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Inspiration Story: Paula-Jean Doyle

A strategic approach to dealing with multiple sclerosis

Paula-Jean Doyle offers no apologies for the unusual makeup of the living room in her home in Berwick, Maine.

Nestled among the couch, tables and chairs are free weights, a tower for pull-ups, a weight bench, a treadmill and a leg press machine. While such an arrangement might bring the need for some improvisation for the occasional party or family gathering, Doyle wouldn’t have it any other way.

The 44-year-old mother of four acknowledges that the accommodations might not be for everyone, but it’s what works best for her. Call her an independent thinker, an admirable trait that seems to show itself best when facing the greatest of challenges.

Doyle lives with multiple sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disorder that damages the central nervous system. She is currently symptom free, despite deciding to forgo the disease-modifying drugs recommended by her doctor. Instead, she relies on a dedicated fitness program, a healthy diet and what she is convinced was some divine intervention.

“I’m not telling anyone who has MS not to take the medication,” Doyle said, “but it’s the only approach for me.”

So she hits the gym/living room every day — and hits the books. Doyle is determined to learn all that she can about fitness and nutrition in order to maintain a high quality of life.

Doyle earned her ISSA certificate for personal training in 2016 and was enriched so much by the experience that she decided to follow it up with a nutrition certification. She now is taking continuing education courses, and recently reached the level of ISSA master trainer.

“The more I learn the more I want to learn,” Doyle said. “I like interacting with my instructors and my fellow classmates. Having more knowledge just gives me more confidence.”

Doyle worked as a group instructor at a local gym when she was 19, but left the job when she got pregnant with her first son. After giving birth to her second son four years later, she decided to get serious again about exercise.

It’s one of the reasons why, when she was diagnosed with MS in 2010, she was told that she had had the disorder for a number of years before it was detected.

“Exercising and eating right was what kept it at bay,” Doyle said. “It makes sense that I was diagnosed in 2010, because the year before had been a very stressful time in my life, and I wasn’t taking care of myself.’’

Fatigue, numbness in her limbs and vision problems were what led Doyle to seeking medical help in 2010. Once diagnosed with MS, her doctor put her on the disease-modifying medication.

“I went through about two years of heavy medication and it made me feel horrible,” Doyle said. “And I had three children who were missing out on having their mom.”

She went through chemotherapy treatments that were scheduled for once a month for 12 months, suffering the usual side effects, including nausea and fatigue. And the mental strain could be just as debilitating.

“I felt horrible for about five days after getting a treatment,” Doyle said. “And then I knew that I was going to be going back for another treatment in three more weeks. So there was no motivation for me to eat well or to exercise.”

Doyle stopped the chemotherapy after eight months. She didn’t feel well enough to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family, and as Christmas drew near she grew even more depressed at the thought of missing out on another cherished time with family.

“I just kind of gave up,” Doyle said. “All I could think about were the celebrities who had MS and were either really sick or had died. So I thought my life was over.”

Doyle, a person of faith, turned to God for help. Through prayer, she asked for a way to avoid having to take the medication. A month later she found out she was pregnant.

The pregnancy prevented Doyle from taking any of the medication. To her surprise — and delight — she dealt with the usual issues related to being pregnant, but nothing caused by the MS.

“The baby was checked quite often during my pregnancy because I was almost 40 and had MS,” Doyle said, “but everything was fine.”

When the Doyle’s welcomed their third son, they named him Christian.

“I say he is my miracle baby,” Doyle said. “God answered my prayers.”

After Christian was born, Doyle was told by her doctor that she needed to restart the medication. She decided not to, opting instead for the postpartum exercise program she had followed after her other children were born. Her symptom-free stretch while pregnant was a deciding factor.

“It made me hopeful and wanting to exercise and eat well because it was making me feel so good,” Doyle said.

Five years later she knows she made the right decision. As for her workout routine, Doyle aims for an hour of running/walking on the treadmill every day. She also does resistance training three times a week.

Doyle also follows the Swank Diet, created by Dr. Roy Swank in the 1950s for people with MS. It calls for limited saturated fat intake, and a focus on whole grains, fruits and vegetables and very lean proteins.

Once in fear that her life was over, Doyle now looks to the future with optimism and anticipation. With Christian about to start school, Doyle expects to return to the work force. Her goal is to join a local gym as a certified fitness trainer.

The day could come where the MS will again affect her quality of life, but Doyle’s plan is to keep fighting it her way.

“I know what I need to do,” she said. “If the symptoms come back, at least I’ll know that I did the best I could.”

So, for now, if she decides to put her feet up in the living room, it’s probably to do a set of leg presses.

“My husband told me one day that we can’t get any more workout equipment in there,” Doyle said. “I told him, ‘Sorry, but that isn’t going to happen.’”

Dean Spiros

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