“In MS, your immune system attacks the myelin sheath that protects your central nervous system, so that messages from the brain may not reach their destination or they may be garbled. Since gaps in the myelin sheath occur in different places for different people, the disease almost never manifests itself the same way. That’s one of the frustrating things about it: nobody can tell you what will happen or give you any kind of a timeline.
“When I was first diagnosed, I spent an inordinate amount of time feeling sorry for myself. I could have stayed in a fetal position indefinitely, and the world would have continued merrily on without noticing. I finally realized that I had a choice to make. I decided that I wanted to get back into the game. Staying in self-pity is understandable, but it won’t help you or the people around you. It’s not a place you’d want to live.
“I’m a poet, so one of the ways I deal with having MS is through poetry. I resisted writing about it at first; I didn’t want to be known as ‘the poet with MS.’ Not long after my diagnosis, however, a former professor suggested that not writing about it was a form of denial. So I decided that I needed a foil, someone to whom I could address the poems regarding MS, preferably someone who had been there. Doing this would allow me a modicum of distance. When I’d first been diagnosed and was searching for information, I had run across an encyclopedia in the medical reference section of the library. In the volume that contained the entries for ‘M’ and under the topic ‘MS’, there was a picture of a familiar-looking woman with a cello. The caption read, ‘Jacqueline du Pré, famed cellist, has found a new career as a teacher, passing on her knowledge to a new generation.’ I know the editors of this encyclopedia intended for this caption to be hopeful, but at the time I was reading it, Ms. du Pré had been dead for seven years.
“After the conversation with my former professor that day, I thought back to the moment in the library when I had seen that photograph and caption. That's when I realized that Jacqueline du Pré was the foil I had been looking for. I began to write a series of poems that is ongoing, just as dealing with the illness and the changes it has caused in my life is ongoing."