Monday, August 1, 2016

Getting a Grip on Multiple Sclerosis

So another year is more than halfway gone and I am beginning to finally get a grip on this thing called “Multiple Sclerosis.” It is a disease that takes up much of my brain space, figuratively speaking. Since there are various forms of the disease it can make people a bit uncomfortable. No doubt, a person of faith will always have those around them who will say, “Just trust God” or the classic, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Yes…yes he will and though I could reinvent the wheel, I will share this link with you regarding that thought: click here

With that said, this disease does cause me to worry and it is hard not to let my mind wander at times. Thankfully, I have some answers regarding my diagnosis. After one of my least favorite lab tests (spinal tap) and seeing the results, I have the most common form of Multiple Sclerosis which is “Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis” (RRMS) According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the definition of RRMS is that it is “The most common disease course – [and] is characterized by clearly defined attacks of new or increasing neurologic symptoms. These attacks – also called relapses or exacerbations – are followed by periods of partial or complete recovery (remissions). During remissions, all symptoms may disappear, or some symptoms may continue and become permanent. However, there is no apparent progression of the disease during the periods of remission. At different points in time, RRMS can be further characterized as either active (with relapses and/or evidence of new MRI activity) or not active, as well as worsening (a confirmed increase in disability over a specified period of time following a relapse) or not worsening.”

So, there’s the update. On August 9th I go in for one more dye-injected MRI to see if any new lesions have formed. Of course I am staying positive and full of hope and faith but there comes a peace with knowing what you are dealing with so you know how to proceed. As always I appreciate your prayers. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Even if....

A friend recently quoted someone they know who said, “Don’t follow a leader who doesn’t walk with a limp.” This resonated with me for so many reasons, but I will spare you the spiritual side of it (perhaps that is an entry for my other blog page). 

I am thinking about this quote as I write this blog on the eve of a big life event. I realize that the people reading this blog have many different belief systems, but what I can tell you is that I am a leader (a Pastor) who walks with a limp. The limp can be attributed to my past experiences as a pastor as well as what I am fighting now: multiple sclerosis (MS). 

There is a story I take great joy in and believe in deeply found in the Old Testament. Three boys named Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego were being punished for their beliefs. In Daniel 3:18 they were facing death and yet they responded to the situation by saying these words to the king: “But even if…” Regardless of what was going on around them or what they were being threatened by, they would not back down. 

Tomorrow morning I face the next step in navigating life with MS. I will be having a lumbar puncture done. There is no way of sugar-coating this: I will not enjoy this procedure. I had one done 20+ years ago and dread the thought of having another. This, however, will give my neurologist direction on which course of action is needed as I move forward with my life. Of course my faith is strong and my ultimate prayer is that I be healed, “But even if…” I am not going to give up and I will remain a person of faith and hope. 

Onward and upward!

Monday, November 23, 2015

If You Are Going Through Hell...

Winston Churchill once said, "If you are going through hell, keep going." I sometimes think this means, if you are going through trouble...keep going. I found this to be true as I went through my most recent multiple sclerosis flare up. To be honest, this one had me quite concerned. Even now, while I’m putting this blog together, my left eye is jittering as my body continues to settle down.

When the flare up began a couple weeks ago I wanted to just start over again. Somehow thinking that I could take a nap and wake up renewed without any jitters or worries anymore. This was not the case. This incident reminded of Winston Churchill’s words. We don't always get to choose whether or not to go through something; so when we are faced with a problem we cannot avoid, all we can do is keep on going, knowing our own perseverance, tenacity, and God's help will get us through whatever may come our way. 

I’ll be honest - I don't fully understand all of the details about multiple sclerosis. When I have a flare up I often find myself wondering if this will become a way of life or if the symptoms will subside. All of the muscle twitches, vision problems, etc. really can drain a person mentally, emotionally, and physically. The day after that experience, I felt as if I had run a 5k (3.107 miles). I was exhausted! So, it makes me, someone new to this auto-immune disease, a bit frightful each time these symptoms flare up. Nonetheless, while I realize rest is needed, perseverance is very important as well. “If you are going through hell, keep going.” 

The evening after the flare up I decided to go ahead and finish building my son's bed as we
continue to prepare for our newest arrival, Noah, in March of 2016. As you can see from the picture, I decided to make my son James his own loft-style bed. Soon he will have his desk under it. It is a great way to consolidate space while making him very happy. This weekend I will begin making the same thing for my daughter. Making a bed like this engages your body and mind since you both have to construct it and the creation of the bed involves measurements, cutting, pocket screws, and more. 

