Stephen met Caroline when a mutual friend invited them both for dinner. He was a book editor. She’d just finished a novel for teens, about a woman diagnosed with MS and the impact on her family. Caroline – a newly divorced mother of four, had been diagnosed herself with MS just seven years earlier, and she faced her new reality by helping others.
Caroline talked a mile a minute. Stephen rarely spoke, but that was just habit. He’d long ago given up hope of being understood but tonight he was charmed, and opening up.
So they worked together. The book went into print and was followed by a workbook for schools, where Caroline spoke about communications in the family. The more time they spent together the more their values aligned. They were preoccupied by the same thing: people and what motivates them.
In Stephen’s office one day, Caroline noticed early drafts of his memoir The Novice, and begged to read it. Her suggestions blew him away, and she became his editor until publication in 2009.
Caroline discovered that not everybody faced MS the same way. At the beginning she'd joined an MS support group, only to find people more into self-pity than self-help. She left to form her own ‘Personal Power MS Workshop,’ finding speakers who could empower her group. Later, she became a workshop facilitator for MUHC My Toolbox self-care management program for people with chronic conditions.
Stephen and Caroline’s relationship moved in many directions. They spoke for hours at a time. Caroline shared everything. Stephen began to do the same. They exchanged divorce stories and made a pact to never again fall in love. Then they fell in love.
They moved in together. Although Caroline’s two sons were grown and independent, Stephen was now stepfather to two girls. He loved the normalcy, and to this day shakes his head in disbelief—that’s how novel a happy family life is to him. Eight years later, they got married.
During this time Caroline and Stephen built Quiet Mind Seminars—a teaching platform for Stephen’s classes in mindfulness and Buddhism. As that grew, Caroline went back to school to become a life coach.
Meanwhile her MS was progressing. The diagnosis was upgraded from RRMS to SPMS—not good. Regular visits to a neurologist add to the downsides of MS. Doctors have no cure. They offer pharmaceuticals—some for symptoms, others to perhaps delay onset or possibly reduce symptoms. Their efficacy is vague, plus you’ll have side-effects for the rest of your life.
Caroline’s a whirlwind thinker with a let’s-get-it-done personality. One MS symptom more than any galled her—fatigue. It’s not just about being tired at the end of the day. She’d wake up in the morning exhausted, and began to spend more time in bed than on her feet. Vertigo was another. Something had to be done.
Designed by Doctor Terry Wahls—herself an MS sufferer—the Wahls Protocol demands a dramatic change in diet. Stephen and Caroline had read about it before but decided it was too extreme. No dairy food, no sugar, no grain. Now, however, they had motive.
It was like learning to cook all over again—way too much for just one. It required a complete resupply of the kitchen! To Stephen’s surprise, he quit pasta, bread, milk and cheese for good. Raised in an Italian household where food was tantamount to religion, he couldn't believe he'd given up his favourite foods, but he felt so good now that he didn't care. As for Caroline, she jumped out of bed and got back to work. Today she’ll tell anyone who’ll listen all about the Wahls’ Protocol.
They’ve been on the diet for seven years now and, although Caroline struggles with walking, she manages her energy levels well. She also attributes her strength and positive outlook to the personalized exercise programs of The MS GYM.
In 2015 Stephen and Caroline built a new home for themselves—a perfect place for their simplified lifestyle. They don’t go out much, but are always busy promoting Stephen’s teaching and Caroline’s life coaching, and writing about mindfulness. Stephen also keeps up his blogs, writes on social media and always has a book-length project on the burner. Meanwhile, Caroline’s imagining herself in her clients’ shoes, finding new ways forward. Both are crazy in love with their new grandchildren. They live on the edge of a forest outside Montreal, with their cats Ziggy and Sam.