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Blog Title: What I Learn About Living From My Chronic Illness by Shelley Peterman Schwarz
Chronic illness changes every aspect of your life. In my blog, I reflect on my 30+ year journey living with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). I share thoughts, insights, and lessons learned that hopefully will help you or someone you know. - Shelley
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By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Sunday, March 20, 2016

I was so naive Wisconsin State Journal Logoand unprepared when I became a parent. I was completely overwhelmed by the 24/7 parenting responsibility. And, I certainly didn’t expect to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) when Jamie was 5 and Andrew was 3. I quickly realized that being a parent with a chronic, progressively disabling condition is a challenge of monumental proportions. So, how did I manage? How did I cope? What do I know now that I wish I’d known then?


Probably the first thing I learned was that there are certain things beyond a parent’s control. One of those things is that kids are born with a certain temperament, a sort of genetic way of being. Some kids are born happy. Some are born fussy. Some love a crowd while others hide in the corner. I didn’t think children had much personality until they were 2 or 3 years old and I thought, as their mother, I’d have more influence on my children’s temperament and personality than I did.


Thinking back to those early years, all I remember is being exhausted all the time. It wasn’t until we got into a daily routine that life became manageable. We ate meals at set times. We all rested at nap time. Bedtime rituals had a starting and ending point. If we didn’t have a schedule, everything fell apart and I was just as whiny and cranky as the kids were, maybe even more so.


I also realized that when you have two kids, one will be good when the other misbehaves. I often wondered if, after I went to bed, my kids got together to plot whose turn it was next to “act out” and drive me “up-the-wall.” Recognizing this pattern helped me manage. (My friends who had more than two children confirmed my findings that there’s always someone who demands extra time and attention.)


Doing chores seemed like it should be a logical extension of living in a family. When the kids did help, I had to learn to accept the level of help they were able to provide. The floor was not always swept as carefully as I would have liked and books were not always put on the shelves neatly. But, the job was done and as the kids got older, their skills and abilities improved.


When the children’s bedrooms became disaster areas, I closed their doors and waited for an opportunity to “encourage” a cleanup. Sometimes it took the start of a favorite TV program to get a necessary chore done. I was not above bribery.


If I was too tired or unprepared to handle a dispute or unacceptable behavior, I’d tell the kids to go to their respective rooms. I explained that I needed time to think over the situation before I could react. It helped me handle stressful times more rationally.


Throughout their growing up, I tried to treat Jamie and Andrew with respect, even when they were showing their less-than-perfect sides. I tried to react like a rational adult. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes I wasn’t. My motivation was the Golden Rule I learned as a child. In other words, treat your kids the way you would want to be treated because, one day your children will be in a position to treat you as they were treated. It’s a sobering thought.

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Sunday, March 23, 2014

Wisconsin State Journal newspaper logoWhen my husband Dave retired last June after working for the State of Wisconsin for 42 years, we looked forward to spending more time together enjoying all that our wonderful community has to offer.  We had no idea how this year’s severe winter weather was going to restrict our lives.  Even as hardy mid-westerners, we found ourselves counting the days until our 2-week Caribbean cruise in February.  For the past 20 winters, we’ve been “cruising the Caribbean” because it’s always warm (78°-85°), the ships are wonderfully accessible, and the staff is so helpful that my husband Dave, (my main helper), can truly get a vacation.


When you have a disability, traveling anywhere always requires more thought and planning, and even then, there are unexpected glitches.  However, that doesn’t  rarely happens on a cruise ship.  From the moment we board the ship, we are greeted by friendly staff who offer us champagne and it sets the perfect tone - prepare to be pampered and taken care of.


For two aging Baby Boomers, one with a severe disability, a cruise is the ultimate vacation. Dave unpacks once and every day the scenery changes.  Our floating city has everything in one place; our hotel, fabulous restaurants, nightly world-class entertainment, live music to satisfy everyone’s taste, first run movies, classes, lectures, games, and demonstrations of all types, (ice sculpturing, napkin folding, chocolate carving, glass blowing, etc.)


The fitness center, Zumba by the pool, the walking track, and the indoor and outdoor pools offer opportunities to get up and move. On the February cruise, I used the pool lift to get into and out of the pool every day.  It was beyond fabulous!  (I was happy I could exercise because I had come on the ship as a passenger and I didn’t want to leave as cargo!) Dave enjoyed the casino and my mom who came with us enjoyed the spa treatments.


