Winning the race against multiple sclerosis
Denise Cavaleri knows a thing or two about stamina. She’s been passionate about marathon running since she completed her first marathon in 1999. Today, she still runs long-distance races, but now has added wife, mother of two, and full-time controller to her daily responsibilities. Even more impressive – she’s doing it all while living with multiple sclerosis (MS).
“MS is a life-altering disease, but I’m not letting it change my life,” Cavaleri, 37, says.
Cavaleri was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS at age 29. At the time, she displayed the classic signs of multiple sclerosis: numbness in the extremities, double vision, and fatigue. Although daily medication helped put the disease into remission, with her type of MS, symptoms can return if the disease progresses.
Cavaleri’s best chance at keeping the disease in remission was to stick to a treatment plan that lets her live life according to her rules. Kaiser Permanente Colorado neurologist Lynsee Hudson, MD, is helping her achieve that goal. “Our plan has always been to monitor my health and keep the disease in remission,” Cavaleri says. “But I also needed Dr. Hudson’s support in planning for a second child knowing the types of challenges I might face with MS.”
Reassurance from the experts
With Cavaleri’s MS in check, she and Dr. Hudson mapped out a plan for her second pregnancy. “We did a lot of planning around my pregnancy including decisions on conception, the pregnancy, and nursing, all while keeping my health in mind,” Cavaleri recalls.
Kaiser Permanente’s electronic medical records system kept Cavaleri and her care providers connected on medications, test results, appointments, and any complications. Under close monitoring, Cavaleri had a healthy pregnancy and was able to forego medication so she could breastfeed her baby girl without relapsing.
“All of my records were in the system for all of the specialists to see, and if I needed to contact Dr. Hudson with questions, all I had to do was e-mail her to get a direct response,” she says.
MS is a chronic autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system. If left unmanaged, it can cause problems with muscle control and strength, vision, balance, feeling, and thinking. Although there is currently no cure, the right treatment plan can help people like Cavaleri maintain their quality of life.
Today, Cavaleri manages her MS using one part investigation and two parts action. Cavaleri undergoes annual MRIs to detect progression of the disease. “We use the MRI to see if I have any new damage from the disease that hasn’t produced any noticeable symptoms,” Cavaleri says. She also takes a daily injectable drug, sticks to a healthy diet and exercise plan, and rests when necessary.
“It’s been very important for me to self-manage the disease, but also have Dr. Hudson available when I need her,” she says. “She’s making sure we monitor and treat the condition to prevent my MS from progressing.”
Winning the race
Although optimistic, Cavaleri is also a realist about her condition. “Eventually, I may have some permanent damage from my MS, but I’m hopeful that it’s not going to prevent me from doing the things I want to do,” she says.
She doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. “I’m training for some triathlons next year,” she says. “I’ve got to take the right precautions, but I’m not going to let MS be an excuse not to live my life.”
Learn more about the disease-modifying therapies for MS at kp.org.