Support during a Health Battle
- Christina Applegate understandably struggled while working on “Dead to Me” because she received her MS diagnosis in the middle of filming the last season. Thankfully, her co-star, Linda Cardellini gave her so much love and support along the way.
- Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system), according to the Mayo Clinic. Most people with MS go through periods of new symptoms or relapses followed by quiet periods of disease remission.
- A harrowing health journey comes with a complex range of emotions. Even the most resilient and positive fighters know it’s important to let out the negative emotions too.
When the 51-year-old star landed the lead role in Netflix’s acclaimed series “Dead To Me,” Applegate couldn’t have known the profound effect the show would have on her life. Especially given that her time working on the series would be interrupted by her MS diagnosis in 2021.Read More
“There is really never a moment when Judy [Linda Cardellini’s character] and Jen [Applegate’s character] are talking to each other that it wasn’t Linda and Christina talking to each other,” Applegate said. “The set disappeared, everyone kind of disappeared, and it was the two of us as best friends, supporting each other, loving each other and saying goodbye to each other.
“I’d like to say there was skill involved, but really, Linda and I just disappeared.”
Applegate and Cardellini leaned on each other as real-life friends and as on-screen pals throughout the series. But Cardellini’s empathy was crucial during filming for the show’s final season – in the middle of which Applegate received her diagnosis.
“She literally pulled me under her wing and protected me, and took care of me every single day,” Applegate said. “Also the tables were turned: Jen is taking care of her friend who’s dying, yet Linda was taking care of me as I was saying goodbye to the person that I’d always known — so part of me was dying.”
Reflecting on the beautiful bond the two have created since filming began, Applegate can’t help but get emotional.
“I cry when I talk about Linda because I love her so much,” Applegate said. “The next person who gets to work with her, I hope they realize how incredibly lucky they are, because not only is she an incredible human but she’s a divine artist and is right there, present for you, no matter what.”
Christina Applegate’s MS Journey
Christina Applegate began experiencing symptoms of the condition long before she had answers. In fact, she said she felt off balance during a dance sequence that occurred way back in season one of the dark comedy. She later noticed her aptitude for tennis start to fail.
“I wish I had paid attention,” she told The New York Times. “But who was I to know?”
It took several years of worsening tingling and numbness in her extremities before her diagnosis arrived while on set. This life-altering realization wouldn’t stop Applegate from finishing her portrayal of Jen Harding, but she did need a break. Production of the final season ceased for about five months as she began treatment.
“There was the sense of, ‘Well, let’s get her some medicine so she can get better,’” Applegate said. “And there is no better. But it was good for me. I needed to process my loss of my life, my loss of that part of me. So I needed that time.”
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Applegate admits she’ll never fully “accept” her condition, but she did learn how to work with it.
“I had an obligation to Liz [Feldman] and to Linda [Cardellini], to our story,” she said of the show’s writer and co-star respectively. “The powers that be were like, ‘Let’s just stop. We don’t need to finish it. Let’s put a few episodes together.’ I said, ‘No. We’re going to do it, but we’re going to do it on my terms.’”
Applegate wasn’t able to work as hard or as long or in heat without her body giving out, but she found pride in her self-sufficiency. And with the help of some adjustments in blocking, she powered through. Nicole Vassell, a writer for the The Independent, says other programs should learn from the way Applegate’s “physical changes [were] seamlessly incorporated into the show.”
“This is the first time anyone’s going to see me the way I am,” Applegate said. “I put on 40 pounds; I can’t walk without a cane. I want people to know that I am very aware of all of that.”
Understanding Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system), according to the Mayo Clinic.
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It causes the immune system to attack the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers which leads to communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Eventually, MS can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves.
Signs and symptoms of MS can vary widely but may include:
- Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs that typically occurs on one side of your body at a time, or your legs and trunk
- Electric-shock sensations that occur with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward (Lhermitte sign)
- Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait
- Partial or complete loss of vision, usually in one eye at a time, often with pain during eye movement
- Prolonged double vision
- Blurry vision
- Slurred speech
- Tingling or pain in parts of your body
- Problems with sexual, bowel and bladder function
Most people with MS go through periods of new symptoms or relapses followed by quiet periods of disease remission. These relapses can develop over days or weeks and the remission periods can last for months or even years.
Emotional Wellbeing during a Health Journey
When it comes to a difficult health journey, the road ahead will likely present both physical and mental challenges. There may be a lot of things out of your control, but it’s important to remember you are not alone and there are resources and people out there who can provide support.
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“Grief comes in waves,” Dr. Scott Irwin, a psychiatrist and director of supportive care services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “They’re grieving the change in their life. The future they had imagined is now different.”
Taking care of your mental health should always be a priority. And Dr. Irwin stressed how helpful talk therapy could be when dealing with mixed emotions. It’s important to reach out to your doctor, a therapist or support groups in your community if you feel like you’re struggling.
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Ni Guttenfelder can attest to the benefits of therapy. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2017 and quickly decided she needed a therapist to help process her feelings. Her suggestion is to seek a counselor you’re comfortable with and you trust.
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“Initially I went to a session where I just cried and the counselor basically told me what I was feeling was normal and didn’t offer me any type of feedback. But I knew that I needed something more than that. Not just a crying session and a pat on my shoulder,” she told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “What I have found is that it’s critical to find the right counselor, not just any counselor.”
Once she found a counselor she could truly open up to, Guttenfelder began to see some clarity.
“One of the things that my counselor has taught me from the very beginning that has helped me is the concept of acceptance,” she says. “Acceptance is a process. It’s like downloading a computer file in increments. Visualizing it in that way has really helped me.”
Her therapist also taught her how to manage the people in her life. She decided to look into her relationship with her father, for example, because he was resistant to the idea of her receiving chemotherapy.
“It makes it more of an uphill battle and a challenge because we’ll sometimes get into arguments about it,” she says. “My counselor would say, for my own benefit and health that it’s best to limit the time with others who may not be lifting me up during my treatment.”
In addition, don’t be afraid of feeling the negative emotions that come with a health battle. Anger, shame, fear, anxiety – they’re all to be expected.
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Evelyn Reyes-Beato is a resilient woman who’s also had to deal with the complexity of emotions during her colon cancer journey. She comes from a culture where health issues and feelings aren’t normally talked about, but she found that expressing her emotional pain was a big factor in helping her overall physical health.
“You have to let it out,” Evelyn previously told SurvivorNet. “Your mental and your emotional help your physical get in line. If you keep all of the emotions in, the way I see it, is that stuff is going to eat you up inside and it’s not going to let you heal.”
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