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Timothy L. Vollmer, MD
Department of Neurology
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center Professor

Co-Director of the RMMSC at Anschutz Medical Center

Medical Director-Rocky Mountain MS Center
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Multiple Sclerosis Institute
Center for Neurological Disorders

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Weill Medical College of Cornell University

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New York-Presbyterian Hospital
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Department of Neurology
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
Co-Director of the RMMSC at Anschutz Medical Center
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When MS came, my husband asked to stay

Melinda Zanello

Just three months after Melinda Zanello met her future husband, she was diagnosed with the progressive brain and spinal cord disease Multiple Sclerosis (MS). She had no idea what it might mean, so gave him the option to leave.
I met Matt at a chicken shop where I was buying lunch. But it wasn't our first meeting; I recognised him straight away as a guy I had been to primary school with 27 years earlier. A text from him 90 minutes later developed into a slow but steady courtship, and one that would be tested sooner than either of us realised.

At first I ignored my symptoms. Looking back it seems ridiculous that I waited six weeks before seeing a doctor, but I honestly didn't think it was that big a deal. Given my inclination to get worked up about things, I thought that perhaps these symptoms were more in my mind than reality.

The symptoms were never consistent. First I felt an intense vibration. I would scratch myself on the arm and feel a vibration right throughout my body. I then experienced numbness and weakness in my legs.

Some days I thought I was ok; that is I could walk normally and feel only heaviness and pain in some parts of my legs. On other days I would be crawling on the ground and unable to walk 10 metres.

It wasn't until I was walking down the street one day in 2007 that something changed. I realised I couldn't feel my ankles or my feet and I looked down to see that my right foot had given way all together. I rang my dad and then my GP, who organised an appointment with a leading neurologist the next day.

While I was having tests, neither my GP nor my neurologist mentioned the possibility of MS. Matt was away for work at the time and when I picked him up at the airport, I half jokingly said to him: "Can you imagine if it is MS? My life would be ruined."

I'll never forget his response: "Mel, that is ridiculous. You can live with MS. It's not ideal, I know, but a friend of mine has a friend who is managing her MS well." I also remember exactly what I thought at the time. "Right, that's easy for you to say, you're not the one who can't walk, who is a 34-year-old woman and who wants to have your children!!"

It was three weeks, two MRIs, multiple blood tests and a lumbar puncture after my first neurologist's appointment that I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting MS. Apparently I'd had it since 2005.

Greatest fear

Looking back, my greatest fear at the time was that Matt would leave me and that I would have to go through this alone. I told him: "If you want to go it's ok, I understand. But go now, because I have to get my shit together to MC my sister's wedding next week and I've got a lot to work through."

He told me he was there for Melinda, not MS and he'd like to stay. I said OK.

Easy choices

We got married in September 2009. In August 2010 we had the son – Harrison – I feared I'd be incapable of having.

There were many factors to consider when it came to having a child. The choices I made were as much for my welfare as they were for my son. The decision to have an elective caesarean to reduce trauma during and post childbirth was an easy choice to make, as was the decision to not breastfeed so I could go straight back onto my MS treatment.

Do I miss having never tried breastfeeding? No. Do I feel I lost a closeness and connection to my son by not breastfeeding? No. Do I feel Harry's health has been jeopardised because he wasn't breastfed? No. Did I feel pressure from society about not breastfeeding? Only from the media.

I can honestly say that the birth and the next few months were the most beautiful days of my life, and the happiest.

Harder decision

The decision not to have any more children now that Matt and I are 40 has been a harder one. I always thought I'd have only one child. But six months after Harry (who is now five) was born, the feelings of wanting a sibling for him came on strong and in some ways are still with me now. It's a tough one to weigh up because I feel in my gut that one child is right for our family, given the risks of a severe MS post-natal attack and the added stress and pressure of another child on my mind and body.

As a family we will certainly look into fostering when Harry is older. Do I think Harry will wish he had a sibling? Yes. But the 12 cousins he has within a 10-kilometre radius of our home and our huge network of friends and family will probably mean that these thoughts don't make him sad and lonely.

He also has two healthy parents who adore him and who adore each other. That's got to stand for something.

A source of inspiration

I have been fortunate to have my MS diagnosed and treated early, which has minimised my disease progression and given me a chance at a life without disability. Having MS however has allowed me to deeply understand and empathise with the often invisible and devastating effects of illness on people's lives.

Due to the presence of sometimes invisible symptom like pain, fatigue, numbness and memory loss, some people with MS may appear to be much healthier than they are. Other people might not be aware of how much they are struggling, and therefore, might have unreasonable expectations.

It inspired me to start a global charity called My Invisible Life, an awareness and advocacy platform about invisible illnesses. Here everyday people can tell their story and have it heard by a growing global audience. For more information visit or join us on Facebook at

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by HUFFINGTONPOST
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length 


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