Author and cook Ronda Giangreco woke up one morning with numbness on the left side of her body. When the sensation didn't go away, she and her husband, Michael, went to the emergency room. A few weeks and multiple doctor visits later, Ronda learned she had multiple sclerosis (MS).
MS is a chronic disease for which there is no cure and over time will lead to some level of disability in most people. It is often diagnosed in the prime of life (20s-40s) when people may be building their careers or planning to have a family. Living with MS can mean living with a mix of physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms that vary from person to person and can change over time.
For many couples, MS can take a toll on their relationship. The MS MindSet Survey of 800 people with MS and their families and loved ones found that the unpredictable nature of the disease often caused them to miss daily activities, avoid making long-term plans and limit social commitments. Additionally, 55 percent of loved ones said this unpredictability had an impact on their relationship, and one-third said they were not prepared for how much work caring for someone with MS can be.
Ronda and Michael, who married in 2000, call MS a "blurse" — a combination blessing and curse. Part of the blessing for the couple has been the lessons they learned together that have strengthened their marriage. MS has taught Ronda and Michael to live for today, while staying flexible as the disease can often have unpredictable symptoms.
"I focus on being Ronda's safety net and paying attention to how she's feeling, keeping in mind any factors that may worsen her symptoms, such as heat, stress or fatigue," explained Michael. "We've made some bigger changes, including moving to a one-story house, as well as smaller daily adjustments, like ordering in dinner and keeping a cane in the car in case of any mobility trouble."
"This disease can affect your partner almost as much as it affects you, so we try to always be a team and take care of one another," Ronda added.
They have seen that honesty and clear communication, and asking for help when they need it, are the secrets to keeping their relationship strong.
"We've heard many people with MS and their loved ones say they feel like they are in it alone and don't know where to turn for help," said Ronda. "But the good news is that resources are available. One place we recommend is GatherMS.com, an online platform brought to the MS community by Genentech, that collects existing resources and services to help people affected by MS navigate the everyday unpredictability of the disease."
Ultimately, MS has taught Ronda and Michael that they can overcome anything together — and have fun doing so.
"When you go through something as difficult as a chronic disease diagnosis, the truth is you learn what you and your partner are made of. I feel lucky to know I'm with someone who really took the words ‘in sickness and in health' to heart," said Ronda. "I could not have asked for a better partner for this journey."