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A Person Living with MS

By Matt Cavallo
It was lunchtime at a conference where I was a speaker. While the attendees were eating and mingling, I was in the auditorium preparing for my speech. It was a medical conference with doctors, nurses, and other medical providers attending and I guess I stood out. The emcee of the event came up to me and asked, “Are you the MS patient?”

I paused. There is something about the term MS patient that has never really sat well with me. Acknowledging that I am the MS patient essentially defines my life by two little letters. I have spent the better part of time since my diagnosis in 2005 trying to show the world that my disease does not define me.

In my mind, I am not the MS patient. I am a husband. I am a father. I am a small business owner. I am a person, albeit a person living with MS. 

I really think that this is an important point. Your diagnosis does not define you. You are so much more. You are the person you were before you were diagnosed. You may not be able to do things the same way or to the same level, but that is ok. 

Maybe you can’t be down in trenches every day, that doesn’t mean you can’t consult. Maybe you can’t run with the rest of your team, that doesn’t mean you can’t coach. You can do whatever you put your mind to, even if it has a couple of lesions.

A diagnosis of MS may also be the motivation you need to reinvent yourself. At the time of my diagnosis, I was a real estate developer. I thought all I wanted out of life was to build big buildings.

My diagnosis flipped a switch in me that said I want to make a difference in healthcare. Even though I didn’t have any experience, I applied for a job at a hospital. I went on to be a clinical educator and get my master’s in Public Health. I’ve written two books and write these articles. I am also an international speaker who has told my story all over the world.

When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t dream I could accomplish any of that. I wanted to give up. I didn’t know where I belonged. I heard a lot more “can’t do” than “can do” when I thought about my future after being diagnosed with MS. I didn’t have a five-year plan or any sort of long term goals. I just wanted to be able to walk again. 

Maybe you are reading this and are in that same spot. Your diagnosis just rocked your world and you don’t know where to turn. That is okay. A diagnosis is a major life event and it takes time to process. Give yourself time to heal. Remember, you can’t always choose what happens to you in life, but you can choose how you react to it.  

You are not the MS patient. You are a person living with MS. MS is just one piece of your life. Today, MS is also a piece of your life that can be managed. If you are doubting yourself or believing you can’t do it, I hope you think of this post and know that if I can do it, then you can too.

In the end, I turned the emcee and said, “Yes, I am living with MS, but I am the next speaker.”