Have you ever found yourself standing at the crossroads of life facing a difficult, life-changing circumstance? For me, I found myself standing on these crossroads when I was twenty eight years old and lost my ability to walk overnight. I was later diagnosed with the chronic condition, Multiple Sclerosis. This was a devastating diagnosis for me both physically and mentally. It also took an emotion toll on my wife, Jocelyn.
We were only three years into our marriage and everything was going according to plan. We had great jobs, great friends and a promising future in Massachusetts where we hoped to raise a family one day. This was all put on hold in the spring of 2005 when I lost functionality from the waist down. As I lay in my hospital bed, I was thinking that the future we had planned together was over and that we may never be able to have kids.
I would like to say that I handled the circumstances around my diagnosis better, but I didn’t. I spiraled into a deep depression. I couldn’t work, I didn’t want to see my friends and date night with my wife was all but a distant memory. All I wanted to do was stay in the house and wallow in my own self pity. I even convinced myself that a song from my childhood, Moon Shadow by Cat Stevens, was about Multiple Sclerosis and describing my impending fate of physical demise (http://mattcavallo.com/blog/being-follow-by-a-moon-shadow-ms/). The only way I knew how to cope with my emotional turmoil was to stay alone in my house and disappear from the outside world.
After living in this depression for a while, I thought that reading a story about someone else’s diagnosis and how they dealt with their circumstances would make me feel better. So, I found myself wandering the aisles of my local Barnes and Nobles. I was pulling book after book off of the shelf in hopes to find a story that would motivate and inspire me to move forward from the moment in which I was stuck. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find a story which resonated in my soul. I left Barnes and Noble empty handed, feeling more dejected than when I had entered the store. At that point, it was an affirmation that I was alone and that I was never going to be the same again.
When I returned home, I sat on the couch and started flipping through a journal that I had been keeping through my hospital experience. I started to cry as I recalled the words that I recorded during my hospital stay. The heart wrenching detail captured on each page brought me right back to my hospital bed. The color, description and vivid portrayal of the hospital experience captivated me as I read my own words for the first time since I had left the hospital three months prior.
Then, I found something that I never expected to find in the pages of my journal: hope. I was surprised at how upbeat and positive I was in the face of great adversity. Even though my body had betrayed me, my mind was sharp and found humor in the face of despair. Now, typically I do not get so engaged in my own writing, but I couldn’t put it down. I read my journal from front page to back page reliving the entire experience. When I was finished, I realized that the words in my journal were the words of inspiration that I needed to accept my condition and move on from my depression. Then, I started to think that if my words could help me in my current condition that they could also help others.
So, I started to write. I started to transform my hospital journal into a full length narrative non-fiction account of my diagnosis. When I started writing, I took an oath to be open, honest and to address tough physical and emotional situations that most people typically internalize and tackle alone. Topics like depression, anxiety, and sexual dysfunction that were plaguing me during this ordeal were captured with brutal honesty. While my approach made me vulnerable, I thought it was more important for anyone who picked up my book to understand that they are not alone in the struggle.
Eight years after my initial diagnosis, The Dog Story was published. In releasing this story to the world I felt the same anxiety rush back to me. Much to my surprise, it was my readers that made me feel like I was not alone. Emails started coming to me from all over. People were sharing their story with me and thanking me for sharing mine. I even got an email from a woman who told me that The Dog Story helped bring her closer to husband. She said that he became distant and depressed when he was diagnosed and he was unable to articulate his internal struggles, so he pushed her away. Then they read my book together and used my story as a vehicle to discuss his struggles. Knowing that I inspired this person and helped him not only overcome his own diagnosis, but also rekindle his marriage was incredibly meaningful to me.
Today, I am happy, healthy and feeling great overall. I have overcome my disability to go on and lead an extraordinary life. I have been flown all over the country to motivate and inspire audiences with my story. I have been featured in documentary film and Yoga DVD for people with Multiple Sclerosis. I graduated with a Master’s of Public Health Administration and have dedicated my life to helping others. I published The Dog Story which has been more successful than I could have ever imagined. But my greatest accomplishment is that today I have two boys and I get to be the dad that I always wanted to be.
Thank you very much for having me, Patricia. I also wanted to thank your readers. If anyone out there is standing at a difficult crossroad of life, think of my story and know that if I can do it, you can too.
At age twenty-eight, Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Seemingly over night he went from a fully-functioning, healthy man to someone who was numb from the waist down and unable to walk. His story of being diagnosed and overcoming the physical and emotional challenges associated with having a chronic disease can be read in his memoir, The Dog Story: A Journey into a New Life with Multiple Sclerosis.
As a result of his diagnosis, Matt has dedicated his life and career to healthcare and the fight against MS. Matt delivers motivational patient experience lectures all over the country for a variety of MS patient events, as well as inspiring organizational presentations for companies using his story as a platform. Matt has appeared in a MS yoga DVD that is free for MS patients, is active with MS charities, and appeared in The Future of MS documentary about for the MS Cure Fund. His story has been featured in the Boston Globe, and he writes a popular blog on his website as a resource for MS patients.
Matt’s dedication to healthcare led him to work at a Neuroscience Clinic, helping patients like himself every day before taking his current position training clinicians on how to use medical software in order to improve the patient experience. He also recently finished his Master of Science in Health Care Informatics from Arizona State University. Most importantly, however, Matt is the proud father of Mason and Colby, the loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and the best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently works and lives with his family in Chandler, Arizona.