Dear Cat

July 1, 2013
 
Dear Cat,
 
Look at you sitting there, tapping your feet and fidgeting with your hands in that cold, grey exam room. You’re moments away from receiving medical confirmation of that little monster that has been haunting you over the last few months, probably years:
 
You have multiple sclerosis.
 
But you already know that. Even so, hearing the diagnosis you feared being stated so casually aloud will cause your tough guy façade to short circuit and you’ll paw frantically at the tissue box offered to you by your new doctor’s assistant.
 
Oh, why didn’t you ask Mom to come with you into the exam room, instead of asking her to wait in the lobby? You need her now.
 
You’re going to get a spinal tap and spend a week on bedrest where you’ll have your first experience with adverse reactions from, what will become over the next few years, a gauntlet of treatment options—most of which will fail you. You’ll bounce between different types of doctors and specialists, all with varying opinions and plans. You’re going to spend countless hours on the phone with specialty pharmacies and insurance companies.
 
Despite your otherwise blemish-free medical history, you’ll never ask, “Why me?” (Smart girl! Why NOT you??), but you will have dark days. You will get discouraged. You will suffer from depression. You will watch your body slowly change.
 
You’ll also watch your relationships change. You will have to turn down invitations. One day, those invitations will likely come along less frequently and, eventually, stop.
 
Your future is bleak.
 
That is, if you allow it to be.
 
Because you see, Cat, you’re going to be humbled by the outpouring of support you will receive—once you decide to accept it. You are going to notice and appreciate the most minute movements your body is able to complete—ones so small and previously unnoticed, you’ve only ever taken them for granted before (like that foot-tapping and hand fidgeting you’re still doing as you wait for your diagnosis).
 
You will learn to listen to your body. You will learn to trust it again.
 
You’re scared, even petrified right now of what may lie ahead and that’s okay. Take a day. Eat some ice cream. Build a pillow fort and be a couch burrito. Wallow. And tomorrow, start kicking this thing’s butt.
 
No, you won’t cure your disease—not even with all of the miracle diets and supplements people will inevitably shower you with—but you will cure yourself. You’re afraid you will be defined, labeled by multiple sclerosis. But you won’t be. No, instead you will stare this thing in its face, grab this disease by its balls and dance with it. You will not allow it to define you. You will redefine what it means to overcome.
 
You will educate people. You will raise thousands of dollars each year to help push research and treatment options forward. You will be an advocate—for yourself and for others. You will form a network and build connections with people all over the world. Yes! It’s true, Cat! You are going to help people!
 
You are strong. You are resilient. Utilize your resources and you will become great.
 
Dry your eyes, kid. You’ve got this.
 
You amazing, fierce warrior, you.
 
Love,
 
Cat (Three Years Later)
 
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Cat

Cat Stappas

Cat was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2013 and writes about her experiences in her blog, It's Only A Bruise. She hopes to make the dark corners of the internet a little bit less scary for both the newly and the long-time diagnosed with some honesty, positivity and — sometimes — some tongue-in-cheek humor. You can read her blog here and follow her on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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    32 Comments

