Me: You were diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in June of 2015. How did you find out and what has it been like to live with MS?
Chrichelle Fernandez: My husband, KJ, was gone on a TDY and during most of that time I had been experiencing severe pain in my right ear, down to the back of my neck. After a week, the pain subsided, but turned into numbness from my right ear that extended down my right arm. After two trips to the emergency room, a CT scan, several tests and finally an MRI – a neurologist confirmed the diagnosis.
KJ was on speakerphone when we got the news. I was crying so hard because I was in shock. The doctor was talking more to KJ than me because he knew I couldn’t process it all while I was crying. I was in shock for about 6 months. It took me about that long to even have a conversation with our 12 year old son, Daniel, to let him know. Our 5 year old son, Tyler, just knows mommy is sick.
In the very beginning, it was so overwhelming emotionally. I just couldn’t comprehend it. Nobody has MS in my family. I’d ask, ‘Why is this happening to me? Is it going to get worse? How much worse?’ I just kept thinking of the kids…I was just more worried about the kids. KJ helped take care of his grandmother who had progressive MS and she was bedridden the rest of her life. I know that was another sign that God placed KJ in my life – because God knew that KJ would know how to help take care of me.
I have the relapse-remitting type that the doctors believe may have started back in 2005 with an initial case of optic neuritis in my right eye. I have to take self-injections three times per week, on top of other medication, and tons of vitamins. I haven’t had any major flare-ups since then, aside from a tingly feeling on my neck and in my hands once in a while, but the heat and stress will deplete my energy level some days and I’ll need to lay down for a little bit. So right now, the summer heat hasn’t been very nice to me!
I’d say the biggest challenge as a mom with MS is keeping things as normal as possible for the kids. I try to make sure I’m active in their school lives, we attend church regularly, spend time with friends and do fun things together as a family. I try to establish routines and keep them busy. I may have to pull double-duty since KJ is gone often, but it’s important to me to do my best to make sure the kids have a healthy and memorable childhood. I don’t ever want them to think we can’t do things because of our work schedules or that I have MS.
I’m thankful I had such loving parents who always made sure my brothers and I got to experience fun things. We traveled throughout Europe when my dad was stationed in Germany for eight years with the Army. So I’ve always made it a point to do active things with the kids, such as go to museums, zoos, kid-friendly shows and concerts, water parks, play sports, spend time with friends, etc. They should be able to enjoy their childhood. I plan out weekends with different activities, but make sure to add in some lazy days to just relax at home.
I’m a very active person. I just don’t use the ‘Oh, I have MS, I can’t do that.’ I work full-time at American Fidelity in the marketing department. It’s a very family oriented place. It helps to know that my team is aware of my diagnosis. My VP said, ‘We know that once you feel better you’ll be back to giving 110% like usual. For now, I’d like you to focus on giving maybe an average of 75%.’ I’m fortunate that my position allows me to work from home twice a week if I ever need to, in case I’m not feeling 100% or like I’m able to leave the house. I also hula dance with a local Hawaiian dance group and we perform every now and then at different events. I try to do my best to go forward without pushing myself too much because I’ll end up in bed the rest of the day or the next day.
Doing research on MS helped to give me a sense of hope. I got involved in a MS support group and I’ve met some awesome people there. KJ and I also recently signed up for a new gym together and that has helped get my energy levels up. I know there are worse medical conditions out there. I prepare myself for what I need to get through the day, the things I can do to make sure I don’t keep spiraling downhill. I just try to live normally because you can’t stop living life because of the fears. I’m not going to just let MS take over my life. I’m going to keep living my life even with MS!