I greatly appreciated my large handicapped cabin because I could rest when I wanted to and the accessible bathroom meant I could be independent as well.  On this cruise, the credit-card cabin key automatically opened our cabin door and a wall switch inside the cabin opened the door for me when I wanted to go out.


Automatic doors were everywhere so I could visit the library, play bridge in the game room, tour the ship’s galley, or take a computer lesson without a companion.


Although there were about 3,000 passengers on our ship this year, it never felt crowded.  The cruise lines have perfected “crowd control.” And, no matter which food station I approached, a smiling staff member carried my plate and silverware as well as served my food selections in the quantity I requested. One day I asked my friendly server his name. He responded, “You can call me Honey.”


Next time I’ll share more cruise information about additional amenities specifically for people living with chronic illnesses and age-related limitations.


In the meantime, speaking of cruises, I want to share with you that this year Dave and I are planning our first cruise to Alaska, August 15-22, 2014, aboard the Celebrity Millennium,  and I invite you to join me on this escorted trip offered by Middleton Travel.  Visit Shelley@MakingLifeEasier.com or Middleton Travel, (608-831-4664) for more information.

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wisconsin State Journal newspaper logoIt’s been two months since I was diagnosed with shingles and I continue to heal from the virus and the severe depression it caused.  My physical and emotional pain has faded and I am beginning to bounce back.  In fact, I feel like that inflatable popular 1960s toy "Bozo." Remember that one? It had a weighted bottom so when you knocked it down, it popped right back up. Just call me Bozo! 


Going through this traumatic episode has changed me. The lessons that I learned and the wisdom I’ve gained are invaluable.  So, today I want to share with you what I gleaned from "Shelley's great depression."


  • Take a break from watching or listening to the news.  Today’s news is filled with so much pain and suffering it only reinforced my feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.  In addition, avoid angry, depressing, or negative people and their drama.  


  • Whatever has brought enjoyment to you in the past, try to connect with it again.  Jewelry making, knitting, doing a crossword puzzle, or reading a good book-- do whatever you enjoyed in the past.  For me, it’s writing. When I write, I get lost in what I’m writing.  It’s like a vacation from my reality.  When I’m done, I ALWAYS feel better and am grateful for the respite.


  • Make yourself laugh.  It’s impossible to cry with a smile on your face.  Even when I was in the pits of my depression, I tried to find some humor in the situation.  Like I told my husband, "Well, when my eyes are swollen and puffy from crying, at least my wrinkles disappear!" I also borrowed DVDs and videos from the library or from friends and found that watching “I Love Lucy” reruns and funny movies (Animal House and Weekend at Bernie’s are my favorite), made me laugh.  


  • Realize that you are not alone!  Everyone has “stuff” to deal with; you just don’t know what it is.  I knew this deep down, but it wasn’t until shingles hit me that I truly understood the kinds of “challenges” my family and friends were facing.  People shared information with me that I knew was “privileged,” and I appreciated knowing they had struggles, too.  It validated that “bad things do happen to good people.”


  • Be authentic and honest. Focus on what’s really important – your family, your friends, and your relationships.  I’ve become more discriminating, saying YES to things that fill me up and bring me joy.  Life is too precious and too short to waste time doing things I really don’t enjoy.


  • Be kind and gentle to yourself.  You’ve been through difficult times before.  Trust that you will survive your pain and suffering.  Let people love you, hold you, and help you through this.  You’ve been there for them.  Now let them be there for you.


I look forward to the New Year with renewed strength and energy.  Thank you for sharing in my journey and offering support and encouragement along the way.  I wish you a healthy and happy 2014. 

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wisconsin State Journal newspaper logoIn my last entry, I shared with you that when I was diagnosed with shingles in October, it upset the delicate balance of my life living with a chronic illness (multiple sclerosis – MS.) It sent me into a valley of depression so deep that I was having dark and scary thoughts.  Afraid for my own safety, I checked myself into the psych ward at Meriter Hospital.  


Thankfully, with the help of excellent physicians, medications, and therapy, I am feeling much better.  My depression is beginning to dissipate and I don’t feel like I’m always on the verge of tears.


