We have all heard the expression"the journey of a lifetime begins with a single step."
I embarked on my journey of change--from a multiple sclerosis--diagnosed patient with recurring symptoms and little hope, to an optimistic youthful person happy with my life and eager to live fully--almost by accident. I was not seeking enlightenment. I was not on a quest. But I, like ANY number of people had to learn when life tosses you lemons, you had really better decide to make lemonade and fast. First, some background information.
At the writing of this, I am a 34 year old wife and mother, diagnosed 6 years ago with MS. Though I fit its diagnostic the demographics: youthful, Caucasian, female, this odd disease still hit me-- as I'm sure many others will attest to--out of the blue. I was a new mom and healthy, with little in my health history to suggest anything out of the ordinary in the way of childhood diseases.
It is known that M.S. can strike teenagers and when it does, the initial attack is often not diagnosed properly because the symptoms might not recur for years. Sometime the symptoms can be slight enough they go unnoticed or you may be use to it you may not know the difference. I did, however, have some serious back problems as a teenager, which did mean that I saw numerous amount of doctors, took various prescription drugs and missed a fair amount of school. Nothing in the medical community in my Arizona city came up with helped, however, and the only option left, it seem was surgery. My father was against my going through major back surgery at that time, however, took me to a nutritionist. I was put on a regime of diet and exercise. In three months the pain was gone with no recurrence.
The trouble is, I never thought about it again, even though it could of been prudent to things to come. In all honesty, I had put it out of my mind. Back pain did not haunt me, thankfully, but also, the idea of nutrition having anything to do with the alleviation of specific pathological symptoms of a disease never entered my mind either! I did not extrapolate at all from that experience the role diet might play in the other future aspects of my health. Not, that is, until my father would once again intervene on my behalf with enlightening, maybe even life-saving, unsolicited health advice!
The Onset of M.S.
At twenty-one years old, having graduated from cosmetology school intent of striking out on my own, I moved to Omaha, Nebraska, leaving behind the sunny climes of Phoenix. I worked for three years in which time I met and fell in love with my future husband. We were married five months after we met. That same year, I embarked on another new phase of life starting my own nail salon and gift shop! My husband, himself a successful construction business owner, undertook to help me bring my interior design ideas for the shop to fruition, and together we created a warm and inviting, efficient atmosphere for my business to take hold. And take hold it did! At twenty four years of age I was off and running with a future as bright as any star in the night sky. My clientele and inventory grew exponentially. I was happy fulfilled and successful and, a short three years later...pregnant! Our plans included building our own little dream house and filling it with kids! At age twenty-seven this seem to be shaping up like clock work: I was a thrilled mom of a sweet, beautiful baby boy.
Like the myriad of other women of my day and age, I was pretty busy gal at this point, juggling the various roles of wife, new mother, and successful business entrepreneur. I was a manicurist/nail tech with a full Rolodex of clients myself: but I was also the "Boss" in charge of hiring and firing: the buyer of the gift inventory, the display and design specialist, and gift shop sale person. I kept the books, did the advertising and saw to the day-to-day running of my own "Nail Gallery" EMPIRE!
My business, I hasten to add that at one point in time not so long ago, this happy reality was very much in jeopardy.
At the onset of symptoms common to M.S. such as dizziness, weakness, numbness in the limbs, a sensation of tingling pins and needles, and blurred vision, and after a series of diagnostic test procedures, I was formally diagnosed with the disease in June of 1997. The Dr. told me" I would go home and cry my eyeballs out."Since the symptoms were intermittent, as is often the case, especially in patients diagnosed as "remitting and relapsing", I went into a period of denial and ignored the whole thing for about a year.
The second year I sought a second opinion. This specialist ran every conceivable test--again--and came up with the same diagnosis, but didn't want to put me in an actual category just yet. Until I had more symptoms, which happened about six months later.
During this period I sought the solace and support of others with M.S., joined a support group, surfed the web for insight and sympathy, ran in the race for the cure in Chicago (where I raised an awesome amount of money if I do say so myself) and generally made myself aware of the current medical procedures and prognoses available.
One of the ironies of doing all this work to educate myself about the disease, however, was that I was constantly running up against an aure of pessimism. The prevailing attitude was that, while M.S. was not a death sentence per se, it was met by a lot of people with an attitude of resignation to a life of incapacity, a life in a wheelchair or worse. People everywhere with M.S. were planning there existence around the fact that they have a disease that would rob them of their vitality, their control, their dignity, and that I should start preparing for that day myself. How life would or should be lead from a wheelchair became the governing factor for the patients, even before this "inevitability" had come. It's not that I didn't think about it.
