How NMO Shaped What I Am Thankful for This Thanksgiving

Columnist Jennifer van Amerom shares 10 things she appreciates this season

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by Jennifer van Amerom |

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While here in Canada we celebrate Thanksgiving a little earlier than our friends in the United States, I feel it works to my advantage. I treat the Thanksgiving holiday — which falls on the second Monday in October in Canada — as the start of a period of reflection that continues through my New Year’s resolutions.

There is a lot to be thankful for, although it’s tough to acknowledge sometimes, especially with a neuromyelitis optica (NMO) diagnosis. Reframing my mindset helps me to focus more on the positives than the effects of NMO.

In that spirit, following are 10 things I’m grateful for:

1. Sophie and Mike

My life is so full because of my 10-year-old daughter, Sophie, who is my everything. She continues to teach me more about life than I ever imagined I could learn, and she loves me unconditionally, even with my NMO. I’m in awe of her compassion for me and others.

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My husband, Mike, has done his best to support both me and our family. Being my spouse is an exhausting role, because when my health throws me curveballs, he’s right there with me. Neither of us is perfect, but we are meant for each other.

2. Other family and friends

The people in my life are important, but I have become picky over the years since being diagnosed with NMO. I’ve discovered the power of choice to avoid disappointment. I choose whom I allow into my life and to what degree. There’s a saying that people are in your life for “a reason, a season, or a lifetime,” and I’m thankful for those in my life, even if it was just in passing.

3. Modern medicine

When three new NMO treatments became available over the past couple of years, the timing couldn’t have been better for me. The treatment Cellcept (mycophenolate mofetil) had stopped working for me after 10 years. Thanks to the researchers and scientists who came up with new treatments, I had options to pursue. I’m grateful to the manufacturers of Enspryng (satralizumab-mwge), who keep me alive with a pharmaceutical company grant.

4. Education

As a first-generation Canadian, my immediate family is proud that I was the first to graduate from a post-secondary institution. I was taught that education should be a lifelong passion, and it’s certainly been important throughout my medical journey with NMO. Because of it, I haven’t been scared to ask questions and immerse myself in the healthcare industry. While it wasn’t by choice, I’m still grateful for all that I’ve learned.

5. Failure

Failure never feels like a blessing at first, but there’s so much to learn about ourselves in our greatest moments of need. I know my limits and abilities while also understanding my self-sacrificing nature. I wouldn’t have gained that knowledge without failure and struggle. As I move forward in life, I can now set healthy boundaries.

6. Nurses

During my worst moments, it was a nurse who helped me. When I’ve called my specialists, nurses have often returned the calls. They’ve been calm when I was stricken with panic. They’ve held my phone during video chats when my extremities were numb and not functioning. And they aren’t thanked enough for their contribution to patient care.

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7. Anniversaries

I just passed the 13th anniversary of my first official NMO attack. Marking the anniversary each year is a way to acknowledge my diagnosis. On the one hand, 13 years with a rare disease sounds brutal. On the other, it’s a lot more time than I expected to have.

I also managed to give birth to my daughter after my diagnosis.

Every anniversary is proof that I’m still a fighter.

8. My dog

I love my dog, Magnus, which is something i couldn’t have imagined after I lost my previous dog, Marmaduke. I had no idea how much love I’d find in my heart because of dogs. Both have been important companions in my evolution as a patient. They’ve kept me company in my lowest moments and been my emotional support and provided endless hugs when words aren’t enough.

9. Life

I’ve never taken life for granted, especially after losing my dad, my mother-in-law, and my dog in a short period of time. Then, only two weeks later, the pandemic hit, and I again experienced a lot of loss. Every moment matters, even if it’s a frustrating one. This is why I’m thankful for the life I have.

10. The new morning

There’s something inspiring about the morning sun and what a new day of renewal represents. It’s a chance to start over, even if today’s normal feels like a continuation of yesterday. I’ve worked hard to accept my new normal as it is, which has given me the chance to be grateful for another day.

As Thanksgiving approaches in the U.S., what are you thankful for? Please share in the comments below. 

Note: Neuromyelitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Neuromyelitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).


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