In the past, when I’ve gone through a difficult time, I would handle it by talking with my husband, mother, and a few close friends.  However, I’d rarely tell our two children.  I know it’s because I still feel guilty for “ruining” the carefree childhood they deserved. They were 5 and 3 when I was diagnosed with MS and even though we tried to keep life as normal as possible, the children worried about me.  When we told them that Mommy had an illness and the doctors didn’t have any medicine to make her better, our darling daughter asked, “Mommy are you going to die?”  As the kids grew, they worried, “Who would help Mom get to the basement if there was a tornado and no one was home to help her?  Who would help Mom in the bathroom if we’re gone all day?”


Today, those “kids” are married and have children of their own. (Our daughter is 39 and our son is 37.) Their lives are so busy working and raising children that I didn’t want to add any extra worry or stress to their lives.  And, I didn’t want them to see me as weak and needy.


I learned that if I didn’t want the kids to keep secrets from me, I better not keep secrets from them. And so I shared my shingles experience with them.   Perhaps the biggest surprise came from our daughter, who, when she heard about my recent struggle, said, “Mom, it’s not natural to be up all the time. I thought you always sounded fake when you acted that way. ” Since the crisis, communication with both of our children has been more open and honest.  


Please know that I continue to feel the prayers of healing and words of encouragement and appreciation from family, friends, and you, the readers of this column.  Those messages gave me strength.


In our 44 years of marriage, Dave and I have faced many challenges together, but the “shingles episode” has been the most difficult. How fortunate I am that Dave was at my side as my advocate and champion.  And, bless his heart, even in the midst of the crisis, Dave remembered the most important thing caregivers must do - take care of themselves!  During my hospital stay, the Badgers had a basketball game.  As a season ticket holder, Dave wanted to go to the game.  Not wanting me to be alone, he scheduled a few close friends to visit me during the time he was gone.  I hope the Badgers appreciate this man as much as I do!


In my next column, I’ll share what I learned during the “great depression.”  Stay tuned!





By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Sunday, December 01, 2013

Wisconsin State Journal newspaper logoSeveral weeks ago I wrote about my wonderful experience at the top of Durango Mountain.  Little did I know that a few weeks later, I would be “sucker punched” with shingles and would experience the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. 


This is the second time I’ve had shingles in 5 years – even though I had the shingles vaccine.  Who knew you could get shingles more than once?  Or, that the shingles vaccine, which I had, doesn't prevent a recurrence?


My second bout with shingles affected me much differently than the first and dramatically affected my life. 


Ever positive and perky, even I had come to believe that, “living with any chronic illness is just a matter of a) putting a smile on your face, b) having a positive attitude, and 3) being grateful for all the good things in your life.” Although those things are extremely important, the real truth is, it’s not that simple.  For me, and I believe for most of the people living with a chronic illness, life is a delicate balancing act.  Any event or circumstance can tip the balance and toss us into a deep, dark hole.


In late October, shingles threw me into that hole.  I completely fell apart physically and emotionally. I was too ill and too exhausted to keep up being positive and perky.  


My husband David and I are still dealing with a continuum of issues, trying to manage my multiple sclerosis, shingles, depression, and my inability to sleep. For me, the skin discomfort and not being able to sleep for days caused a severe emotional meltdown and l ended up checking myself into the psych ward at Meriter Hospital. 


It was the best thing I/we could have done under the circumstances.  Dave and I had never been through such a difficult time and the very dark thoughts I was having were hard for me to control.  Once I was in the hospital, I was given medication that allowed me to sleep and then begin to regain perspective.


I’m still very fragile emotionally.  Lack of sleep and fighting depression are my biggest challenges. I've always seemed to have the inner resources to pull myself back together, but this time it's been more difficult. Think: Humpty-Dumpty in a million pieces.  (Putting me back together is taking more time and effort.) I’ve begun to heal but my energy level still depletes quickly. I find myself enjoying the silence and peace of just being. 


I continue to receive good medical care, and I know that this will pass and eventually, I’ll rejoin my active, busy lifestyle.  I look forward to that time. So, please keep your positive thoughts and prayers coming my way.


