MS Blog with Boob Pic

Ms. Lab Rat is supposed to be a blog about an intrepid gal who joins clinical trial after clinical trial, surfing on the cutting edge of multiple sclerosis research.
Ms. Lab Rat is not supposed to be a blog about an anxious gal whose left breast is on the cutting edge of a surgical scalpel. But that’s where this MS blogger will be, while The Art Academy is closed for Spring Break.
(I know, I know, I shouldn’t be the one saying sorry. But have you have ever met a person who did not apologize for a physical misfortune beyond their control, be it mild hearing loss, Sorry, could you repeat that?—to terminal cancer, I’m so sorry I won’t live to see my baby graduate high school. You want to say: I’m the one who’s sorry.)
In this case, Gentle Reader, you needn’t be sorry for Ms. Lab Rat—yet. I have health insurance. (Thanks, husband.) I have a support system in place. (Thanks husband/family/friends.) And I don’t have cancer. (As far as the pathologists can tell.)
What I do have are a few cells that kind of look like they could turn into cancer…or look like the type of cells that tend to hang out with cancer cells. The pathologists couldn’t really agree on what to make of these suspicious cells. Which was why it took them a week, and not the promised one to three days, to call me.
As it happened, I got this call just two hours after I’d learned I have severe osteoporosis, and just a half an hour before I was scheduled to teach Artist as Reader. I was in the middle of an enormous copy job, which involved making 17 two-sided copies of the 92 page screenplay of Get Out. The call made me laugh. Two bad health updates in two hours? Who gets that? It seemed too bad to be true. My biggest fear remained the complicated copy job. I really really hate copier jams, especially so close to class time. Trivial frustrations like that are somehow harder for me to take then even super grim news. The printer didn’t jam. I was genuinely relieved, and genuinely curious to see what my students would think of the manuscript. I couldn’t be bothered to update my blog post about my osteoporosis diagnosis with a dramatic PS. I had a class to teach. Besides, my mom reads my blog. (Hi, Mom!) I didn’t want to worry her.
I am now scheduled for a third biopsy, a surgical excision that will scoop out the entire perplexing nodule and resolve any unanswered question. I’ll be glad to be rid of the uncertainty. I’m not yet skilled at living with anxiety. Last night, I had a hard time getting back to sleep after my 4th or 5th fourth trip to the bathroom (thank you, MS bladder.) I tried meditation after meditation, but stayed awake from 2am to almost 4. (I fell asleep just fine after trips seven and six.) OK, maybe it’s time to botox the old bladder again. Do you see how living with MS is in itself a full time job?
I was grateful to have yoga today, to help me unwind and expand, physically and mentally. As I had hoped, I was not the only student at this week’s class for yoga with MS and Parkinson’s. I met two intelligent, ambitious women there, an accomplished artist and an accomplished writer, and best of all, I got to catch up with my buddy Monica. We lingered over our Wahls-compliant lunches to chat about breast biopsies, and so much more. In a few short weeks, we’ll have matching scars.
It seems no MS story is as simple as just one diagnosis. At least, not for those of us lucky enough to be living decades with MS—long enough to encounter the usual trials of mere aging. Maybe Ms. Lab Rat is a typical MS blog, after all.

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The Yoga Groove


My long time yoga teacher, Sharon Byrnes, just started two new classes for people with MS and Parkinson’s at her studio, The Yoga Groove. Today I was lucky enough to have a one-on-one with her, so I got to call all the shots.

My body has given me a pretty long to-do list. I’ve been wanting to take a class on how to fall since learning that I have severe osteoporosis. (I was so eager, in fact, that I showed up one month early to  “Free from Falls,” a class which will be offered by the MS Society starting March 6.)

I requested we work on fall prevention. Sharon started me working on transitioning through various yoga poses from against the wall, instead of from in the middle of the room, so that I could use the data from the wall to keep my shoulders, back and hips in alignment while moving from two feet to one foot and back down again. She gave me blocks, so I could safely extend my body and achieve more from each pose.


foot drop

You will notice, in the second picture, that my foot droops down. Ideally, my foot and leg should be parallel to the floor. Ha. Ha. I know this is the Internet, but I’m still going to show it like it is. What you’re looking at is called foot drop. It’s an MS thing. When I’m tired, like I was this morning after treadmill and weights, I have to use extra effort to lift my right foot off the floor as I walk (or do yoga.) Foot drop has been a big culprit in limiting my walking. Until I got hand controls,  it even limited my driving.