Last night I got a call from a friend who I often go mountain biking with. He asked if I wanted to go for a night ride on the medium challenge single track with him. This too involves physical and mental strength due to the terrain of the trails and the fact that you only have a headlamp to light your way. The thing about single track riding is that it is 50% physical and 50% mental. The trails are about 3.6 miles long and there are sections that you must go through at a fairly good pace that are only a bit wider than your handlebars. Last night we encountered a lot of loose sand on one of the fast turns which resulted in a wipeout by one of the riders. It truly is an engaging time that keeps a person sharp! Times of riding the trails usually result in being sore the next day, but it is well worth the workout.

I have learned through all of these things that one must keep going. Despite the flare up and the worry over how these symptoms could impact my life, I haven’t given up. I’ve kept on living and doing the things I love. That is my encouragement to anyone reading this who has been knocked down by this ugly disease. Keep going...engage your mind...engage your body. You will be so glad you did. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Have I Admitted Defeat?

I recently found myself at a restaurant enjoying a good meal and great conversation with a group of friends after we finished a long mountain bike ride. The group? The men's ministry from the church I pastor. The topic? Whatever we felt like talking about. One of my friends, and I truly mean friend, threw a very interesting thought at me. Now, let start by saying I have nothing but respect for someone who is willing to challenge me theologically. As I tell you this story, I want you to know that I have no ill feelings toward this man. These are the conversations we ought to have more often! I did not want to dive too deeply into the Christianity realm on this new blog but please bear with me for this one. It will help clarify my point of view as we move forward in future posts.

This conversation was centered on the topic of this blog and the whole #staystrongbob thing. As a pastor, I am often asked to pray for people. Growing up in the Pentecostal movement, it was not unusual to see people praying for each other and to see miracles happen. However, my friend brought up the idea that this blog is an admittance on my part that I am accepting my affliction of MS and not believing for a miracle. Perhaps I have come to grips with it and do not believe a healing can happen. Do I believe in the power of prayer? Absolutely. Do I believe in miracles? Let me explain. 

Having been around for 41 years I have seen my fair share of the supernatural (don't get scared off if you have only come to this blog site to read about health tips). There are multiple occasions in the New Testament of the Bible where Jesus healed people. I wholeheartedly believe in healings for today. I recall many examples of healings, but a few really stand out in my mind. It was 2014 when I was standing in the ICU room saying our final goodbye to a dear friend who was considered brain dead at Appleton Medical Center when God miraculously brought her back to life while were in the room. It was so obvious to the doctors that she would not make it that medical staff from another hospital were on their way to harvest her organs because she was a donor. A few weeks after that miracle occurred, one of our friends from South Africa contacted me because she was going in for her lymphoma diagnosis. We Skyped her from our church service that Sunday and prayed for her. She was healed and it was confirmed by her doctors. Just this year wife, Tracy, and I found out we will be having our first biological child. After 13 years of marriage and being told it could not happen, we are going to be meeting our new baby boy in March of 2016. And we are ever so thankful for the two children we already have through adoption. The list of miracles goes on and on. This is something I believe in. 

With that said, I was also raised with another understanding. The understanding that we do the natural and God adds the super to it. But it was the english political theorist Algernon Sidney who coined the phrase later to be used by Benjamin Franklin, “God helps those who help themselves.” In the natural I am thankful for skilled doctors, nurses, neurologists, etc. I am thankful for fitness friends who have all told me to stay strong. This is solid advice for people in general and especially true for those diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. 

So, there you have it. Do I believe God can do a miracle and heal me? Absolutely. No one knows when that time will be so until then I shall do my part and be a good steward of what he has given me - and that is my health. I am so thankful for conversations like this. Only a true friend will ask the hard questions in order to get you thinking. Until my miracle comes - I will stay strong. 

Here is the mountain bike ride that I was referring to at the beginning of this blog. Great way to #staystrongbob

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Single Track

It was DARK out on the trail!
After being diagnosed with MS, I knew that I had to put more effort into staying in shape and getting stronger. With that in mind, I decided to dive into one of my recreational passions a bit deeper. I have always enjoyed biking but just not to the point of going on long road trips. In 2012 I purchased a hybrid bike which is a cross between a mountain bike and road bike. I generally would ride for about 10 miles at a time. Little did I know I was laying the groundwork for what I am doing now to stay strong.

