Receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) will change your life forever. People have a variety of reactions when given the diagnosis that range from denial and fear to anger and relief.


Beth Zastawny of Ludlow, Massachusetts, was diagnosed with MS many years ago and she remembers the multitude of emotions that she felt. Prior to the diagnosis, she remembers experiencing many symptoms that she couldn’t’ make sense of. These included difficulty seeing out of her left eye and muscle spasms that would come and go. She attributed them to stress and working too many hours. Then she got tested and discovered that she did in fact have MS. She was terrified when she got the news, in part because she knew so little about the disease. However, she was also relieved because she finally knew what was behind the strange symptoms she’d been experiencing. Rather than letting the diagnosis derail her entire life, Zastawny continues to have an illustrious career in the financial industry. Her career enabled her to be a philanthropist in her private life, volunteering her time with Junior Achievement, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and Springfield School and donating to various nonprofit organizations helping in the fight against multiple sclerosis. She shares her insight into how best to cope with an MS diagnosis.


Educate Yourself About MS


Most people know little about multiple sclerosis when they are first diagnosed. This makes the diagnosis seem even scarier. Countering fear with facts is the best way to go. Both because it’s useful information to have, but also because it will help give you peace of mind, Beth Zastawny recommends doing plenty of research into MS shortly after you are diagnosed. Part of this research should include speaking directly to your doctor (there is no substitute for this). However, you may also want to do some research on the internet for more background information.


One of the biggest misconceptions about MS is that you are guaranteed to end up seriously disabled because of the disease. Doing research into MS will help you realize that this isn’t the case, in part due to the new treatment options that have become available in recent years. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has approved several effective medications that can help slow the course of the disease. Most doctors believe that the earlier an MS patient starts treatment, the longer they will be able to fight off disability.


Select the Right Health Care Provider


After doing your research, ensure to select the right health care provider for you. For example, you may not want the doctor that gave you the diagnosis to be your doctor throughout this journey, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you find a health care provider that you feel will help you the most. Whether that’s a family doctor or a brand new doctor, you have to take care of yourself and that starts with selecting a health care provider you’re comfortable with. Speaking of health care providers, Beth Zastawny always recommends getting a second opinion when you first receive the diagnosis. This isn’t to give anyone false hope, it’s just to absolutely confirm the diagnosis as it is one that you’ll be living with for the rest of your life. Zastawny advises getting the second opinion from an established center, preferably an academic health center.


Surround Yourself with a Support Network, Says Beth Zastawny


Building a support network is absolutely critical after receiving an MS diagnosis. However, what those newly diagnosed often fail to realize is that a support network isn’t just your friends and family. Of course, they are important and you will need them more than ever during this tough time. But it’s also a good idea to look outside of your existing social circle for support. Specifically, Beth Zastawny urges all people newly diagnosed with MS to talk to a counselor or therapist. Almost everyone in the world could benefit from therapy, but people dealing with MS will definitely appreciate having a confidential place to talk about what they’re feeling. Setting up an appointment, ideally a recurring one, with a counselor or therapist is especially important for people who suffer from mental health issues, like anxiety or depression, or for those who don’t have significant support at home.


Further, consider looking into support groups specifically for people with MS. It’s ideal if you can find a support group made up of members who are at a similar stage in the disease process as you. Health care providers and even the National Society for MS typically run support groups. If there aren’t any in the area or you’re uncomfortable going in person, then there are also many online support groups available on the internet.


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