Thank you for sharing in my private journey.  Writing about my thoughts and feelings has been part of the healing process.  Please feel free to share with me your experiences, too.

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Sunday, November 03, 2013

Wisconsin State Journal LogoIn my previous columns, (to read, go to www.Madison.com and search Shelley P Schwarz), I explained that last March, I applied for and received one of the Adaptive Sports Association (ASA) - ski scholarships administered by the Madison West Kiwanis Club.  As I mentioned, I’m a Baby Boomer (66), living with a severe disability (I’ve had multiple sclerosis for 30+ years.) I don't have use of my legs, and my arms and hands have limited strength and dexterity. I am definitely not what you would consider a prime candidate for a ski adventure!  


Today I want to share with you the grand finale of my fantastic experience.

After 3 runs down the “Bunny Hill,” my instructors felt I was ready to go up 2 chair lifts to a height of 11,000 feet.  As I prepared to have my sit-ski (with me in it) lifted onto the chairlift, I watched my son Andrew, a very able skier, get on the chair lift ahead of me.


What a perfect day in my life this was! Having my 37 year- old son, Andrew, with me was enough to make my heart burst with joy.  The previous day, Andrew called to tell me that he was flying to Durango to meet me.  He had airline reservations, a hotel room, and a rental car.  I was speechless!  It seems he was thinking about my adventure and thought, “My mom is doing this amazing thing and no one from our family will be there to see it.”  Ronit, my wonderful daughter-in-law, encouraged Andrew to follow his heart and join me.


Riding the ski lift to the top, breathing the cold, crisp air, and seeing snow-capped mountains in the background filled me with awe.  Who would have thought that someone like me would ever be able to have an experience like this?


As I stood with my son and 3 ASA volunteers at the top of Durango Mountain, I cried tears of joy, overcome by the enormity of this moment.  It was very spiritual and "otherworldly."  A stillness and peace overcame me. I felt surrounded by white light. I felt like I was no longer disabled. I felt "whole" again--empowered, and stronger than ever before.


I skied for 4 days before it was time to go home. I had the energy and stamina to keep up the pace all day and to go to dinner with the ASA gang and participants in the evening. That’s highly unusual for someone with MS, because fatigue is a MAJOR problem.


How has this experience changed me?  I proved to myself, that I was strong, determined, and resilient enough to leave the comforts of home to literally “climb a mountain.”  I know now that when you open yourself to life's “possibilities,” something magical happens. 


Months later, I see that I am thinking less and less about my "disabilities"--they have faded into the background. But the personal power, that feeling of "CAN DO" that I had lost along the way, has come back to full strength.  I am ME again! It is a wonderful, wonderful feeling.


If you or someone you know would be interested in “Skiing with Shelley,” join me March 6-10, 2014 on a return trip to Durango, CO. For details visit www.middletontravel.com.  Email Shelley@MakingLifeEasier.com

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Sunday, October 06, 2013

Wisconsin State Journal LogoSome people walk into our lives and change us forever. But sometimes our lives our touched by someone we will never meet. Ethel Allen, who passed away at the age of 98 is a woman I never knew, but this wonderful woman gave me back a piece of ME that I thought was gone forever. 


As you may recall, last March I was awarded an Adaptive Sports Association (ASA) - Adaptive Skier scholarship by the Madison West Kiwanis Club.  The scholarship was an all-inclusive, expense paid trip to Durango, Colorado to attend the ASA winter ski program. Since 2007, Ethel Allen’s estate has provided the Madison West Kiwanis Club, with 4 scholarships each year for people with acquired disabilities in the Madison area. (See below and learn how you can apply.)


When I returned from the trip, I promised you that I would write about my experiences.  I'll devote this column and the next two columns to those experiences and how skiing changed my life.


As an aging Baby Boomer living with a severe disability, I don't have use of my legs and my arms and hands have limited strength and dexterity, I'm not what you would consider a prime candidate for a ski adventure.  So, you can only imagine my family's reaction when I told them that I applied for and received one of the scholarships. How could someone with my level of disability go downhill skiing? A trip like this with all the challenges seemed impossible to them. 


All I know is that from the moment I heard about this opportunity, I knew I wanted to apply.  (Actually, I applied for the scholarship in 2010, but was not awarded one of the scholarships. I was, however, encouraged to submit my application again.)


