How I got to where I am today
In 2010, I was a 35 year old active woman, mom, wife and was the Executive Director of a non-profit ASO (AIDS Service Organization). It was Easter and we had lunch out with the family. As we were walking out of the restaurant my vision suddenly became distorted and I was having slight difficulty maneuvering through the tables to leave the restaurant. At first I thought something was wrong with my contacts, but it didn’t get better when I had gotten home. Each day my vision slowly became worse.
To make matters even more complicated, not only was I having problems with my eyesight, but I would soon be traveling out of state because I was attending the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in Baltimore, MD. It was an honor and a wonderful opportunity to be selected to go to this prestigious conference and everything had already been booked several months in advance. I was so happy to be able to go to this conference, yet I was very afraid because of the problems I was having with my eyes.
Me at the AFP International Conference in May 2010. Although you can’t tell, I was holding onto the railing behind me since I couldn’t see straight and didn’t want to fall. This picture is significant to me because it depicts my weight at my heaviest as well as the beginning stages of my illness.
Luckily, my family was traveling with me and assisted me with holding on to me and guiding me as I walked to where I needed to go with the exception of the conference itself. Despite my eyesight being distorted, I still did pretty well maneuvering around the conference as best I could. I was so thankful that the hotel we were staying at was directly attached to the conference center and I could hold on to the rails to get to where I needed to. Though I could not see as clearly as I would have liked, I was able to listen to great speakers, including inspirational ones such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
My daughter and I at dinner after a day at the conference. It had been a very long day at conference and my eyes were having a hard time by this point. Overall, they held up pretty good without the eye patch. My eyes were wandering away when they were not supposed to which caused blurred, double vision or vision that felt like I was cross eyed.
After we returned from our trip, things progressed further. I had to wear an eye patch for a while and that seemed to make things worse. I would look directly at someone as I was talking to them and one eye would go to the side of my face. Talk about creepy! I could remember trying to do billing for my job and struggling to make out the numbers on the billing sheets because of the extreme distortion.
A picture of me and my husband during my eye patch wearing days during fundraiser at a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game in the April of 2010. My husband was there to support me all the way and would use his wonderful sense of humor to make me laugh.
I endured a battery of tests including several MRI’s and a spinal tap, as well as blood work and saw my pcp, optometrist, ophthalmologist and 2 different neurologists trying to find the cause of the distorted vision. The doctors weren’t sure if it was Myaesthenia Gravis or something else such as MS. I was very frightened and can remember thinking to myself, “MS? How could it be MS? No one in my family has MS! What the hell is happening to me???”
My unsteady gait worsened and eventually I had to start using a 4 prong cane to keep me balanced. But as sick as I was, I still had my sense of humor about me. I jazzed my cane up to match my personality with bright tropical flower stickers and a kids bike streamer sticking out of the handle. If I had to use it, it was going to be a reflection of me. I also had to put a shower chair/potty seat in my shower since I had fallen out of the shower a few times because of my unsteadiness.
If you gotta use a cane, might as well use it with a little flare!
I had to do tests in the neurologist’s office that were similar to a sobriety test. My neurologist would ask me to touch my nose and my finger would not end up anywhere near my nose, I could not walk straight from one end of the room to the other and many other tasks that normally came so easy to me.
In the beginning I tried to continue working full time, but my body was severely fatigued by 2 pm and I would need to go home and lay down for the rest of the night. Luckily, I had an amazing support system of my husband and daughter at home to help me. Thank goodness for my in-laws, who lived close by as well as my wonderful father, who came in from OK, that were able to drive me around, since I could not drive. This was very hard for me because I drove a lot for work and also to chauffeur my daughter around to all her activities. I wasn’t able to drive for approximately 2 1/2 months.
Despite all my compounding health issues and walking with a cane, I still made it to my daughter’s performances and activities. This picture was taken in May 2010 at the play Footloose that she was in at our local community theatre, Richey Suncoast Theatre.
During this time, I also had to temporarily hire a housekeeper because of my inability to do any type of housework. My husband worked long hours at his full time job and had a hard time keeping up with all that needed to be done in the home as well as care for our daughter and his ill wife. He is an amazing man who selflessly cared for and helped me without a complaint and was always there to hold me so that I would not fall. It was a very humbling time for me as I had always been an independent person and hated to rely on other people to do the things that I had always been fully capable of doing on my own.
There was one point when my daughter, who was 10 at the time, came in to my bed and laid down next to me. She hugged me and said, “Mommy I wish you weren’t sick anymore”. I will remember this day until the day I die. I cried for days. It wasn’t fair for her to have a mother that was not fully functioning to be there for her when she needed me the most. I knew then that I would do anything within my power to get better and fight whatever it was that was attacking my body.
I began to develop symptoms of neuropathy and was prescribed medication for the pain, numbness and the sensation of bugs crawling under my skin which prevented me from sleeping well at night. The prognosis was coming close to being MS but was still not positive when I began to seek other alternatives.
May 2012- Me after my wonderful hairdresser had given me a complimentary new hairstyle to help me feel a little better after enduring all that I had been going through with my illness.