  • Karen Smith   May 16, 2016 11:50 AM
    Dx in 1999 been on copaxone 16 yrs. First I thought Omg what now? My life turned upside down but also made a lot of since, My son was 18 and his comment when I tell him was we can move to Colorado weed is legal there. I told my family and than a month later I seen the Neuro. I was so depressed and it was because I was afraid of the unknown and the Neuroligist said well you will not die you don't have Cancer. I realized in that year no Im not gonna die I have M.S but it dosent have me. Now Im 53 and I still saying that and also FUMS I will get right back up when you push me down.
  • Sally Kuhlman   May 16, 2016 11:54 AM
    Cat, proud of how you are kicking MS in the butt each and every second of each and every day. You are keeping us informed about how you are feeling, what you are experiencing, and how you plan to move forward. Knowledge helps put fear in its place. In your case, knowledge is giving you strength, hope, courage, and the will to win against this disease. Congratulations to you for raising $4,125 for MS Walk 2016. You are beyond amazing. Love, Sally
  • Cass   May 16, 2016 12:04 PM
    I was diagnosed in May 1994 Tha scariest moment of my life. I was at my mother's home in Greenwood S.C. looking in the mirror and the weirdest thing happen my mouth had twisted I thought I was having a stroke but thank God that was"not Tha case when mom came home from work she knew exactly what is was after I told her my symptoms she knew it was MS before I even went to tha Doctor , to make a long story short i'm still fighting and battling MS today 22Years ago I'm Bless, holding on to Faith! MS is silent needs to be more recognized
  • Vicki   May 16, 2016 12:49 PM
    I have a different story of when I heard my diagnosis. RELIEF! Relief that it was not all in my head. Relief that all the previous diagnoses were wrong when deep down I knew they were wrong. And relief that now I knew the enemy I needed to fight. I was almost joyful in the exam room and that kind of took my doctor aback. But then he understood where I was coming from. That was 11 years ago and yes, my life was turned upside down. But I know the path I must follow and, being a Taoist, I follow it and don't waste time dwelling on what might have been. Do I have sad days, angry days? You bet. But like others here have said - I just get back up and keep on keepin' on.
  • Stacey   May 16, 2016 1:24 PM
    Your strength is inspiring. Hasn't been a year since my diagnosis Wonderful to hear 💜
  • Gordon Gravelle   May 16, 2016 1:35 PM
    Thanks for understanding, I won't quit either but it's nice to know we're not alone. I'm looking for something but I'm not sure what. Your blog post did grab my attention and if you check out my website, I think you see why. http://www.livingsuccessfullywithdisabilities.com/
  • Peris   May 16, 2016 2:37 PM
    Thank you for your words that served as an encouragement to me. I was diagnosed about two years ago. I went through extreme seesaw emotions of denial, then acceptance of my conditions.
  • Jeanette Brickler   May 16, 2016 3:27 PM
    I was diagnosed in 1986; it wasn't until several years later that any type of disease modifying treatments became available, and at first I did not want to give myself injections. In 1994, because I was getting increasingly worse, I began taking Betaseron; my condition leveled out for several years but after about 8 years, I had developed an immunity to the medicine and switched to Advonex then to Rebif, which is what I now take, but it is now in the secondary progressive stage. Since all these are basically the same type of medication, they didn't really help. At this point, nothing will stop it's progression; so I am trying a so-called M.S. diet that will allegedly get rid of my symptoms. It has not done anything noticeable yet, but at least I feel I am eating healthy foods.
  • SmartyPants196   May 16, 2016 3:39 PM
    Your essay really hit home for me, as it expressed exactly how i felt waiting for the dr to tell me the news. As i was walking into the doctors, there was a long hall to get to his door and i thought to myself, "when i walk out this door my life will be changed forever" and it did. But like you said, it doesn't define me, thinking the worst is only a first response, since i had progressive kind i thought my life was over. After the initail shock of it all, was over, i developed into a calm state where i began the first day of the rest of my life. My MS stabilized and hasn't progressed in 10 years, . One day when i was cleaning out my closets, i found my journals from the early days when i first moved to ORegon, when i worked as a timber inventory forester in the Wallowa Mts in eastern OR. As i read them, i started to chuckle and thought, these would make a good book, so i wrote three fictionalized memoirs, i never would have found the time to write, if it wasn't because of MS. I worked 35 years in service to people with disabilities, who better to know, life can be just as good even if you use a walker or are in a wheelchair. My profession taught me how to access grants, durable medical equipment so i knew the ropse.
    So without MS i never would have published my three books. "The Eve Chronicles" by Diane DeVillers, check it out on amazon. Life changes, we adapt, and then finally we accept.
    Your story transported me back to the early days when i found out that yes MS can be a monster, but i am no longer afraid of my dragon, who waits for me, who someday will consume me, but i fight it, i do my best to adapt and move forward to what ever my path will be.
  • Susan Lesperance   May 16, 2016 4:02 PM
    Cat, knowledge is power; and you are one of the most powerful women I know. Your power comes from the words you share with us to educate, comfort, inspire....and more. I could not be more proud of you if I tried. Well done! Another fine MS Connection.
  • Hanady   May 16, 2016 4:08 PM
    Thank you for writing this. Its exactly what I went through and still am.. It brought a tear to my eye. It hard to explain all this to my friends or family.. But reading it feels better, to know I'm not alone.. Thank you!
  • Ricki Becker   May 16, 2016 4:56 PM
    I was first thought to be sick in my sophomore year of college. That was 1973! How you deal with MS is ALL in your head. Seriously! It's up to you unless you have one of the progressive forms. If you choose to be fine, you will be fine!
    Exercise and eat good foods. Treat yourself well!
  • Avatar
    cjtmn  May 16, 2016 7:36 PM
    Beautifully stated!! Thank you for sharing. I hope I can tell myself similar words in 2.5 years!
  • Avatar
    tracie1278  May 16, 2016 8:00 PM
    Thank you for sharing this...you eloquently put into words exactly how I felt. Keep fighting!
  • Mike   May 16, 2016 9:10 PM
    Cat,

