For someone like Janée, who thrives on engaging with others, being diagnosed with MS affected her life in ways that reached far beyond the physical. Even managing loved ones’ efforts to stay in touch and offer support left her drained. So, she retreated from the world and the people she loved the most. That all changed when her sister-in-law, Dawn, took her on an adventure through Italy using Marco Polo. It was an experience that would shift both their lives forever.
Janée: After I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I spent the first year explaining to my loved ones that I wasn’t going to let MS define me. I was going to do the therapies, get the cutting-edge treatments, and be okay. Then I realized that instead of addressing my disease, I was spending all my time helping others cope.
Dawn: When our extended family left Florida for North Carolina, we assumed Janée and my brother would follow. No one could have planned for MS. I was heartbroken that I didn’t live close enough to offer hands-on support. She’s my sister-in-law and my best friend – I wanted to be there for her.
Janée: Dawn did everything humanly possible to stay in touch. But with everyone calling to send love and ask how I was doing, I was exhausted. That simple, caring question – “How are you?” – would send my entire limbic system into overdrive. Eventually, I shut out the world simply so I could rest.
Dawn: I became the point person. Someone would call and ask, “How’s Janée? I haven’t heard from her in weeks.” My update would then become misinterpreted as it passed from one person to the next. And when we texted, I couldn’t see if “LOL” meant she was truly laughing or just putting on a brave front.
Janée: Until one day, we made a discovery when Dawn was visiting. A hurricane came barreling down on Florida, and along the evacuation route people were texting, “Get Marco Polo. You can stay in touch even if the phones go down.” We installed it, but I didn’t use it again until Dawn told the family that she’d created a Marco Polo group. She was going to Italy and taking everyone with her!
Dawn: The trip was spectacular. I sent Polos from the Vatican, rocky outcroppings in Cinque Terre, and the canals and Carnivale in Venice. I knew my family would never visit these places, particularly Janée since most aren’t handicap accessible.
Janée: For ten days straight, Dawn’s Polos became my favorite thing to wake up to.
Dawn: We started Polo’ing daily after that. I took Janée with me to work, on business trips, to the grocery store. Along the way, our conversations became less about showing Janée the world and more about rediscovering our relationship.
Janée: Marco Polo allows me to connect when I’m ready – or even just send one Polo to everyone on the days I’m not “up for it.” They can see in my face that I’m truly okay. And as a disabled person, the app works for me cognitively and physically. Unlike phone calls, it actually feeds my energy.
Dawn: Janée is such a rock star. She swims, practices yoga, and does everything possible to care for herself holistically. She even taught me to meditate over Marco Polo. We joke about how much money we’re saving on therapy now.
Janée: That is literally true. I’ve cut therapy sessions in half. Rather than feeling like a burden, I know that I am enriching my family member’s lives.
Dawn: It’s been a saving grace for me too. Janée was there during some really challenging life changes. We all go through tough things in life, and if you don’t have someone there sitting with you and holding your hand, it makes it so much harder. But Marco Polo is the next best thing to having your friend next to you, by your side.
Janée: It’s hard to express the level of love and connectedness Marco Polo has made possible on a daily basis: the challenges it has seen us through, the trips, adventures, and simple moments we’ve had together. It’s lifted my isolation and changed our quality of life in so many ways.