In 1998 Kristen was 27 years old. She was a triathlete, a mountain biker, a skier and a surgical scrub tech. She was visiting her parents when an emergency trip to the hospital ended with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. For over five years she attempted to cope with the intermittent and debilitating symptoms (exacerbations) of this disease — then she got pregnant. With a new baby on the way Kristen was determined her MS would no longer be a part of her life. She has now been cured of MS for 8 years.
Here is a bit of her story.
When you have the whole world telling you there is no cure for Multiple Sclerosis what made you think you could cure it?
I don’t know if I thought I could cure it. I thought, ‘This is a big intrusion on my life and I am not willing to have it.’
When you had Multiple Sclerosis what were some of the most severe exacerbations?
My worst outcome of an exacerbation was losing sight in my left eye. There were two other times I was unable to walk. There was another exacerbation where I was completely paralyzed on the left side. It is hard to pick which was the worst.
What does Multiple Sclerosis do to your body?
Think of your nerves as an electrical cable. If you dropped acid on that cable, it will burn a hole in it. This is what MS does to your nerves. Then it covers those nerves with a plaque so the nerves can no longer fire from point A to point B or they fire intermittently. There are two kinds of Multiple Sclerosis. There is Remitting Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis which is what I had and then there is Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. Remitting Relapsing MS means you go for times without any flare ups, which are also called exacerbations. Progressive MS means you are on a progressive downward spiral to a wheelchair.
How do you know for sure you are cured?
I don’t take any medications for MS. I had eight lesions to start with and have two now that showed up on the last scan about five years ago, but they are smaller. I have been symptom free for 8 years. I don’t even want to say symptom free because my doctor is like, ‘You are fine. Go away.’
How did you react to being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis?
When the doctor told me that I had MS he also told me that I was going to have to be in the hospital for a little bit. I wanted to know when I could go skiing. He told me that he did not think that I understood what he was telling me. I told him that I work in medicine and that I understood. I just wanted to when I could go back skiing. He told me he didn’t know if I could go back skiing and I said, ‘That is not good enough.’
While I was in the hospital room I would do pushups at the end of the bed. They were not happy with me for climbing over the bed rails to do them. I would call Physical Therapy and ask them to bring sandbags so I could do weights. I would do stretches on the window sill. This was not going to define me. It just wasn’t. I was like, ‘Ok I have been dealt this card, but I am not ready to fold just yet.’ All through the years of dealing with Multiple Sclerosis I had friends say, ‘You are such an inspiration.’ I would say, ‘What is the alternative? Give up and sit on the couch the rest of my life.’
What were others reactions when you go from a triathlete to having Multiple Sclerosis?
I really credit my support network [for my healing] because I had these days where I just wanted to lay in bed and cry. And on these days I had friends who are like, ‘You need groceries. Let’s go to the grocery store.’
We would be at the store and I would say, ‘I need that can.’ And they would say, ‘You need to get it yourself.’ Then I would drop it because I did not have the neurological tactile sense to pick things up and people [in the store] would stare at me. I would tell my friends, ‘People are staring at me.’ And they would say, ‘Too bad.’ That was kind of how we went about it. It was like ‘suck it up’ and that is what I did.
I took an off label drug, Naltrexone. Doctors have been using Naltrexone since the 80s with AIDs patients and other autoimmune diseases. A friend of the original doctor I went to used Naltrexone for MS. Every time she went off the Naltrexone she would inevitably have another exacerbation. The difference between her and me is that I did not think the drug would fix everything. I changed my life, so that eventually I could get off of Naltrexone as well.
What other life changes did you make to cure your MS?
I started yoga when I was diagnosed. In the early years of this disease, I always noticed that when I slacked off of my yoga I would get worse or get sick. There are times in my life when I slacked off really badly with my yoga and then my life was in and out of hospitals.
I also did Reiki. I started to learn how to move energy through my body. I learned how to really focus on places in my brain that had plaque. I learned how to pass energy, how to pass good white light energy through my brain to help heal it. People think this is crazy, but it worked for me. That is all I can say.
How did you learn about Naltrexone?
A physician I worked for told me his niece had MS and that I should look into it. I researched it until the ends of the earth. At the time there was very little information about it, but I learned it didn’t have any side effects. The Multiple Sclerosis drugs, Avonex, Betaserone, and Copaxone, I was taking were all chemo based drugs and they would cause me to have convulsions, vomiting and sweats. I would have aches and pains for up to 48 hours after injecting this poison and I wasn’t getting better. I was having exacerbations on a regular basis [while taking the traditional MS drugs].
What are the traditional Multiple Sclerosis drugs supposed to do for you?
When I was taking the Avonex, Betaserone, and Copaxone I was not getting better. I was barely staying at status quo and every week I had to take 24 – 48 hours out of my life because I was so incredibly sick from the drugs.
I’ve read that there are a lot of people that have taken Naltrexone that have done exceptionally well. They have done clinical studies in the last 10 – 12 years. There is research out there proving the effectiveness of it. People poo-poo the research because it was not done in the US or the sample size is not big enough. My first doctor in Colorado poo-poo’d it because he said there was not enough research. Naltrexone is $30 a bottle. The traditional Multiple Sclerosis drugs were $1000 a month, $250 per shot — for poison. I took Naltrexone all through my pregnancy because they deemed it completely safe. There is no money in a cure for Multiple Sclerosis.
