instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Blog

A Family Tradition

Mom and Dad joined me for an Earth Day bike ride this morning.

When I was a kid, a favorite family activity was biking on the weekends around Town Lake (now called Lady Bird Lake).  Before I could ride my own bike, my parents would carry my sister and me in little seats on the back of their bikes.

 

My mom first taught me – and later both of my daughters - to ride a bike. She pulled off the training wheels, gave me a good push, and cheered me on as I wobbled and then balanced on the bike, pedaling through soft grass in case I fell. Once I could ride alone, I would follow my parents as we pulled out of our garage, rode through nearby Westenfield Park, and hit the trail that carried us to the lake.  Sometimes we would take a break on the way, stopping under a tree where my dad would pull out his newspaper and maybe some Jolly Rancher candies. (I liked cherry; he liked cinnamon.)

 

Over the years and decades since, my parents have continued to bike regularly, and I go with them, usually around the eastern section of the lake, a few times a year. They also ride often in Washington D.C. I'm inspired by their commitment to this fun and healthy activity.

 

Today it was a treat to be joined by both my mom and dad on my last training ride on the Southern Walnut Creek Trail. We talked about my kids, the week ahead, my upcoming bike ride; I don't think we even bothered to taint the morning with complaints about Trump. My dad wrote about our ride here: https://www.facebook.com/lloyddoggett/.

 

The bluebonnets are starting to fade, but other wild flowers are taking their place. We greeted many other cyclists, some training for the MS150 like me, and others just enjoying the cool, sunny morning. What a great celebration of Earth Day!

 

My family's support sustains me, and it will help me through those last tough miles next weekend to know they are waiting for me at the finish line.

Be the first to comment

Biking with Gratitude (and My Mom)

On the Southern Walnut Creek Trail with my mom

I'm dizzy after my bike ride today: 40 miles on the Southern Walnut Creek Trail and around Lady Bird Lake with a little time on the road too. Dizziness is my most significant reminder of MS – it was the first major symptom I ever experienced and the annoyance that prompted me to seek out the doctor, who ordered the MRI, that led to my diagnosis.

 

But never mind! Today, my dizziness is overshadowed by gratitude. I am grateful for my mom, who accompanied me on my ride today (she is 71 and had a knee replacement last summer, but is unstoppable on the bike); for the cool, sunny weather (though maybe not so much for the overly exuberant breeze); for a functioning new bike; for my kids, who got themselves up and ready for the day without my help, while I completed my ride; for the support circle of people who helped cart my kids around to activities later today, giving me space to recover and write.

 

When I was out on the trails today, I realized that I am able to ride because of the millions of people who have trained and fundraised for this ride – and similar rides around the country – in the past. The commitment and concern of so many people over the years has enabled the discovery of medications and other treatments that now keep me, and so many others, healthy.

 

I remember hearing that just a couple of decades ago, the medical approach to MS was "diagnose, then adiós," meaning that after confirming a diagnosis of MS, the doctor would say good-bye because nothing else could be done. Back then, it was "5 years to a cane, 10 years to a wheelchair." But now -thanks to new medications, vitamin D, and a healthy lifestyle - 8½ years post-diagnosis, I am training to ride a bike 160 miles from Houston to Austin. Hallelujah!

2 Comments
Post a comment

MS150: Training Ride Derailed

On a borrowed bike after my new bike broke during MS150 Training Ride #2.

I don't really know what I'm doing. I decided to ride the MS150 – the two-day, 150ish-mile bike ride from Houston to Austin - just two weeks ago. I'm a runner, not a cyclist. And I have MS.

 

I like a good challenge. And this ride, for which I am woefully unprepared, seems like a good challenge in part because I am woefully unprepared.

 

Today my attempts to get prepared backfired: I set out for a long ride with a friend on my brand-new road bike. ("You gotta have a road bike," everyone has advised. My 17-year-old rusty mountain bike wouldn't cut it).

 

Seven miles into the ride, while going down a small bumpy hill, the chain derailed from the chainring on my new bike. (Of course, I didn't know what the chainring was called, but this diagram helped: http://www.jimlangley.net/wrench/bicycleparts.html)  I placed the chain back in its place, only to have it slip out again and again. My friend tried to help, to no avail. Finally, I realized the chainring was so loose that the chain couldn't stay on it, rendering the bike unrideable.

 

We walked back to my friend's house – just a mile away at that point. She lent me an extra bike, and we took a shorter ride - 15 miles or so. Then she drove me to the bike shop for my 6th or 7th visit in two weeks, where they tightened the chainring, and I rode the bike home.  

 

For many with MS or another chronic disease, including me sometimes, it feels like the chain slips off the chainring a lot. I just found out about another friend of a friend with MS today. We are out there, sometimes too uncomfortable or embarrassed to say anything, fearful of losing jobs, friends, opportunities. One in every 750 people.

 

MS can be paralyzing, literally and figuratively. But we have to learn to improvise, to change plans – to take the shorter bike ride – and to reach out for help.

1 Comments
Post a comment

Strategies for Building and Strengthening Your Support Circle

Thanks for the great feedback and encouragement from everyone on my first blog post. I am feeling well-supported, indeed!

