Multiple Sclerosis: Diagnosis and Treatment
An MS Diagnosis Leads to a New Bicycling Hobby
Staying fit, beating MS, and caring for her family motivate Brooke Simon to keep cycling.
By David Lyons
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I am always looking for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) who have found their unique way to beat this disease with some form of activity or fitness discipline. In the case of Brooke Simon, 32, I was excited to hear that she was riding a bike because, as much as I am a gym rat, I admire those who get out in the fresh air and find their sport outdoors. As a child, I loved to ride my bike everywhere and even used it to deliver the newspapers on my paper route in my neighborhood. Riding a bike is such a liberating experience since you can pedal as far and as fast as your body will take you. Simon, a preschool center supervisor in Denham Springs, Louisiana, is pushing her body past her MS to make biking a part of her life and fitness lifestyle.
David Lyons: When were you diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and what were your symptoms?
Brooke Simon:I was diagnosed in May 2019. I gave birth to my youngest in December of 2019. A couple months later I consulted my ob-gyn about some numbness around my midsection. After some tests, he referred me to a neurologist, who made the diagnosis after more tests, MRIs, and a spinal tap. They found lesions all over my brain and spinal cord, which suggested I probably had this for 10 years or so, but the symptoms were just never strong enough to notice. I started a steroid treatment the next week, and a few days later I lost the ability to walk, hold my 6-month-old, and care for my 9-year-old son for almost a month. While in the hospital, the doctors told me my scans were horrific, and they didn't understand how clinically healthy I was. It was quite a roller coaster.
RELATED:When MS Attacks the Spinal Cord
DL: What are your symptoms currently, and have they improved since starting a workout routine?
BS:I have numbness on one side of my face and stiff legs if I sit too long or don’t move around for a while. My feet hurt when I get up every morning. My legs are sore and stiff to move in the mornings, also, and at night, my legs are restless and have spasms. Once I got my legs back in July of 2019, I went to the local gym and did strength and balance training. This spring I learned about the Bike MS 150, benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. I've never cycled as a hobby, but I decided I was going to enter and complete that race. I started training for that in March of this year. I've noticed the more I work out, cycle, and keep moving, the better my symptoms are, as long as I don't overdo it. I have to watch how overheated I get and stay hydrated. It’s very hot and humid here in Louisiana.
RELATED:How to Keep Bicycling With MS
DL: How did you get started on anexercise program?
BS:I decided to start doing something that was inspiring to other MSers. I started at the gym as soon as I could walk well again. I met with a trainer for strength and balance training. The trainer knew firsthand what I was dealing with. His mother has MS, so he knew just how hard to push me without triggering symptoms.
DL: What’s your current exercise routine?
BS:I cycle on a trainer at home during the week and cycle with a group on the weekends. Most of our rides are 40 to 50 miles, and I've been able to complete every ride (minus one when I fell because I couldn't unclip from the pedals).
DL: What was the biggest challenge in your workouts?
BS:Managing not getting overheated, pushing it but not overpushing it.
RELATED:Keeping Your Cool: MS and Heat Intolerance
DL: Were there any times when you wanted to quit or give up?
DL: How did you stay motivated to continue the program?
BS:I just remind myself what I am fighting for, and I will not let it stop me. I am unstoppable! There are tears at times. I don't let anyone tell me I can’t do something. I also remind myself I need to keep moving for my family. If I stop, it will just take over. I want to inspire others through what I do. Show others it is possible.
DL: Have you altered your diet and nutrition regimen?
BS:I have made better choices of food and take supplements. I also take 10,000 units a day of vitamin D.
DL: How has working out changed your life and helped with your MS?
BS:I have become healthier and lost weight in a good way. I have more energy, and I have learned how to listen to my body and know when symptoms come on.
DL: What fitness goals do you have set for the future?
BS:My goal is to complete the Bike MS 150 in October. After that I plan to continue riding and will challenge myself to go even further. I plan to enter more fun and mud runs as well. I may take up trail riding, too.
DL:What do you think of the MS Fitness Challenge message that fitness, nutrition, and mind-set matter when managing MS?
BS:I think it is awesome! The website has great knowledge, and when you have questions, they always give you advice. Being online, it is easy to access because there aren't many gyms, classes, etc. that specialize in MS here in Louisiana.
DL: Do you have any advice for those who want to conquer MS through fitness?
BS:It is the best thing! It is so good for your body, brain, and fighting MS. You can do it. You start with baby steps, and it’s very rewarding when you see what you can accomplish. It helps mentally also. Don't let anyone tell you can’t because we can. MS will not define you!
DL:Brooke, you've inspired me to pull my bike out of the garage, fix the flat tire, and add riding to my exercise regimen. Thanks, Brooke, now I have another thing to add to my already packed schedule!
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