What was your diet like before you were diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis?
I was a probably a borderline alcoholic. I partied. I smoked occasionally. I ate whatever was in front of me. I started doing triathlons when I was in my mid-20s. I thought I was exercising two hours a day and it did not matter what I put in my body.
What is your diet now?
I am not perfect, but I am much more conscious of it. My diet is mostly organic. We cut out most red meat. We do not eat processed foods. Early last year I cut out gluten. I do a lot of coconut milk and a lot of soy. Does that mean that at a barbeque I absolutely won’t throw down a burger? No. It is all balance and moderation.
Do you eat dairy?
I do, but I am very conscious of whether it is organic and whether or not it has rBGH.
What about other people who have been treated their Multiple Sclerosis as you have?
I met a woman in Denver who runs an organic granola company and she said that she cut out gluten and started doing yoga and she does not have MS symptoms anymore. You do hear of it.
Were there ever any times you just wanted to give up?
It was all I was known for, ‘I was Kristen with MS.’ ‘Oh, that is Kristen with MS.’ I was no longer Kristen the triathlete, Kristen the mountain biker or someone’s girlfriend or wife. All of the sudden I had no other identity but MS. When I woke up in the morning it was all I could think about and when I went to bed it was all I would think about – I had to break that or I was never going to get better.
There were days when I thought, ‘This is my life. This sucks. What did I do to deserve this? What did I freaking do to deserve this??!’ But then I had to be, ‘Enough with the pity party – move on.’ I know in talking to people with similar illnesses or stories at some point you come to a blockade in the road where you decide this disease is going to define me or this is disease is not going to define me.
It seems like a heroic effort on your behalf – to have the whole world say, ‘You are Kristen with Multiple Sclerosis.’ And for you to say, ‘Screw you.’
I think for awhile I did buy into, ‘I am Kristen. I have MS. My whole life revolves around doctors and drugs and people and their pity faces.’ I think for awhile, for that really bad first five years or so, I did buy into it and then I got pregnant and my focus shifted. It was no longer about me. I had another purpose. My purpose was to be a better person for this child.
What were the major life changes you made after you were pregnant?
You may take for granted your own body, but you are not going to poison your baby. Like I said, I fell off the band wagon with yoga and healthy eating a few times in the first five years or so after I was diagnosed, but now I was pregnant and it was time to get back on that band wagon and stay on it.
How do people react when they learn you cured yourself of MS?
It depends on the audience. With close friends, they are amazed. Then there are other people, the nay-sayers, the ones that are like, ‘Maybe you were misdiagnosed’ or ‘Maybe you have it and you don’t know it.’ There are so many people in the Denver Medical Community that knew me and see me now and always say, ‘I just can’t believe it.’ The response is mixed based on the audience. Some people think Eastern Medicine is silly and they just don’t want to hear it. You are not going to change anyone’s mind.
What is it like working in Western Medicine knowing that Eastern Medicine transformed your life?
I get a lot of flack about it and I get harassed about it a lot. I am building a yoga practice and if I can build it enough I would be happy to exit medicine. I work in surgery so what we do has it place, but I have gotten out of the habit of going to doctors for every little complaint because they are just not open to listening to a lot of what you have to say regarding what you know about your own body, especially if you relate it to Eastern medicine. They want to prescribe a drug and get the next patient in. There is not a lot of listening in Western Medicine anymore.
I just can’t believe there are not more western doctors out there that are like, ‘This is crap.’
I think they are out there, but I think they are hard to find. You can’t poo-poo all of Western Medicine. You just do not see doctors who are trying to find a compromise between Eastern and Western medicine.
This is why I like the neurologist that I ended up with. The name of his practice was, Peace of Mind Neurology. He promoted yoga and he promoted Eastern Medicine. I absolutely adore him because he is one of those people that will say, ‘I don’t think we are doing this right. I do think there are other ways we could be doing this.’
Do you have advice for someone who was recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis?
I would tell them to stay away from the other drugs. I would tell them to not do them at all. Try nutrition. Try Ayurvedic Medicine. Do as much yoga as you can. Try whatever you can before you turn to the other drugs.
How are you different because you have gone through this?
I don’t take my body for granted. I have learned that the human body wants to heal itself, but sometimes you have to respect it and help it to get there. I also have a really low tolerance for whiners. I hate to be like that, but I want people to help themselves. I want people to be their own advocate. I teach this to my daughter. I tell her she cannot let other people determine who she is. I will define who I am going to be.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I could talk for hours about this. I think about people diagnosed with cancer and I just keep thinking, ‘You go to the doctor and they pump you full of more toxins. They destroy any healthy antibody you may have while they are claiming to make this better for you.’ This is what we are taught to believe. That this type of treatment is the only answer. What is going to cure you of cancer and other diseases is watching what you are putting in your mouth.
I do not trust our food system. We are eating toxins. We are rubbing toxins all over our body. We live in toxins. People say there is no cure for cancer, but there is. There are studies. If you eat a vegan diet there is a cure for cancer, but nobody wants to do that. It is against the norm. It is too much work. It doesn’t go along with what you have been told. It doesn’t go with the propaganda we hear. But, it can be done if you take the time and effort to do it yourself.
Kristen teaches private yoga classes and school based kids yoga throughout the Denver Metro Area.