 

I wanted to share some thoughts now about how to strengthen your support circle, and I welcome readers to add more ideas in the comments below.

 

For those feeling disconnected, here are some suggestions to meet others and start to build or expand your support circle:

 

1)      Get involved in groups you care about: your kid's school, a place of worship, a nonprofit fighting for a good cause. This is a way to meet people with common interests and shared values.

 

2)      Volunteer! I recently met many of my neighbors at It's My Park Day here in Austin as we pitched in to clean up our community garden. Local newspapers, radio stations, and websites advertise upcoming volunteer events.

 

3)      Reconnect with long-lost friends and family: Track down those with whom you once were close but have lost touch. Reach out to more distant family members who you may not have seen in a while. Social media can help you reconnect, but a phone call or even meeting in person is better!

 

4)      Join a support group: This idea may seem obvious, but it can be daunting to reach out to a group of strangers to discuss a painful topic. However, support groups can be extremely beneficial. While I believe getting together face-to-face can be more healing, even online support groups and chat rooms can offer a certain level of camaraderie and advice.

 

5)      Take a class: Schools, colleges, art and athletic organizations offer classes for adults on a myriad of topics. Some classes are free, or scholarships may be available. I met one of my now-best friends in a mountain biking class 15 years ago, offered by the local community college. I rarely get to mountain bike these days, but I still see my friend regularly.

 

6)      Start a meet-up group: Pick an activity you love and invite others to join you. Find friends to exercise with you. Invite other parents to meet up for a regular playdate for your kids. Start a book club, a supper club, or a movie group.

 

7)      Meet your neighbors: Getting to know the people who live nearby can be fun and beneficial. Offer to pet-sit or water the plants when your neighbors are out of town. Double the recipe if you bake cookies, and take a plate next door.    

 

Please add more ideas below. Also, check out this wonderful post in Psychology Today about the importance of relationships for our well-being and more suggestions for building connections.

 

And remember, the best way to develop and maintain a strong support circle is to be part of the support circle for others. The reciprocity principle is alive and well in our culture. If you reach out to help others, they will likely be there for you when you need support.

1 Comments
Post a comment

Support Circles - for Multiple Sclerosis and Beyond

Me with Don - the most important link in my support circle (March 2018)

I don't like to keep secrets. And in the fall of 2009, I had a big one: a new diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Who should I tell? I am close with my family, and I told them right away. But who else should know? 

 

"It's considered a disability," my mom said. "People may see you differently. Do you really want to tell everyone?"

 

I rarely disagree with my mom, but in this case, I opted for a widespread broadcast. I called my colleagues at the clinic where I worked as a family doctor. I emailed friends and cousins. "I have MS. I thought you should know."

 

I provided more details: the dizziness and visual changes that led to my MRI that led to my diagnosis, the concerns about future disability, the potential impact on my career, my husband, and our daughters (aged two and four at the time).

 

Was I bold? Was I foolish?

 

Neither. If anything, I was, perhaps, selfish. I was lessening my burden by sharing it and asking for help. I was relieving myself of the pain of carrying around a secret, of building more barriers to protect it when it didn't need to be protected. I couldn't have articulated it at the time, but most importantly, I was activating my support circle.

 

Like a magnetic force suddenly unleashed, my news brought well wishes and offers of help from all over:  home-delivered meals, cards of support, offers of playdates for my kids. I was overwhelmed with the generosity that bolstered my husband Don and me during those frightening days as we faced tremendous uncertainty.

 

I went from knowing no one with MS, to finding connections with half a dozen fellow MS patients who offered me - a stranger with nothing to give in return - encouragement, advice, and proof that my life wasn't over.

 

It was still a risk. Not everyone can share such news freely. People have lost jobs and friends when revealing illness. Even I have not been consistent over the years in sharing my MS diagnosis, especially with new bosses and colleagues. But over time, I usually have opened up to them as well. I have been lucky; I don't think anyone's reaction has ever disappointed me.

 

I was reminded of the importance of a support circle during my father-in-law's recent hospitalization for a sudden and unexpected illness. Twenty-four hours after hearing the news, Don was on the plane flying across the country. He had to go. It's just what you do when you are at the top of the unwritten list of support circle members for someone, as he was for his dad.

 

While Don – also a physician - was with his parents, he met his dad's doctors. He discussed treatment strategies and options for care upon hospital discharge. He also identified more people in his dad's support circle. Two aunts and an uncle would be there to help his parents when he had to return home. "We got this," they assured him.

 

Over my years of patient care, I have seen many people without a support circle. Or sometimes I have felt that I, alone, am the support circle. Some of them have suffered terrible losses, leaving them alone. Others have moved frequently, losing connections with each relocation. New immigrants may be especially vulnerable, uprooted from family, isolated by culture and language differences. I search for their strength - a bright personality, resilience, hidden talents and skills. Many have demonstrated great courage and fortitude. Over time, they will find their support circle, and I have been honored, at times, to help in that process.

 

In my next post, I will offer ideas on how to build and strengthen your support circle. For more lessons I've learned as a doctor turned patient with MS, see my article on CareDash: https://www.caredash.com/articles/8-lessons-learned-by-a-doctor-turned-patient. Thanks for reading!

13 Comments
Post a comment