I asked Sharon about foot drop. I’d seen what looked like a helpful video on YouTube…but I wanted to verify that the advice it gave was any good. Sharon watched me demonstrate what I’d remembered of the video, which entailed sitting in a chair, raising the foot, swiveling it in one direction over seven seconds, and then back in the other direction seven seconds…to be repeated over three minutes. She immediately made three suggestions: 1. to keep my ankles in line under my knees (I should know that by now!)  2. to use a resistance band (I tend to be lazy about adding props.) 3. to work out both ankles, not just the one that gives me trouble,  working right/left/right instead of working the right ankle exclusively.  Her suggestions affirmed what I have learned throughout the years: YouTube is no replacement for first hand experience from an experienced instructor.

She then got out a timer and had me tap my foot. I produced 28 taps in a minute, which was less than her 48, but not as far from the 32 taps per minute I should have for a goal.

After our session, I immediately texted my friend Monica, who is off having a grand time in New Orleans this week and couldn’t attend class. She wanted to know all about how to prevent foot drop. As Sharon remarked on my way out, students learn a lot from their teacher, but learn even more from each other. My one-on-one with Sharon was amazing, but I can’t wait for next week, when my peers will be there, too.

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Negotiating Pain

Foot and Leg Pain
I experience “numbness and tingling” sensations in my feet and up my legs every day. This was my first symptom of MS, and it looks like it’s here to stay. Over the years, I have found a number of ways of reducing pain. Baclofen helps. There are also non-prescription alterantives that can provide pain relief. Here are my top strategies for taming the pain, in order of discovery.
4. Toe Socks. Yes, there are such things. And yes, they can help reduce foot and leg pain. They help me, anyway. If you  experience “pins and needles” pain in your feet and up your legs, read on:
The other night I was in intense pain; my legs were aching with bee-sting intensity. I don’t know why I asked for toe socks, but as soon as my husband slipped them on my feet, I felt instant relief. I think, in my case, my hyper-sensative MS-addled nerves got all rattled because my pinky toe tucks against my neighboring toe, which triggered a false neurological signal that confused proximity with pain. Once my toes were separated in the toe socks, the pain signals died down. From now on I’ll take my yoga teacher more seriously as she encourages us to spread our toes. (see 4.)

Has anyone else tried toe socks?

3. Vibrating Foot Massager. Technically, I have very little ability to perceive vibration in my feet and legs. The first time a neurologist whipped out one of those tuning forks at an exam, I didn’t know I was supposed to feel vibration; when asked how it felt, I said it felt cold. I don’t know why feeling less vibration translates into feeling more pain, but it does. Luckily, the converse applies as well; feeling more vibration translates into feeling less pain. I use an iJoy Equalizer I got from Sharper Image, which I believe has since gone out of business. There are other vibrating foot massagers out there, in prices that range from 19.99 to over $300. They shake things up, causing immediate relief.
2. Legs Up Against the Wall. My foot and leg pain literally drains away when I rest my legs up against the wall. To enter this position correctly: sit with your right side against the wall, knees bent; your leg and hip should be in direct contact with the wall. Lower your back onto the floor. Raise/straighten your legs, so that the bottoms of your feet are facing the celing. Now swivel 90 degrees, so your head is pointing toward the middle of the room, while the backs of your legs and your sitting bones are in direct contact with the wall. You should feel an immediate draining of pain. Hold this position, with your legs against the wall, for only as long as it is comfortable. For me, that’s about two minutes or so. Don’t worry; the soothing effects will linger a while.

1. Yoga. My first thought on diagnosis was that yoga could somehow cure me; that being a more spiritual person could make me a disease free person. Nonsense. I will never know how much yoga has helped; but I can say, without reservation, that yoga has made me more supple, which helps with spasticity, and has given me great joy, which helps with life generally. As someone who experiences a lot of pain by merely standing, I try to remember how it feels to stand in tree pose at the yoga studio when I’m stuck on a line in the store.

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