    Thanks for sharing this. So much of it resonated with me. There are a lot of us out there. Even with these few words, you've echoed the voice of so many.
  • Nancy Crocker   May 16, 2016 9:22 PM
    You are amazing I wish I could be a little like you I was diagnosed in 99 I was in shock I still have a hard time with this my life changed so much not in a good way it does help a little hearing others I don't feel so alone but most the time I do feel alone your a great example of how we should feel you must have a great support team thanks for sharing
  • Fiona Law   May 17, 2016 1:42 AM
    i loved this blog really charmed by your first impressions. I have MS and live in Australia and have been diagnosed for 3 years but had it 6-7 years. I am very lucky in that I am not to bad and have drop foot and fatigue but all in all life is good. I am 60 years old in July and now seem to love everyday more for some reason. ha
  • Andreea   May 17, 2016 2:37 AM
    My dad has MS since '89. I grew up with him, being there every time when he had a good day or a bad day. It's not that easy, it changed me a lot and also my hole family. He turned 50 last year and he cried, he doesn't want to live anymore, but we are there for him, telling him that we've been so far, we can go even further than that.
    He is at the beginning of the final faze. Now he depends on us almost entirely. But even if he is tired of everything, he still smiles and loves when our cat is staying with him almost all the time, making him calm and happy.

    In our days, having MS is easier. In other countries, treatment is easier to find. But in my situation, staying strong and unite it all that matters. And learn each day, to stay focused. If life had to be this way, then make it count. You will see how many people you will change around you. It's a change to everyone.
  • Sarah   May 18, 2016 9:56 PM
    This is wonderful, Cat, thank you for writing this. I'll have to do this too, to give myself credit for kicking MS's ass for two years, and continuing to fight as hard as I can and need to. Thanks to you and your exceptional and inspiring fundraising skills, we will have a cure. You rock! Keep it up! :)
  • Jennifer Schwartz-Owens   May 18, 2016 11:55 PM
    Yay! Cat : )

    Take Good Care.. Love Ya! God Bless You and Yours.. Dearly.

    Sincerely,


    Jennifer Schwartz-Owens
  • Rich   May 19, 2016 7:40 PM
    MS sucks stay strong our day is coming lots of new treatments on the way
  • Aurora   May 23, 2016 5:32 PM
    Love your comments as knowledge is power. Please continue taking the FEAR out of this disease.
  • Suzanne   May 24, 2016 8:06 AM
    Wow! I felt as if I was writing that! So awesome and so true....all of it. I was also diagnosed in 2013...3 years ago. Loved your letter!
  • NancyS727  May 24, 2016 9:13 AM
    Was just diagnosed and this is exactly what I needed to hear. Its so important to me to hear from people who have this that everything will be ok. That it doesn't have to define or cripple me. That I do have some control and that my life doesn't need to stop. Thank you so much.
  • packersmoversindore   May 26, 2016 2:43 AM
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  • packersmoversindore   May 26, 2016 2:43 AM
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  • Lynn   May 26, 2016 2:59 PM
    Trying to think that soon I will get over the shock of MS diagnosis. So far still wallowing in confusion and self pity and down right fear. Every ache and pain makes me think it,s a sign I,m getting a new symptom. I an driving myself crazy.
  • Dana Perry   Jul 10, 2016 11:05 AM
    I love this! Truly inspirational! I am very new to this diagnosis and hearing this is refreshing! Thankyou for your inspirational words, Cat!
  • Jessica peacock   Jul 16, 2016 11:01 AM
    One of the best letters I've ever read.
    I was diagnosed 6 years ago with only one real episode that led to the diagnosis. I've been almost symptom free until now. I'm starting to have more symptoms and while they are mild, they are causing the range of emotions to surface again. Mostly denial.. Because I've almost convinced myself I don't have it. And fear. Because denial has worked so well this far in not having to think about my potential future with MS.
    So I went online looking for info and found your blog. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Take a break.. Allow the feelings to be there. And then remember I am a strong force who will always fight back. I've always said if MS wants to take me down.. It better be ready for the fight of a lifetime. Because I will not go quietly.
    So thank you for reigniting that fire in me. All the best to you as well.
  • capitolcarol  Aug 10, 2016 5:57 PM
    I really appreciated your story. How you are facing our disease and what you will do in the future is an inspiration.
  • dawn young   Aug 31, 2016 1:54 PM
    Your story hit home. I am in the very beginning of my ms journey and your words make me feel like I'm nit doing this alone : )
  • robertjon  Jan 24, 2017 9:08 PM
    That was very inspiring, I really enjoyed reading it, thank you, blessings, Jon