In a matter of years, Mary-Lynne Blazzard went from high-tech marketing executive—and in control of every detail in her life—to a woman struggling with the depression and isolation that often comes with a chronic condition. She had experienced her first symptoms in her 20s, but she wasn't diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a debilitating autoimmune disease, until another bout of vision loss occurred over a decade later.
"That first time was terrifying," Blazzard said. "I didn't even know what it was. When I woke up that morning, my vision seemed kind of funny. My left eye had a complete black line through it and I was missing half my vision in that eye."
The doctor she saw told her and her husband, Ernest, that he suspected optic neuritis. Her vision loss could either be the start of MS or it could be an isolated case. She wasn't fazed. "I immediately put the MS diagnosis out of my brain and went on with my life," she said. "We were young and in denial."
Then in 2004, Blazzard's vision changed again and after a battery of tests, her doctor diagnosed her with MS. She was devastated and in disbelief. After a second opinion confirmed the diagnosis, she started a treatment plan that involved daily injections. "Not only did I not want the diagnosis," she recalled. "I didn't want the treatment."
Blazzard wanted to control the MS, not the other way around. She looked for resources and ways to build a personal support team, including her husband, her family and friends, as well as her knowledgeable medical team. They became her lifeline and she was successful for the first few years.
Over time, however, some of her relationships changed and she started blaming the MS for anything that went wrong. Blazzard and her family then moved to a new city and she fell into a spiral of depression, which is very common in people with MS. There were days when she wouldn't leave the house or pick up her kids from school. "I wasn't participating in life anymore," she said. Ernest suggested they give Stanford a try.
Blazzard's first appointment at the Stanford MS Center was a reawakening for her. The MS team was eager to guide and encourage her on a new path in life. On that day, she realized it was time to take care of herself again—and to rebuild her support team.
"I needed my own robust 'personal board of executives' to help me regain control of my life," Blazzard said. "That started with the MS clinic at Stanford and getting the right treatment for me. It then grew to include psychiatric help. We really managed my depression for the first time in my life."