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Cruising the Caribbean

By Cherie C Binns
A year after MS Focus: the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation held its inaugural Cruise for a Cause, my husband David and I went on our first trip with them. For me it was a life-changing event. I had been a nurse for 30 years and, as a Homecare Case Manager, had cared for many people who were homebound because of the progression of their MS. That said, I learned more about MS and how to manage it on that cruise than I had learned in my professional training or my nine years since my own diagnosis on that trip. Motivation, education, and empowerment is the goal of each of these events and over the years I have continued to build upon that firm foundation that was laid for me then. 

Although we have not gone each year, I can honestly say that I have learned something new every time I have gone. That first year I was motivated to open a dialogue with my neurologist about changing my medication and my quality of life began to improve within a matter of only a few months. The next cruise focused on lifestyle changes and it empowered me to begin seriously looking at what I was putting into my body and how I was moving and I started eating differently and moving more deliberately. Another cruise focused solely on complementary and alternative therapies and educated us on what had been shown to be beneficial and what herbal and over the counter supplements to avoid with MS. 

A different one focused primarily on exercise and how to modify our programs to our current abilities so we might relieve pain and fatigue through movement developed specifically for the individual with multiple sclerosis. Yet another started every day with yoga to loosen us up, wake us up and get us ready for a day of new information, or fun in port or on the ship. We have done cruises that taught the basics of the way MS is different in each of us, how it is diagnosed and how it is treated. We have been fortunate to have had some of the leading experts in treatment of MS itself as well as marriage and family counselors, physical and occupational therapists, personal trainers, and more as faculty. Some cruises have had celebrities with MS as featured speakers.
PicsArt_04-18-01-40-w-caption.jpgThis year, with Dr. Ben Thrower, Emily Cade, Anna Berry, Ian Flannery and Colby Doepel from the Shepherd Center in Atlanta and myself as faculty, we had easy to understand anatomy and physiology lessons. We learned why we have some of the symptoms that affect our lives. Focus was placed on lifestyle and its effect on wellness while living with a chronic illness. Realistic goal setting and access to resources were also discussed. I was delighted to hear Colby tell us that if we are working and things are getting difficult, we should call our neurologist or NP and they will pull us from work before we are terminated so that accommodations can be requested and therapies instituted that might preserve our livelihood. I also found out why I personally tend to “tip over” when I close my eyes. Good stuff to know.

When we do these sessions on board a ship, they are only done during the day on days when we are at sea. These programs never interfere with times we are in port. They also always provide a support group experience for those of us living with MS as well as a separate one for our care partners who travel with us.

That said, MS Focus also has educational programs that run throughout the year around the U.S. and Puerto Rico with in-person high-quality educational dinner events. Although some of the drug companies sponsor these programs, there is absolutely no promotion of any particular drug in any of them but we learn what meds do, how they work, how to manage side effects, and set realistic expectations while taking them. To find out if there is one near you, check out the calendar on www.msfocus.org. If there is not an event in your area, let MS Focus know and they will do their best to get your region into the schedule, if not this year then sometime in the future. Do you have a support group in your area that you find helpful? If not, MS Focus also provides help for you to start one and to run it. Materials are sent to make that easier and there is regular contact so that it is successful. For programs that have been recorded live, you may also take advantage of them on the YouTube channel. Many of the classes that we had on this year’s cruise will be posted there in June of this year.

So please make use of the high-quality education offered in a cruise, a live event in your area, support groups sponsored by MS Focus or webinars and YouTube videos. Motivation, education, and empowerment is more than a slogan.