I am blessed to live in beautiful Waupaca County where there is a great State Park and many other local parks and lakes to enjoy. An activity that caught my attention is called “single track riding.” After doing a bit of research, I found out that the term refers to trails that mountain bike riders use. At Hartman’s Creek, the local State Park, there are tracks with three levels of difficulty. I knew I couldn’t take my hybrid bike out onto these trails due to the rocks, roots, loose sand, etc., so my wheels began spinning on how I could get my hands on a mountain bike. 

No...this is not Brad's me.
The city I live in has some great shops along Main Street and one of them is owned by my friend, Tim Lencki. His shop, Adventure Outfitters, was having a close-out sale on mountain bikes and I was able to get one thanks to some gift cards I had been holding on to. That very next morning I went out on the easy trail with Tim and Aaron Allie. It was such a good time that I decided to head out again the next day over lunch. I was undaunted after almost wiping out a few times and nearly taking a face-plant. I’ve even ventured out onto the “medium difficulty” trail. To say I’m tired and a bit beat up would be an understatement, but I love it! I have quickly realized I have found my new fitness addiction.

Tonight was another fun variation of riding. My good friend  Ben and I went out on the easy trail, which is 3.2 miles long. What made this a unique and fun ride is that our paths were only lit by the headlamps we were wearing. This led to a couple of near wipeouts and one banged up ankle, but it was a blast nonetheless. I have discovered in my Christian walk that God will help us but we must be willing to help ourselves as well. If staying strong is what I need to do, I will continue to find exciting and fun ways to do it. This is about living the life I’ve been given, and living it to the full!

Friday, October 2, 2015

5 lesions discovered in March 2015.
Why a blog with such a funny name? Seems a bit narcissistic to name a blog after myself doesn't it? Perhaps...but I have a good reason. 

In March of this year, I got an intense headache out of nowhere when I was out to dinner with my family. I experienced pain like I had never felt before and even lost my peripheral vision. I have had plenty of sinus headaches in the past, but never one like this. My wife is a registered nurse and suggest that I go into to the doctor to find out what was going on. I was quickly referred to a neurologist and my first MRI scan was ordered. Needless to say, I was beginning to freak out a bit.

The day arrived for my MRI and the procedure went flawlessly. I was comforted by the fact that I was in St. Elizabeth Hospital, where my wife works. Knowing I was in good hands put my mind at ease. After the procedure we scheduled the follow-up appointment for six weeks later. You can imagine my surprise when the neurologist’s office called less than two hours later notifying me of some “abnormalities” and that the doctor wanted to see me as soon as possible.

Fast forward a few days to my follow-up appointment. My neurologist told me that the MRI revealed five lesions on my brain. Due to my symptoms, he had no doubt I had Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Thankfully he was confident that it was a non-progressive form of MS, meaning that I will not be in a wheelchair anytime soon. 

Aaron Allie, a personal trainer and friend of mine, immediately advised me to keep my legs strong. I have never been one to sit around and do nothing, but I have certainly not been a fitness guru. Add to that the fact that I love ice cream and soda (more on that in another blog) and I knew I had a challenge ahead of me. Aaron also told a friend of mine, “There are two ways to do a push up. Lose weight or gain muscle.” Back in 2012 I dropped 40 pounds and returned to my high school graduation weight (not bad for a 39 year old!). Since then I had put on about 20 pounds; after receiving this diagnosis I have lost 10 pounds of that. Staying fit is now a daily goal of mine. 

So why “Stay Strong Bob”? I have my neighbor to thank for this. While heading out on my bike to pick up a sandwich from the local restaurant my neighbor yelled, "STAY STRONG BOB!" Upon returning from the restaurant I asked what he meant by that. He said he knew about my diagnosis and that he knew I needed to stay strong. He simply wanted to give me his support and that meant a lot to me. His encouragement is what gave me the idea for this blog title. 

So, I am asking for your help. I would never claim to be a fitness expert, but I recognize the need to stay in shape now more than ever. This summer I have taken up kayaking, mountain biking, and even tried TRX. If you are posting something fun or interesting that you’re doing to stay physically fit on Twitter or Facebook, would you consider adding #staystrongbob? I will be looking at these often to see what new activities I can try in order to stay strong and fit. I would even consider an invite to try it with you! Physical fitness has now become a way of life for me, but I am not into the traditional things like jogging. I want to make it fun and will rely on you, my readers, to give me inspiration and to keep me encouraged. Thank you for joining me in this fight. I’m looking forward to seeing your ideas and finding out where this journey will lead me!