTW I haven’t been able to find the coconut m&m’s although I saw them on a promo awhile ago. I was called the Lil m&m’s girl when I was little, as I loved your line – no side effects when taken in moderation.
Hugs to you both. ~ RuC
A wonderful friendship and M&Ms to boot! But do the peanut or plain bring the greatest relief?
In this case it was all about new-fangled m&ms. We enjoyed peanut butter and coconut and both worked beautifully. I strongly suggest you give it a try. I understand the combination with Tysrabi is most effective. 😉
Oh, that we all could have such understanding and concerned friends to help us through all that life dishes out! The connectivity and support of your community of ms cohorts is the best medicine of all.
An interesting treatment plan… one with no side effects. Hmmm maybe I should conduct a study and get funding and make it available to all who need it. But I guess that’s what life-coaches do (for a fee!). Thanks for reading and responding.
Thanks Amy. This post was is so relevant to me. My twin sister is in the diagnosis process this week and as horrified as I am by it, there is a sense of; I know all about that, It’s ok, I can help and I’m going to have to be better myself to be the good role model she’ll need.
All so beautifully written!