Sure, numbness and weakness, especially in my hands, use of which is what my professional depended upon, loomed as bad news for me! But preparation for being wheelchair bound was not on my radar screen, not yet at least. Or was it? The alarming part is, that it is exactly what I had begun to happen to me! I began to picture my husband needing to run my business along with his own, to care for our child all by himself, and worst yet, to care for me.
This was an untenable situation, so I made the decision to close my wonderful shop. There was some space in a beauty shop around the corner where I could still work but could cut my hours back, rest and plan out my remaining time of relatively good health while I still had some, whether it be years months or weeks.
In the Throes of M.S.
My symptoms augmented to the point where my doctor made the decision to put me on Avonex, one of the drugs in the interferon-beta family: and when I started this drug, the first thing I felt like I was having a heart attack! Two months later I was in misery with optic neuritis in my left eye, another typical M.S. symptom. I was given 5000 mg. of corticosteroids in five days, the theory being that the tingling and numbness were due to inflammation in the neck. Steroids did not prove effective, and in the meantime Avonex treatment was a s debilitating to me as chemo-therapy often is to cancer sufferers, leading me to question whether the cure is worst then the disease! For one to two days after each weekly shot I was incapacitated and needed to sleep most of the time to recuperate. And because a typical side effect or interferon meds is severe depression, I had to go on anti-depressants. Talk about depression: my insurance went up $600 the first two years, and $800 subsequently each of the next 4 years.
I was on Avonex for fourteen months when I felt my whole world revolving around M.S. The prophesy had indeed become self-fulfilling. I was figuratively and literally in a dizzying descent--an ever increasing downward spiral. My work situation, almost exactly mimicking my health situation, was taking a major turn for the worse, too. My future career outlook loomed as bleak as the past had been bright. There was a huge realization hanging over me every day when I arrived at work and every evening when I left, that closing my shop and moving in with the hair salon had been a huge mistake that could not be undone! I internalized all the worry, hurt and pain about the move and about he ever widening panorama of M.S. symptoms, and comfort myself each night with....food.
Down and out in the Land of M.S.
I cannot put my finger for sure on any one cause of what happened next, but it doesn't take the proverbial Ph.D. to figure it out; my home life began to crash in around me. Due to, because of, in spite of M.S., I began to go through the most horrific stress of my still-young life. This manifested itself in my sleeping at most two to four hours per night for almost two months. I had almost stopped eating without realizing it. I went --accidentally ! -- on what could only be described as an unintentional cleansing fast. I didn't know that I was fasting, didn't even know what fasting was. I knew I couldn't eat. Things at home were so bad I walked away from the business, took our little boy and left town. I had to get away. I had to think. I had to consult my family back home in Arizona.
And right in the midst of all this upheaval----my symptoms disappeared. If stress was said to exacerbate M.S., this incredible stress, this unbelievable stress, this horrific stress, had seemingly wiped it out. I got my domestic life back in order, for which I am very thankful : stopped taking drugs and steroids, and seem to be on the rebound to good health.
The Road Back
At the time of my "accidental fast", I began to have an inkling about the role played by food in my cycle of symptoms. When I began to add in eating--breakfast, for example--tingling would reappear by noon; so I stopped eating that meal. Meanwhile I added exercise and did not consume any alcohol. I stayed symptom free. It was in August of 2000 and I was doing yoga plus other exercise maintaining my low weight (dropped 5 dress sizes) and feeling good.
Things were back to normal, in fact better than that, and we decided to take a much deserved second honeymoon vacation to Cancun, Mexico. I ate more in one week then I had in months, and had an occasional alcoholic drink too. When we returned from that trip I began to experience dizzy spells and vertigo severe enough to bring on nausea. The logical conclusion was that I had an intolerance to alcohol that linked to M.S. symptoms that I must alleviate from my diet, which I did without a problem. I decided to try to "cleanse" and "detox" my body with a one day fast, which I undertook in February 2001. All symptoms I had at the time went away and stayed away.
It was about at this time that I began to hear of diets which were wheat and gluten free. This made sense in the light of what I knew about alcohol, but I still didn't actually study it as a "alternative" medicine or anything else. I decided, though, to take myself off wheat--see how I would like it. Everyday I would, however, eat oatmeal, and since this was a source of gluten, not knowing, the"experiment" failed. In May 2001, I was experiencing weakness.
In June another seemingly random decision I made may have been the deciding factor at really getting to the crux of the matter of trying some naturalistic healing. In a non-related decision, I had an IUD inserted. As is often the case--call it fate, synchronicity, or serendipity--whatever you want--the day I got the IUD put in, I happened to also have a cold sore on my lip and my father happened to be in town. How did these events tie together?