Because of my severe disability, I'm not able to travel independently, I need a companion to go with me; someone who knows and understands my limitations. The scholarship covered only my costs; I would be responsible for the cost of my traveling companion. I was extremely happy that personal trainer (Is my “personal trainer” too boastful? Should I say “exercise buddy”?) for the last three years, Hannah Carimi, would be joining me.  


Shortly before the trip, the Madison West Kiwanis Club held an informational get-together for past and present scholarship recipients.  I learned that I would not need any of my own equipment. All I needed to bring was long underwear; EVERYTHING else was provided.


We would fly from Madison to Denver then to Durango, (a distance of about 350 miles.) In Durango, an ASA volunteer would pick us up in their wheelchair accessible van and drive us to our hotel. 


In my next two columns, I will share what happened on the slopes, how the experience changed me in ways I never could have imagined, and a huge surprise I never ever expected.


Until then, if you’d like to know more or hopefully apply for the ASA - Adaptive Skier scholarship, go to the Madison West Kiwanis Club Website: http://madisonwestkiwanis.com/ and click on Our Scholarships.



By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Sunday, September 08, 2013

Wisconsin State Journal logoPeople often ask me the secret to how I've been able to live a happy life despite all the challenges I face because of my severe disability due to multiple sclerosis (MS.) Understanding that I work hard to keep a positive attitude and that some days are very difficult, I will share my "secrets."


First, I have to have hope for the future. Second, I have to be able to ask for and accept help, often from people I don't know and will never be able to repay. And, third, I have to surround myself with people who fill me up, make me laugh, and are there for me even when my best self is nowhere to be found.


I’ll explain the first two; the third will be the topic of another column.


Keeping hope alive for anyone who lives with a chronic and/or incurable illness is imperative. It's very difficult for someone to live without hope and that's why I’m passionate about the work of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). They represent hope for me and the millions of folks affected by this disease.


It seems like every day someone tells me about a sister, cousin, co-worker, or neighbor who has this incurable disease. Originally, thought to affect young adults between the ages of 20 and 40, multiple sclerosis (MS) is now being diagnosed in children as young as 2 and adults well over 40.


If you'd like to help me support research to STOP disease progression, RESTORE lost function and END MS forever, (Do I dare dream?), I invite you to attend the NMSS–Wisconsin Chapter’s upcoming On the Move event on September 26th at the Children’s Museum in Madison.  The event is part of the Society's NOW Campaign (No Opportunity Wasted), to raise $250 million by 2015, to fund all promising research.

The event will feature a sampling of Madison’s acclaimed restaurants; wine selected especially for the evening; an MS research update by Aaron Field, M.D., Ph.D. with music by members of his band, Fringe Field; simulation stations to help attendees understand the challenges MS presents, and a silent auction.


To attend or donate, please contact: Jordan Barclay at jordan.barclay@nmss.org or call 262-369-4404.


My second secret to staying positive is seeking the help that surrounds me and all it involves is my acceptance. One of our community jewels for people with disabilities and chronic illness is Access to Independence, the independent living center that provides information and referral, peer support, advocacy, and independent living skills training for people in Dane, Columbia, Green, and Dodge counties. 


In this column, I have often suggested borrowing items from their lending library so that you might “try before you buy." (For example: I borrowed a portable ramp from Access before I found the one I eventually purchased.) They have hundreds of devices, often not readily available in stores, to help you dress, cook, read, use the computer, take care of your personal needs, make your home safer and more accessible, and much, much more. Visit their new location at 3810 Milwaukee St.; Madison, WI 53714 to see for yourself.


This year the agency is celebrating its 35th Anniversary with a gala on September 26 at The Elk’s Lodge, (711 Jenifer Street; Madison, WI), with a silent auction, social hour, and dinner.


To attend this celebration or make a donation, please contact: Executive  Director, Dee Barnard at Access to Independence, (608-242-8484; 800-362-9877; 608-234-4484 (Videophone.)) or go to www.accesstoind.org


By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Saturday, August 10, 2013

A recent post on the National MS (Multiple Sclerosis) Society LinkedIn site asked this question: Have any of you who are diagnosed with MS had your dental fillings containing mercury (mercury amalgam fillings) removed?

