I am excited to introduce, Jon Franko, fellow MSer and advertiser, who is living and thriving with multiple sclerosis. While Jon and I have never met in person, I feel like I’ve gotten to know him quite well through our exchange of emails since he recently found my blog. I really appreciate his candidness, optimism and how he’s tackling this disease head on, even though it’s still so new to him. This blog has connected us, and I hope others will benefit from learning more about his experience, positive attitude, and how MS isn’t holding him back!
Name: Jon Franko
Tell us a little about yourself.
Born, raised and still living in the St. Louis area. I co-own an industrial marketing agency, and we just celebrated our 10th anniversary. I’m a passionate outdoorsman (fish and hunt), love to read and watch movies, and I spend probably 8-10 hours a week in the gym, on my bike or donning my running shoes. I’m not married and don’t have kids, but I do have an incredible yellow lab, an exceptional family and a most excellent girlfriend – who I met for the first time the day after my spinal tap. MS not gonna slow me down!
How old were you when you were diagnosed?
Tell us a little about your first symptoms and how you were diagnosed.
You know, this is a tricky question. There are some symptoms that, if MS-related, could date back almost 10 years or so to my early 20s. Those include a feeling of foot numbness, tingling at times throughout my body and very heavy legs / fatigue for a few weeks. However, they were chalked up as anxiety at the time, and part of me still thinks that indeed was the culprit. What’s kind of interesting though is at the time I did what we all know you shouldn’t do, and used Google and WebMD to diagnose myself. I was convinced I had MS from what I was reading. Everyone thought I was crazy. Maybe I was, but maybe I wasn’t.
Fast forward to Spring 2015. I started feeling just “off”, and I knew I shouldn’t be. I was eating super healthy, had recently cut a bunch of weight and was in the best shape I’d been in for a long time. But I always felt a little out-of-it. Not dizzy. But a little lightheaded and off-balance at times. But never to the point of falling down or anything like that.
Over the course of the next several months, I saw numerous doctors (GP, neuros, cardiologist, dermatologist, etc.), all of which were very confident I was “fine” until eventually, I think they grew tired of seeing me and finally did an MRI. It came back abnormal which led to the spinal tap which led to the diagnosis.
It was a pretty brutal process, as along the way, I’d even been told by two different medical professionals (a neuro and a nurse practioner) that MS wasn’t even in question and that the tests had come back and I was fine. Turns out, they were interpreting the wrong reports and I did indeed have something going on.
If you had to attest you living Well and Strong to one thing, what would it be?
Hands down, the best thing I’ve done is research as much as possible about this condition. It’s super scary on the surface, but the more you read and learn and gleen from others, the more you discover that it’s 1.) NOT a death sentence (or even close to one) and 2.) for the most part, it’s pretty manageable. There’s also a lot of opportunity to determine your own path to a certain extent. With an improved diet, an adherence to your meds and a commitment to fitness, you can give yourself a pretty good chance of living a very normal life.
So far, I’ve met a rancher, a marathoner and a competitive cyclist, all living with MS. The rancher and marathoner have had it for 20+ years and are in better shape than most folks MY age. They’re both in their 50s. The cyclist has probably had the tougher course of the three, and is riding 30-50 miles after work, three or four times a week, and he’s in impeccable condition. I’ve also connected with an ER doc living with MS, a stay-at-home dad who hasn’t taken meds in 10 years thanks to the stem-cell procedure, a retired nurse who’s been a MSer for almost 30 years and is as active as any 60 year-old, and a 30-something mom who you’d never know was fighting a chronic illness.
Following what Montell Williams, Clay Walker, Ann Romney, Jack Osbourne and Jamie-Lynn Sigler are up to has also been immensely helpful. All five are MSers and all five are still dominating life.
Finally, Google, believe it or not, has given me relief. Not necessarily general Googling of multiple sclerosis, but Googling “multiple sclerosis” and then sorting by “News.” This last step is important, as it will only serve up all the new MS-related content – which almost always consists of positive strides in the MS arena. This equates to a whole lot of hope for me and that’s been huge on my days when fear gets the best of me. Call me crazy, but I think we’ll have this thing cured in the next 10-20 years.
What are some of the strategies you use to keep MS under control?
Adhering to meds. Vitamin D. Meditation. Getting to church. Eating healthy. Working out. And keeping my mind engaged (reading, crossword puzzles, etc.). It’s pretty early in the game for me, but so far, so good.
What are some of the things you’ve done despite having MS…
- Went to an NBA Finals Game
- Caught 100 smallmouth bass in one day
- Killed my first big turkey
- Climbed two 14,000 foot peaks (getting ready to climb two more)
- Celebrated a 10-year anniversary for a company I started
What advice would you give someone who’s recently been diagnosed?
It seems like “the end.” But I promise you, it’s not. Learn as much as you can and keep your mental game strong. Remember that no great character, whether fictional or non, has an easy path in his or her journey. This is a chance to do something great. Embrace it as the opportunity that it is. Become stronger because of it.
Oh, and one more thing…
The day after my spinal tap, and several days before my diagnosis, I went on a first-date with a gal. I was open and honest with her about what had been going on. I didn’t have much to talk about otherwise and the docs had convinced me the test was just a precaution. Plus, I’ve never been good at lying. So when she asked, “What have you been up to?”, I told her. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with MS. I told her, she shrugged her shoulders, and now eight months later, she’s still by my side.
My point of this story is while it might seem really dark at times (and hey – it is!), great things will still happen to you. When you get that diagnosis, you almost feel like you’re doomed – like life just won’t work out for you. Trust me when I say, you’re not doomed. And life will, and does, go on.
“Faces of MS” showcases other people with MS share their experiences and success strategies for living Well and Strong to help the larger community.