Meg details how her MS diagnosis changed the trajectory of her life and how she learned to make lemonade out of lemons…
I was 17 years-old, a junior in high school, when I woke up in my dorm room at prep school and couldn’t see out of my left eye. At first thinking it was an eye lash or booger, I rinsed my face repeatedly in the bathroom, but the blind spot in my vision remained and, in fact, worsened throughout the day.
My father, a physician, and I had made the decision to transfer out of my regular high school in New Jersey a year earlier and transfer to a boarding school. You see, I started playing ice hockey when I was 10 years-old turned out to be a very, very good player.
Soon after I first stepped onto the ice, I quickly advanced from club hockey with the boys to travel hockey with the girls, sometimes playing with both teams at once. I became the captain of my travel hometown league. Soon thereafter, I joined an elite travel team comprised of most of the top female ice hockey players on the east coast. I attended the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid NY for potential Olympic hopefuls for 4 or 5 years. There were week-long summer camps, endless road trips, and flights to play in tournaments in far-away states, like Alaska. Hockey was everything to me and my dad was my biggest fan, greatest supporter, and best friend.
About a week after I first noticed the loss of vision in my left eye, I decided to tell my father. We were having breakfast at an out of state tournament. His ears immediately perked up and, in fact, he jumped up out of his seat! His first thought was that I had a detached retina and was in danger of losing my vision permanently. That same day, I had an MRI at the hospital where he worked.
That is when my world started crumbling down. The MRI revealed lesions in my brain consistent with multiple sclerosis. The weeks and months that followed were a blur. There was a cascade of doctor’s appointments, IV steroid injections, tears, confusion, trials of different disease modifying drugs, many of which had side effects, including flu-like symptoms and depression. I remember the fright, anger, and the dread of the unknown. As if being a teenager wasn’t hard enough.
My dad and I decided to keep my MS diagnosis a secret. We didn’t want college coaches finding out about it. We worried that my diagnosis could have a negative affect on my college acceptances. I trudged on alone and finished out my time at prep school, but not as on top of it as I had hoped. I had changed as a person and as an athlete. My symptoms and diagnosis had taken a heavy a toll on me socially, physically, and academically.
I was not accepted to my top choice university. None the less, I was accepted to an excellent college, with a good Division 1 hockey program, and I received an athletic scholarship.
However, things still weren’t going as planned. Although I had managed to keep up in high school, the rigors of college, including the schedule and physical demands of ice hockey, were much higher. The competition was at a much greater level.
It took two years to regain my vision, but I still struggled with Uthoffs phenomenon – every time my body temperature rose, which was inevitable in playing my sport, I would lose my vision again. Fatigue during competition was also an issue. I couldn’t keep up with my teammates during routine skating drills, which in the past I had excelled at.
On top of all that, I was still dealing with depression. I started to question my future and what I wanted in life, and whether hockey could be part of that future. The summer after my sophomore year, I walked into my coach’s office and announced my retirement from ice hockey, and in one second, I lost my identity. I was ashamed and defeated. My father was devastated and tried his best to encourage me to continue, but I just couldn’t do it.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I thought I could follow in my dad’s footstep and had started out on a pre-med track, but now I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue with that path.
One summer night I woke in the middle of the night with a horrible migraine. I had suffered from headaches my entire life, but this one took the cake. This one was different. I woke my mother and told her that we needed to go to the hospital. My mom, an acute care nurse, calmly climbed from bed and walked me to the car. She took charge. In the hospital she showed confidence and poise. At the hospital, she spoke to the physicians and nurses confidently and with poise. She made me feel safe.
As soon as I awakened the next morning, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I saw how my mother had helped me, and I wanted to do that for other people. I ran down to the computer in the basement, emailed my college advisor, and transferred into the nursing school. I graduated two years later with my Bachelor of Science degree in nursing! I worked as a registered nurse in Boston before becoming a travel nurse, which allowed me to meet amazing people. I am now a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner in Boston.
Looking back, my top choice for college – the one that I did not get in to – did not have a nursing school. If I hadn’t been diagnosed with MS, then maybe I would have gone to a school without a nursing program. If I hadn’t been diagnosed with MS, I would have continued to play ice hockey. And maybe then I would have never become a nurse and the woman I am today!
Along the way, my dad was diagnosed with ALS. If I hadn’t become a nurse, I wouldn’t have been able to take a travel assignment back home to New Jersey, where I worked at the local hospital and was able to spend time and help care for my father as he was slowly losing his battle against that terrible disease. My point is – when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.
I have been a patient of Ellen Lathi and The Elliot Lewis MS Center since I was 17years-old. I have absolutely no disability, and I owe my health to Dr. Lathi, the MS team, and early intervention with disease modifying drugs. My father passed away in 2008. He was chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Peters Medical Center in New Jersey. I also owe my success to him.