I was reluctant to answer this question, because, yes, 22 years ago I had my "silver" fillings taken out.  And, I believe it stopped the progression of my MS.  However, I want to state that this is an unproven treatment for MS (or for any other disease.)  And, I am not recommending you have your silver fillings out; I just want to share with you my experience with this “treatment.”


In 1979, I was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis. I lost abilities every single day for 11½ years. As you can imagine it was a very, very scary time. I had two young children, a 10-year-old marriage, and I felt like I was dying a little every day.


Over the years, I had tried every available “treatment”  to halt the progression of my MS including intravenous methylprednisolone, ACTH, megadoses of oral prednisone, hyperbaric oxygen, plasmapheresis in a National Institutes Health funded study (where I received the real treatment), chemotherapy, acupuncture, different diets, meditation, bee stings, magnets... even bleaching my food to remove toxins. Nothing worked. My downward spiral continued.


Then, one night my husband, daughter (then 16), son (then 14), and I were watching a segment on 60 Minutes about people with MS who had improved when their silver fillings were taken out.  The kids wanted to know if I had had my fillings removed. I said," No. This has never been scientifically proven to help people with MS. Besides, dentists have been putting in mercury amalgam fillings for 150 years and yet not that many people get diagnosed with MS."


The kids literally begged me to try one more thing. If indeed, I was going to succumb to this illness, I didn't want them to think that I hadn't tried absolutely everything to save my life. We agreed to use the money we had saved for one last family trip to have my fillings removed.


I asked a dentist (who was also a friend), if he would remove the 16 fillings that I had in my mouth since childhood. He was reluctant to do so and asked me sign a form indicating that he was doing this solely at my request. He did not want to jeopardize his standing in the American Dental Association. So, over the next three months, I had all my fillings taken out. The dentist was careful to put a "dam" in my mouth to avoid my ingesting any of the mercury.


I had no expectations whatsoever. Why would I? Everything I tried to this point, proved to be a major disappointment. 


You can only imagine my surprise when little by little, I began feeling a bit more alert with more energy. Before having my fillings taken out, I needed a two hour nap after getting dressed (which required help from my husband.)   I had been living on prednisone for more than 9 years and was taking ibuprofen every four hours for discomfort.  I was soon able to get off prednisone and stop the ibuprofen altogether.


Although I am still severely disabled, since the removal of the fillings, I have not gotten any worse, which is an absolute miracle! Having a chronic, progressively disabling illness that has no cure can be extremely difficult to live with, but it's easier to manage if it's stable.  Today I am able to live a happy life despite all the challenges. It's all about keeping hope alive. And I, for one, could not live without hope.

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Wisconsin State Journal newspaper logoWe recently lost a beloved and important family member -- “our" dog Chueco (pronounced “Schway-Ko”; Spanish for “a little off kilter.”)  As often happens when we lose someone we love, we find comfort in remembering the good times. One of my favorite memories of Chueco was the time I took him to a “pet psychic.”  After all, haven’t you ever said, “I wonder what my pet is thinking?"  I thought maybe going to see a pet psychic would be a chance for me to find out what Chueco was thinking.


I probably should explain that I'm not really a pet lover.  I’ve never had a dog, cat, bird or fish of my own.  Chueco wasn’t even my dog.  When I took him to the pet psychic, Chueco really belonged to my 27 year-old son, Andrew who adopted Chueco four years earlier when Andrew was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Chueco was a mutt-puppy; a mixture of who-knows-what who was trying to find his way in the world.  My son and Chueco bonded heart and soul; both depended on the other for survival.  I credit Chueco with keeping my son company in his remote and isolated village where he lived for more than two years.  It was a difficult time for my son, made easier by this easy going, wonderful, loyal, dog.


So what did the psychic say?  At first, I thought her words were pretty general and could have applied to anyone’s animal.  But upon further scrutiny, well… you be the judge.  The psychic’s words are in italics.


Chueco knows he’s on vacation with you. (This was true. Chueco was temporarily staying with my husband Dave and me. After the Peace Corps, Andrew left Chueco with us for 6 months while he backpacked through South America.)


