Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How I Deal with My Disease Without Medications

By Mary Ellen Bianco

Kathy McDonald has learned how to live a quality life in spite of  her illness. Photos by Patti Hartog

Kathy’s symptoms began with numbness in her feet that gradually moved up to her knees. “I would walk a 12-minute mile, and I could feel a buzzing in my legs,” she says. After an initial misdiagnosis,

it took six months of research and doctor visits, a spinal tap, and an MRI that showed several brain lesions to confirm that she had multiple sclerosis, which is a chronic, unpredictable disease of the central nervous system.

“My journey through the last 18 years has been trying to figure out what to do to not get worse,” Kathy, now 64, says. “It’s a matter of lifestyle choices versus medication for me.”

Kathy McDonald has an active lifestyle that includes kayaking, snow skiing with her grandchildren, and walking. She and her husband Larry, the parents of three children, live in Greenville, Indiana. The Louisville native is retired from a successful 23-year career in sales.

“My message to anyone being diagnosed with MS is to make educated decisions in your course of treatment by a physician you trust,” Kathy says.

Since the sensory area of Kathy’s brain is affected by MS, her main symptoms have included numbness in her feet, fingertips and lips. She’s also had hearing and vision distortions and vibrations, shortness of breath, swelling of her legs and ankles, increased urination, constipation, and shocking sensations in her legs.

When the brain lesions started to progress, Kathy had intravenous steroid treatments at the hospital to reduce inflammation. She kept a close eye on her symptoms and waited three years before she started taking medicine.

She began with daily injections of Copaxone, but stopped when her muscles started to atrophy. “My neurologist prescribed Avonex (interferon beta 1a), and I had weekly injections from 2002 to 2008,” she says.

In 2010, Kathy had surgery to remove a mass in her colon. Her father had a history of colon cancer, and Kathy was fortunate that the mass wasn’t cancerous. “After anesthesia, my liver enzymes were high,” she says. “I had to rest and take a break from the Avanex.”

Kathy used a book about anti-inflammatory diets: Meals that Heal Inflammation: Embrace Healthy Living and Eliminate Pain, One Meal at a Time by Julie Daniluk  

Three years ago, Kathy saw a local internist who uses a holistic approach to health treatments. Tests showed that she is highly allergic to eggs and also has sensitivities to dairy, gluten and rye. “After consultations with a nurse practitioner and a dietician, I started eating natural, clean foods such as fruit, salads, and vegetables,” Kathy says. “Hopefully it will continue to work, but if I had some really bad symptoms, I would go back on medication.”

Daily vitamin and mineral supplements are included in Kathy’s regimen, as well as exercising, trying to get six to eight hours of sleep each night, and avoiding stress, which exacerbates her symptoms. “I focus on prayer and try to avoid worry, which is a negative,” she says. “I don’t fear — a lot of it is also my mental and spiritual attitude.”

She exercises for one hour a day. 

Fatigue is a challenging symptom for Kathy, who enjoys spending time with her family, including her five grandchildren. She also volunteers at church and in community activities. “I’m very grateful to God that I can help,” Kathy says. “The MS has not progressed to making me debilitated.

“I’ve just chosen not to be a victim,” she continues. “The acronym JOY, which stands for Jesus, Others, Yourself, is much better than temporary happiness and has served me well through life choices. Things can happen in an instant, so I focus on today.”

Kathy does a combination of exercises which include using an exercise video, her stationary bike, lifting weights and walking.


  1. Kathy, thank you so much for sharing your inspirational story with me and the readers! I know that it will help others who are challenged by a health issue.

  2. Kathy - Bless you for sharing your story! I was diagnosed with MS in 2009 & struggled for years with the same problems with the medications you were on also. In 2013, one of my dearest friends of 30 years shared a study with me that a Neurologist did back in WW2 that went into obscurity after the war ended until another Neurologist found it a few years ago. The study the Neurologist did was take 100 MS patients and put 50 on a clean eating diet and the other 50 he kept on their regular diet (with meat, sugars, etc.). He did this for One year. What he found was the 50 who ate the clean eating diet (vegan/vegetarian - no meats, no processed foods, very little to no sugars, etc.) stopped having relapses, had little to no pain, inflammation and NO new symptoms or flares. The other 50 who ate their regular diet continued having relapses, flare-ups of symptoms and pain/inflammation. After a year, he took 25 of the 50 on the clean-eating diet and put them BACK onto a regular diet again. He was shocked to find that not only did their symptoms and relapses return, but returned with a vengeance! There is definitely some correlation between clean eating (and excercise too) that helps not only MS, but other diseases as well as just makes you feel better if you're not suffering from a disease. Our bodies just function better when we put better things in them and take care of them - "You TRULY ARE WHAT YOU EAT!" If you put junky gas in a high-performance will not perform as it was made to function.
    I started eating clean in 2015 after trying to do it for a year in 2014. When I stopped and went back to eating meat & processed foods, I had my first relapse in FOUR YEARS. That proved to me I had to go back & eat clean. I started again in Jan. 2015 & haven't looked back. I have been able to do things for the first time in years that I haven't been able to do & I hope & pray that your story and my words that it does work will help those who are looking for an answer! To those who think it's not easy giving up meats or McDonalds or Twinkies: Think about it this way - which is worth more: One burger or processed junk cake that you will enjoy for 5 minutes & is GONE or having MUCH LESS or EVEN NO PAIN, NO RELAPSES, able to DO things you thought you couldn't do, only just get tired, but a little less tired than you are if you DON'T eat that stuff - and not have to take shots, pills anymore but vitamins & supplements instead?
    Sounds like a no-brainer to me! :-)
    Blessings to all of you - positive light & healing - you can do it - believe in yourself - you are NEVER ALONE!! xoxo


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