Shelley Peterman Schwarz was diagnosed with primary-progressive MS in August of 1979. “I was 32, with a husband and two preschoolers, and suddenly life as I knew it was gone,” she says. “Every single day for 11-plus years, I lost physical abilities.”
A former teacher of the deaf from Madison, Wis., “I never asked ‘why me?’,” she says. “But now I understand why me. MS gave me a bigger classroom. I help people who are struggling with chronic illnesses to make sense of their illness and put their lives back together.”
After 30 years, she has learned a lot about what can help and has poured that knowledge into her Tips for Making Life Easier series. The seventh in the series includes Home Accessibility: 300 Tips for Making Life Easier, which will received an MS Awareness Award at the Book for a Better Life ceremony in New York City. The book is full of ideas for small and affordable adaptations, room by room.
“As I lost abilities, I had to be creative to continue in my role as wife, mother, friend, daughter and neighbor,” she recalls. “I watched friends with back problems or who were pregnant to see how they managed. If I saw something good for one purpose, I tried it for another. For example, there’s a one-handed fire extinguisher developed for firefighters who need their other hand for an axe. But it can be used by someone who doesn’t have two good hands.”
She is hopeful and “exceedingly grateful,” she says. “Most people wouldn't want to trade places with me. But I have so much I don’t dare complain. Part of that is I married the right guy. He’s wonderful and so is my whole family,” which includes two grown children and five grandchildren. She also stays hopeful by telling her story “in the hope that people will donate to the Society. The Society is my greatest hope for a future free of MS.” She is on the board of trustees of the Wisconsin chapter, a contributor to Momentum magazine, and a participant in MS Learn Online webcasts and Society teleconferences on fatigue, depression, family relationships, raising children and more.
So what’s her best-ever tip? “The secret to being OK with what’s happened,” she says, “is to ask for and accept help. That’s hard for people.” She reminds them how good it feels when they do something for others. “Think of supplying someone else with that good feeling. But,” she stresses, “don’t always ask the same people!”
Shelley adds, “I don’t think of anything as a problem — I just haven’t figured out the solution yet.”