He likes you alright but he thinks your foods and the smells in your house are very strange. Considering I told her that Chueco was from the Dominican Republic, this was not what one would consider “psychic information.” However, my husband and I cook interesting meals and my husband was always putting drippings and scraps into Chueco’s bowl “to make his dog food more interesting.”   These scraps included leftover curried chicken, wild rice with saffron, vegetables and tofu with Thai peanut sauce, red cabbage with apples and wine, etc., These were regular fare in Chueco’s bowl.


Another psychic observation: Your son and Chueco have a strong bond and he really misses your son. Chueco is saying, “Enough already. It’s time for Andrew to come home NOW!” 


Andrew had been gone for 3½ months and was scheduled to return in a few months so the psychic’s words did not make much of an impression – until I got home. When I open up my E-mail, the first message was from Andrew.  He was cutting his trip short and coming home 2 months early! He missed Chueco!  It hit me as a little eerie especially after the psychic's words earlier in the day.


However, the best part of the psychic’s visit was that Chueco and I got closer.  I know it sounds funny, but it was true.  Chueco has always been a “guy’s dog," responding more to Dave than to me. Chueco rarely paid attention to women.  In fact, he could be rather haughty and distant where women were concerned.  Whenever I tried to approach Chueco in my three wheeled scooter wheelchair, he always moved away and out of my reach.  Yet after the visit to the psychic, Chueco let me pet him and scratch his back. He even found a place in my office where he could lie during the work day and be close to me.  There was a complete change in our relationship. He became my dog, too, not just Dave’s.


Do I think the psychic really talked to or for Chueco? Who knows? But you have to admit it’s a fun story and a cute memory of a wonderful dog.  Rest in Peace, Chueco.

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Wednesday, March 20, 2013
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By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Monday, February 25, 2013

Wisconsin State Journal logoFebruary is American Heart Month and everywhere we look, we can find ideas and tips for keeping our hearts healthy.  But I think there’s another “heart condition” that rarely gets attention, and yet, it has the power to make us sick as well.  It’s “heartache,” that feeling that your heart is about to break from the pain and sadness of losing someone you love.  My guess is that most people have had an experience like this sometime in their life.  Time helps the condition of "heartache," but there is always a hole in our hearts from our loss. 


My first experience with this excruciatingly painful condition was when...

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Monday, February 18, 2013

Wisconsin State Journal newspaper logoAt this time of year, I'm always at risk of the getting a bad case of the "Winter Blahs." In Wisconsin, we are not even half-way through the winter and the overcast skies, frigid temperatures, and cooped up feelings of "cabin fever" has everyone feeling "Blah."


This is when I take out my list of "Take care of Shelley" ideas.  I have learned that if I don't take care of me, I run the risk of my "bad mood" irritating and alienating the people I love. And, I'm always happier (and healthier) when I do something nice for myself. Here's my list...


Do ...


By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Shelley at her deskI recently heard from a reader who had just been diagnosed with a condition that affects the part of the brain that controls mood and memory. Describing himself as a somewhat negative person, he was panicked, equating memory loss and death with the diagnosis. He knew that he was headed down a dark and isolated path and wanted my advice for keeping the scary thoughts at bay; in other words, how could he stay involved and engaged in life


It was sad to read his letter and it brought back my own memories of my struggle to stay positive given my unknown future. 


Dear Sad,

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Monday, February 11, 2013

Wisconsin State Journal newspaper logoEver since I can remember, I have been using rubber bands to keep things together and organized.  However, since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I have found many more uses for the ubiquitous little rubber band. Here are a few unique and helpful ideas to make your life easier.


Around the house:

If turning a doorknob is difficult, wind a few rubber bands around the largest part of the knob. It will increase the diameter of the knob and make it easier to grasp.


Wrap a rubber band around large

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Friday, February 08, 2013

Thank you note from a child


You can teach children to write their own thank you notes even at an early age.  Before they enter school and learn how to print, have them draw a picture to send the gift giver.  Pictures can be as simple as ...




By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Thursday, February 07, 2013

Snoopy the dog

When my girlfriend's dog needed medication for an ear infection, she thought she'd save a few dollars by having the prescription filled at a discount pharmacy in her neighborhood. 


The pharmacist took the prescription and told her it would take about 20 minutes to fill.  Instead of waiting at the counter, my friend used the time to go around the store to pick up other needed items.  Not longer than five minutes had passed, when she heard...