Then the answers to my prayers began. A friend of mine told me of a natural health doctor who uses Nutrition Response Testing SM techniques that had helped her family and thought I should see if he could help me. I had always been into holistic health, so I figured it was worth checking into. I started seeing Dr Scott Damanti of the Natural Health Improvement Centers in May 2010. After seeing him for a short time, I started noticing small improvements in how I felt. I continued to see him while my physicians were trying to figure out what was causing my distorted eyesight.
Being able to enjoy a birthday family outing at a Tampa Bay Rays game in July 2010. My eyes were finally looking normal again!
In July of 2010, I officially received my diagnosis of MS and the MRI’s showed multiple lesions throughout my brain, one of which was quite large at 3 cm in diameter. I did not start on medication right away because I wanted to see how I would do using natural methods. I did eventually have to start taking medication about a year later. I had chosen the newest medication for MS to prevent new lesions. That is all it does is prevent new lesions. It has been successful in preventing new lesions in my brain but does nothing to heal the ones that were there to begin with. That’s where I feel nutrition played a key role in healing my body in conjunction with the medication.
Eventually my symptoms started to subside including my distorted vision. What an amazing feeling! Not only was my health improving, I realized I was also losing weight! In Sept 2010, I was chosen to be The Natural Health Improvement Center’s Client Superstar of the month because of my success story. By this time, I had lost almost 30 lbs, my eyesight had improved and I was no longer using my cane. I hadn’t planned on losing weight when I started seeing Dr Scott, I just wanted my eyesight back.
My client superstar pic Sept 2010
As time progressed, I realized that my diet was a direct correlation to what had caused me to get sick. The healthier I ate and give my body the proper nutrition it so desperately needed, the healthier I became. I remember saying when I was younger that if I was going to die someday, at least I’d die happy because I was eating what I wanted. Little did I know that I was on my way if I kept up at the pace I was going. I knew things that I ate were bad but never correlated how bad it would eventually impact my body. What satisfaction was I really getting when I was inhaling a Big Mac, drinking a supersized iced overly sweetened iced coffee or the incredible amounts of Coke Zero? Having additional pounds to where I was almost 200 lbs, horrible symptoms that kept me awake at night, distorted eyesight and a damn cane? No thank you. After overhauling my diet, the weight continued to come off. It wasn’t easy, but I knew my family was worth fighting for and if that meant changing my diet and using proper nutrition to heal it, so be it.
In October 2010, I hiked up to the top of Chimney Rock in NC with my family on my own with no cane!
In 2011, I began to really incorporate a healthier lifestyle and had a greater understanding of why my body had basically shut down the previous year. As awful as that experience was, I am thankful for that enormous wake up call that I so desperately needed. I began questioning more of what had caused me to get sick and how I could prevent myself from going back to that dark place by making healthy lifestyle changes. Because of this realization, I was becoming stronger, healthier, more active and had the ability to accomplish things that I had wanted to accomplish.
Being an Executive Director, I was involved in many things professionally such as being the Hospitality Chair of the Board of Directors for the Association of Fundraising Professionals- Nature Coast Chapter, a Community Service Council of West Pasco member, and member of The National Association of Professional Women. In April of 2011, I was honored to receive The National Association of Professional Women’s 2011 Woman of the Year Award.
April 2011 holding my Woman of the Year award with pride.
In January 2012, I was realizing that I was a woman who was burning the candle at both ends. I was beginning to feel like it was time for a change. I went to a wonderful retreat at the Ayurvedic Health Retreat, in Alachua, FL for a chance to recharge my batteries and re-evaluate the priorities in my life as well as what I was most passionate about. It was a wonderful trip and one that I so desperately needed in order to move forward for a happier, less stressed life.
January 2012 – A relaxed me with Richard Masla, founder of the Ayurvedic Health Retreat and fellow houseguest at the time of my stay, Pamela Paris, in Alachua, FL. Photo used with permission of individuals listed.
In May 2012, I decided to pursue a certification as Health Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. I had come so far with my health through changes in lifestyle, I was feeling the pull to pursue it further. By July 2012, I made the conscious but tough decision to switch careers and leave my comfort zone of what I had known for the last 12 years working in the field of HIV/AIDS and go into natural health. I cared very deeply for the clients that I case managed, some of which I had case managed for the 12 years I had been in the field. It was time for me to move forward and continue my chosen path to help others, just through a different route. My stress level went way down after making this change. Stress plays an enormous role in one’s health, especially someone with a dis-ease such as MS.
January 2012 in my old Size 16 pants after the weight loss! These are the same pants that are pictured in the first picture on this page!
It is now 2013 and I am now 75 lbs lighter than my heaviest weight at 198 lbs and 7 dress sizes smaller. I haven’t used my cane in 3 ½ years. My vision is clear. I have very few miniscule lesions left compared to the multiple large ones I had when I was first diagnosed. I am off of all but the MS medication instead of the 5 medications I had been taking. I no longer have severe neuropathy that I once had. I can do all the things I used to do such housework, cook, drive, exercise, bike, work at a job I love, write, read and so much more. More importantly, now I can devote time to my family and the things I enjoy in life instead of succumbing to a life of disability which was completely unacceptable to me for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.
My goal in sharing my story is to help other women by having a support system available, not only as a health coach, but as another woman juggling work, motherhood, marriage, family, school and life who has been there and understands what it’s like to go through making changes to make a healthier life for herself and her family.
Me in January 2013, a changed healthier happier woman.