A year or more prior to my worst moments of despair, my father had sent me a book by someone I never heard of, Sam Biser, called Saving Your Life with Cayenne. Now, I love my Dad. But he had been on these "tangents" before (remember the nutritionists-instead- of -back-pain-incident?) and I respected him, but I didn't give his ideas the attention they merited. To be honest, when I opened the box and saw a book that said Saving Your life with Cayenne. I rolled my eyes, thought"Okaaaayyyy,"closed it back up and didn't think about it again--until about a year later, that is.
My mind was not closed to the idea of holistic or natural medicine, but I have been in the throes of the disease whose control I had to trust to what I new at the time: conventional medicine. I had not taken the time to read the book of Dad's, but he left the bottle of Cayenne tincture behind when he was just visiting. He learned how to make the Cayenne Tincture from Sam Bisers book. My Father gave me the low down on what it did and he said, "When something is ill it has a lack of circulation, so Cayenne it." I was not familiar with it. What I did know was the $50 cold sore ointment and the dollar a day pills I had been prescribed weren't working; so I agreed to try the tincture of cayenne that my Dad had offered. Overnight the cold sore was scabbed and healed, it never even festered. Dad left town but some of the Cayenne tincture he'd made up from directions in Sam Biser's book which remained in Omaha.
I was impressed but still not seeing the big picture here!
The IUD started giving me problems, which in turn may of started triggering M.S. symptoms. Low-grade infection was diagnosed and persisted for months. Finally the IUD was removed within one month of insertion. The doctor who inserted it and removed it told me that the M.S. symptoms could not be connected with the IUD, but contrary to what he thought, the truth is that any infection in the body could exasperate the symptoms of MS. Now scar tissue remained that was not detected by blood test, urine tests or ultra-sound. I was weak, bleeding a lot, and spent a lot of time laying on the couch. But it gave me the impetus to start reading. I started with Sam Biser's book.
In this book there were case study quote about a women who had uterine cancer which was causing a lot of bleeding. When she got to the point of douching with cayenne tincture her bleeding stopped immediately. At that time I was getting so sick--and desperate--that I decided to try what was described in that chapter of his book. I went home, made up a formula with the same measurements given, and administered it to myself. the moment I did that was the moment the bleeding stopped! This is when my skepticism began to abate and I sat down to seriously read Sam Biser's book.
In June of 2001, I went to Great Plains Labs and had a complete battery of test run for wheat, gluten and lactose intolerance. I eliminated grains and most dairy from my diet definitively. Things were going well until I experience another bout of optic neuritis. This time, since I was becoming more cognizant of the diet/health-food-link to symptoms alleviation, I went to the health food store seeking something that might help my eyes. Lutein was suggested and on the day I started taking it, I started having results. The first day I could see the green coming from my alarm clock: this became my "vision test" every morning! The next day I woke up, checked my left eye and I could make out one number. The next day I could see two numbers, and so it went. Every single day I had reached some landmark in recovering, and by two weeks on Lutein, the eye problems were cleared up.
Even after the eyesight returned, however, July 2001 found me battling again with numbness, and this time my left hand was completely devoid of feeling.
Upset and dejected, I put in a call to the MS specialist. It was a Friday night so I had to get someone on call. No one returned my phone call, so Saturday I waited until noon, figuring they were busy. I finally got a hold of someone who said that even though this seemed like an emergency to me, the emergency room personnel would not consider it one, and that I would need to have a MS doctors consult. But he did suggest that their 24 hour lab could run the necessary blood and urine tests for infection and that those results would speed things up come Monday when I could see my doctor. I agreed and went in for those tests.
Early Monday morning, I took my son to daycare and cleared my calendar, since, I reasoned I would be to be ready to go in first thing and get back on the steroid treatment. I wasn't looking forward to going back on that treatment, but it is the only thing a person can do, and at that point, I was willing to do anything! After all, my profession depended on my being able to move my hands, and at the moment, I couldn't even make a fist.
All that Monday morning, I waited for a call. Hour after hour ticked by, and even though I left messages, no one returned my call. By noon I was sitting in my house crying when it suddenly dawned on me: I was the only one sitting around crying over my condition. No one else was paying the slightest attention to my problem. I dried my tears and said to myself, "Gina, figure it out. Think! Find out what you can do for yourself."
And at that point I made a decision to take charge of my own treatment.
This time I was on a quest. I did deeper and more serious research, and was determined to come to some reliable conclusions. I had already read about the fasting, so I decided to start with that. I went to the grocery store and got everything the book Prescription for Nutritional Healing called for.
By the end of that Monday, around four in the afternoon, the doctor's office did call me back and made an appointment for that following Friday. But by that point I had decided with a complete detoxification of my entire body. I was on my way to finding my way.
