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Nell's Corner: My Mom, M.S., and Paleo

By Nell Stephenson, B.S.
December 6, 2016
Nell's Corner: My Mom, M.S., and Paleo image

During the holidays, I tend to get a bit nostalgic. OK, a lot nostalgic! We decorate our tree the day after Thanksgiving, I distribute my favorite winter forest candles throughout the house, and I have Pandora piping up as much Christmas Music as possible.

And I think a lot about my mom.

While we certainly didn’t have grand Christmases while I was growing up, the spirit of the holiday was omnipresent.


Being kind to others and helping those less fortunate.

Receiving gifts played a small role as it would for any child, but far more important was simply feeling the magic of Christmas, the idea of Santa, his sleigh and of course peace on earth.

All these things I learned from my mom.

The same person who instilled upon me - from a very young age - the importance of growing food in a garden, not eating packaged food, and not even allowing sugar in the house. (The first time I learned about sugar was at a friend’s house when I was four. She had a bubble-gum flavored lip balm and when I put it on, having never tasted anything that sweet before, I proceeded to eat the whole tube!).

The same person who, at age 21, while running along the beach, noticed a small spot in the field of vision in one eye but thought nothing of it after it went away less than a day later.

I was born when my mom was 27. Shortly after that, she experienced a two-week period of lethargy. She couldn’t get out of bed and had extreme fatigue which was unheard of for someone as active as she was.

At the time, we lived in a rural area far upstate in New York (following a long-time dream of my dad’s who grew up in Scarsdale…) The closest thing to a specialist was the family doctor, who, to my knowledge, didn’t have much to bring to the table in terms of what might be going on with her health.

Some tests were run, nothing was concluded, and when she began feeling back to normal, it seemed the issue was forgotten or at least put on hold.

For the next decade and a half she worked as a school teacher during the day (she founded her own school and ran it,) taught natural childbirth classes and Lamaze at night, did aerobics every morning (I’d later inherit all her Jane Fonda tapes which I did religiously until I was old enough to get my license and drive to the gym!) And she brought my younger brother into the world when I was five.

Things were consistent, predictable, stable, safe.

For years.

I have a vague recollection of her having a slight bit of difficultly walking years later but it was so subtle, I thought nothing of it. I was too busy, at age 15, being boy crazy, working out, and talking on the phone.

Right around Christmas, that same year my parents told my brother and me that my mom had been diagnosed with relapse / remit Multiple Sclerosis.

Selfishly, my first question out of the gate, was whether I would get it.

I didn’t even know what it was.

I don’t think they did either.

Her first course of treatment was a five-day-in-a-row treatment in which a nurse came to administer an IV drip of Solu-Medrol (Methylprednisolone ).


She was back to normal within a week and we all thought there must have been a mistake in her diagnosis.

She was fine.

For a year!

And then it happened again.

As if with the snap of a finger, she suddenly had trouble walking.

I recall one occasion where we were out in the car (I didn’t have my license yet) and she pulled up to get gas.

I noticed with horror that a few other people nearby in their cars were looking and chatting quietly.

One man came over and told my mom he didn’t feel she was being responsible by driving her daughter around when she’d clearly been drinking (her gait had become a bit awkward and she later told me it was as if her leg wouldn’t do what she wanted it to.)

She told me to take the keys and drive us both home.

Over the next few years, she was given various recommendations in terms of treatment.

There was the ABC protocol (AVONEX, BETASERON, COPAXONE.) Then Interferon came along. But for all the drugs, the neurologists cautioned candidly that there was not actually any proof that these meds would work. In fact, they could exacerbate symptoms and maybe even be carcinogenic.

She tried bee sting therapy and magnet therapy.

Aqua therapy became more practical when her balance worsened and her walker came into the picture at right about the same time.

By then, I had left for college and was well into my degree (I chose exercise physiology / nutrition at USC).

This was when I was in the throes of my own low point in health. While not comparable to what my mom was experiencing, it would ironically have been greatly alleviated had I known then what I know now in terms of how far too many of the foods in the Standard American Special contribute to leaky gut, inflammation and of course, AI conditions.

By the time I learned about Paleo and began to heal my own leaky gut issues, a good 16 years had passed since my mom’s diagnosis and she was in a wheel chair.

She’d had to stop working, driving, and her cognition had been affected greatly.

All this time, my dad remained by her side, opting until only the last few years to be her sole care giver.

There’s no way to put this delicately - and I felt so much angst for such a long time about this - but with all things said and done, what she was eating, her mindful approach which was much like mine is today, slid so far down the totem pole of priorities that my dad and I had many a heated argument about it.

The more I learned about how Paleo could alleviate and possibly even eliminate symptoms of MS, the more I felt compelled to do all I could to get my mom and dad on a completely Paleo regime.

But they just wouldn’t.

It was too hard, too time consuming and after small snippets of a week or so testing and trying it without seeing any changes (it takes much longer to see change to a neurological condition through diet versus a skin condition,) it was dismissed.

Endless books were suggested, recipes shared, and conversations had, but to no avail.

Partly due to time passing, my own personal growth, and accepting that even with your own family (maybe even mostly with your own family) you cannot force changes to someone’s diet unless they want to make changes, the story of how her diet could have changed where she is now is one which we might never know.

Overcoming Multiple sclerosis Through Diet
By The Paleo Diet® Team

She’s never complained once.

In fact, quite the opposite as the one thing she’s said more than anything else is “I’m not in pain. I could have a disease which would leave me in pain, but I don’t feel this way”.

In letting go, there is peace.

I would love to help if it were asked for but if it’s not wanted, I’ve come to feel okay about that as well.

She and I don’t see eye to eye on eating and we didn’t see eye to eye on more things than we did while I was growing up, but at this time of year in particular, I think back to all she taught me.

She taught me strong values about food, about giving unto others, and having an incredibly positive outlook.

Whether she’d be walking or even running around rather than in a wheelchair now, and still working as a teacher if we’d only known the huge impact food can have on health back when she had her first symptom in 1967, we will never know.

But her spirit, despite all of this, carries on and I realize now that this is a huge piece of why the magic of Christmas holds such a place in my heart.

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