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Shelley in her office

Life changes forever when you are diagnosed with  a chronic illness. I never intended to be a writer.  When I became disabled with multiple sclerosis (MS), I had to retire from teaching, a career I loved.  Giving up my career was emotionally devastating.  A lot of my personal worth was tied up in my work. As time passed and my physical abilities decreased, there was less and less I could do to fill my days so I began writing using an electronic typewriter.


The Tips for Making Life  Easier column

I thought what I learned from becoming disabled might help other people.  So I wrote an article in 1987 on how to streamline getting ready for the holidays and submitted it to the local newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal.  To my great surprise, the article was published.  About three weeks later, the editor called and asked if I would write an article on grocery shopping tips for people with disabilities. 


For the next year or so, I periodically submitted ...


By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Capital Newspapers logoA writer for The Capital Times newspaper,  Debra Carr-Elsing wrote this (wonderful) article about my book, Memory Tips for Making Life Easier. 


Memory Tips book cover

Although edited for space, the article shares tips and strategies from the book along with my philosophy for living life with a chronic illness:





By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Monday, February 04, 2013

Wisconsin State Journal newspaper logoLiving with any kind of chronic medical issue, obvious or hidden can affect every aspect of a person's life. I hope after reading this week’s column, you’ll understand why this topic is so important to me and why I’m making this special request:  Please try to "see" and accept the hidden ones as well as the obvious ones.

My assistant, Deborah, has multiple chemical sensitivities which affect every aspect of her life just as my multiple sclerosis (MS) affects every aspect of mine.  The difference is that people can see that I have a disability (they may not know the cause), but they see my wheelchair and they know that I have limitations.  However, Deborah is “not as lucky as I am.”

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Friday, February 01, 2013

Water shut-off valve


Show all family members where the main water shut-off valve is located in your home and teach them how and when to use it. To keep the valve in good working order by turning the valve on and off every six months.


By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shelley at her deskHi Shelley! This is Morgan, from…  I have now moved to St. Louis, but I have so wanted to contact you. I have fibromyalgia, and I get so tired of the daily pain and fatigue.  Then there's the other chronic illnesses I have on top of it, and I'm getting bouts of pneumonia about every 5 months that further bring me down. I get so discouraged that I often wonder if I can go on. So I hope we can email. I'm looking for some sense of hope. I've lost all the hope I had. I need help.


Dear Morgan, 


Thank you for writing to me.  Your heartfelt words reminded me of those hopeless, dark, and sad days I had long ago.  I wondered if the struggle was worth it.  Many, many, many days all I could think about was ending it.  It is soooooooooooooooo hard to...

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Wednesday, January 30, 2013

7 " Snowfall from my front doorWhy is it that we feel judged by others when we are really just taking care of ourselves?  A friend was planning to stop by today but this morning she sent me an email to say that she would not be coming if the predicted snowfall (3-7 inches) materialized.  She apologized profusely for being “a wuss” when it came to going out in the snow.  


I did not want her to feel bad about wanting to "stay put" tomorrow.  Frankly, I ...

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Monday, January 28, 2013

Wisconsin State Journal newspaper logoI got it!  I am so excited!  Last month, I learned that I was awarded one of the 4 Ethel Allen Adaptive Ski Program Scholarships offered by the Madison West Kiwanis. The scholarship gives people with disabilities the opportunity to take part in the winter sports program offered by the Adaptive Sports Association (ASA), an organization that has been providing skiing, snowboarding and a variety of "sit-ski" instruction to people with disabilities for 25 years.

Shelley sit-skiing

To apply for the scholarship, I had to fill out an application and be available for an in-person interview with the Madison West Kiwanis selection committee.



During the interview, we talked about the realities of this opportunity – the stress of air travel, the intense ski program instruction, and the risks/challenges of being a person with a disability. Yes, there would be experienced ski professionals to help and instruct me, but what about the “unexpected” and my ability to handle the ups and downs inherent in an adventure of this kind?  Could I give them an example that might address these concerns?  YOU BET I COULD!  And, this is one of the stories I told them.

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz on Friday, January 25, 2013

Baby washcloths


Use lightweight cotton dishcloths or "baby washcloths" instead of terrycloth washcloths because...

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