To that end, I began a ten- day live juice fast, which is a basic prescription for nutritional healing, as outlined by Balch & Balch in their book of the same title. By this juncture I was already 80% vegetarian and wheat and gluten free. On the live juice fast, within 15 hours, I could make a fist with my left hand! This was great news because it meant that I would be able to go back to work. By the day when I was to have gone back on steroids, I had regained the total use of my hand. The doctor was very surprised at this and ordered up an MRI. I canceled that appointment when, by the end of the ten days, I was completely symptom free except for slight numbness left in a couple of fingertips.
In January 2002 when, after a month of eating a few to many holiday sweets, I felt some onset of eye discomfort, I did another ten-day fast. Within the first day of the fast the discomfort of the eye was gone; but I decided to continue with the full ten days because fasts were supposedly beneficial in prevention due to being catalyst to rid the body of toxins. By the end of this time, the problems had abated completely except a light numbness in a couple of my fingertips.
In March of 2002 I had been symptom free long enough to believe that the steps I took, the diet I followed, and the books I read could have benefit to other M.S. sufferers, so I sought out a support group which I had attended. Within hours of my presentation I was approached by the facilitators who felt obligated to somehow"clear up [my] thinking"about alternative medicine, i.e., to stop promoting the benefits of herbal and natural remedies, diet, detoxification and the like to people who need medication.
I came away, however, with a feeling of sadness for them. True to form, they were in business of promoting a "life" revolving around the illness. I began to have a distinct regrets about ever having been sucked into that negative thinking. It was not supportive. It promoted the pessimistic view of no hope and no out. I had, sadly, bought into that, too, at one time. For one thing, I had given up on the idea of ever being able to have more children with the diagnosis of M.S., and now, knowing that I can live a life relatively free of disease, I regretted it terribly that I had abandoned my life's dream of having a slew of kids. But no more regrets! The journey of a lifetime has begun,,,with a single step. And the one thing I learned from the whole experience was precisely what people always say: Hang on tight to your dreams and do what you want to do. I wanted to live for today not tomorrow. I was on my way to doing just that.
Starting thousands of years ago, and continuing throughout man cultures around the world today, people believe that we can close the gap between humans and the natural world in order to live better, healthier life. Many theories exist (macrobiotics for one) which suggest that sickness and unhappiness are nature's way of urging us to adopt a proper diet and way of life. These are not related to "new age" or fad diet philosophies; they are very much mainstream. Two publications, Dietary Goals for the United States (1977) and Diet, Nutrition and Cancer (1982) came out long ago in favor of sweeping dietary changes for this country. There is hardly a conventional or alternative medical expert today who would disagree on the subject of reducing the amount of fats and processed Sugar we as Americans consume, for starters.
As things stand for me today, because a series of sometimes horrific events led me unaware to fasting and detoxifying my body, I am as healthy as I've been in years and now totally symptom-free, and have discovered a link between diet and M.S. symptom abatement.
Sam Biser's writing of Dr. Schulze was the greastest influence of my life in the book "Saving Your Life With Cayenne," I could not imagine were I would be without that information. I have learned to treat many ailments besides just cold sores: headaches, fatigue, bladder infection, cold and flu symptoms, etc.
Following the various books I've researched in, I've put together herbal formulas for all sorts of reasons: from facial masks and lotions to clear up Acne to herbal remedies that work well for Psoriasis and athletes' foot. Every time I've tried one, it has worked for the purpose designated. It is just a matter of going thorough the books, picking out herbs that might be helpful, and following the formulas. It really helps to have a book like Prescription for Nutritional Healing which has a glossary of herbs .
My deepest hopes and wishes are: I have always felt as if this has happened to me for a reason and I am now finding the reason out, it is to help others not to have to live a life free of dieases, to live a whole and fullfilled life. It was no accident that this happened, I had to go threw the horrific stress to be enlightened to this type of healing also my son started having seizures a year and a half ago and we are at the tale end of healing him too. This is why this happened. I am so blessed.
If, in the end, you are asking yourself what my motivation has been to try and stick with alternative practices, the answer is easy, and I hope, self-evident: I saw tangible results that completely changed the disease outlook, and restored me to a state of good health, vitality and optimism. Give it a try, you will be glad you did!
This story was written 2002, I am going to be updating it in the near future to share things that I have done that brought me to the finish line in Conquering MS in 2005. Just about everyone knows someone or a friend of someone that suffers with MS and I hope this story can be an inspiration to all and to let them know to start seeking knowledge to take control and responsibility of there own health. If you would like the update please add your name and email on my mailing list at http://www.ginakopera.com
"Yesterday is history. Tommorrow' a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why they call it the present." I can't predict the future--no one can. But with the results I've seen and experienced first-hand in the present, I'll take the present.