Finding her Balance



Stretching on a yoga mat on her living room floor, Susan Biggins relaxes her neck and spine reaching her arms above her head.

Since her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis 14 years ago, the Brandon woman has struggled with balance of several kinds. As she stretches, she explains that the tattoo of a lotus flower on her inner arm reminds her of her need for focusing on inner peace.

“I like to be very active, but figuring out how much is the problem,” says Susan, who was 24-years-old when she learned she had MS, a disease that effects the central nervous system. “Life is all about balance.”

Seeing new options

Susan loves to push herself physically and knows that exercise is necessary to combat the progression of her condition, but she gets easily tired. Not able to find an activity that had the right effect and didn’t bore her, she was out of shape and unhappy.

Her physician referred her to certified health behavior coach Shelly Hoefs about a year ago and Susan’s life changed. She was a little nervous about the first appointment at the Mutch Women’s Center for Health Enrichment, but Hoefs quickly put her at ease.

“We talked about what I really wanted and came up with a plan to do it,” says Susan, sitting next to a small indoor fountain with a bubbling trickle of water. “I left there with positive stuff in my brain to think about.”

Out of her comfort zone

Over several sessions, Susan talked with Hoefs about her lifestyle and goals. She made some changes to her eating habits and made plans to deal with some of the stress that came along with her financial services job. Hoefs even talked Susan into getting out of her “comfort zone” by trying yoga and participating in some group classes at the women’s center.

“It was so freeing to have someone tell me I don’t need to workout until I’m ready to drop, I just need to do something,” Susan says. “When I’m on track with the exercise I feel really, really good.”

Hoefs said she worked with Susan on strategies for living with her disease that will keep her mind and body healthy. Susan knew her strengths and wanted guidance on what do to regularly to feel better.

“Coaching is a process that recognizes that the client is the best judge of herself,” says Hoefs. “My job is to ask questions about the client that she hasn’t asked before and let her thread the pieces together.”

A cooperative approach

Sanford health behavior coaches have some patients contact them directly. Others, like Susan, are referred by their doctors. Susan’s physician, Dr. Janell Simpkins, said she appreciates the health coaching system and the way it helps her patients.

“So much of medicine is tied to how you take care of yourself,” Dr. Simpkins says. “Exercise and nutrition are an important part of that.”

Patients with MS need to undertake an exercise program that is thorough, but not so rigorous that it causes severe outbreaks of the symptoms that come with the disease, the internal medicine doctor said. Patients like Susan benefit greatly from the latest drugs for treating MS, but they still need to take good care of themselves for optimal health.

“She’s young and we want her to stay as healthy as she can be,” says Dr. Simpkins. “MS is a lifelong condition and we don’t want muscle weakness to stop her from doing what she wants to do.”

Susan, who loves to garden and bike, has not had any flare-ups of her condition since her coaching sessions began. Lately, she’s begun joining her husband in running, an exercise she always thought she couldn’t do.

“This whole process has taken me out of my comfort zone,” says Susan. “I know what I need to do. It’s up to me to do it.”

Posted Date: July 2012

Finding her Balance

Susan Biggins needed to learn how to find boundaries with her body and illness. A Sanford health behavior coach helped her learn how find her own balance between exercise and her multiple sclerosis.