Living with MS
Most people wouldn’t know that anything is wrong with me.
I was an elementary school principal. I held a doctorate in education. I’ve trained as an athlete my entire life: Division 1 full-scholarship softball athlete and triathlete in my later life. I’m married with an athletic and outgoing husband and three extremely active children.
And I have MS.
I vividly remember my first obvious sign of MS. I was purchasing my daughter’s first pair of shoes, and I dropped the pen handed me to sign the receipt—not only dropped it but couldn’t feel it or grasp it. The second sign came during a short run when I couldn’t get my stride going due to an inexplicably dragging right foot.
After visiting multiple doctors and going through various tests, I finally heard the words that it has taken me years to accept: “You have MS.”
An MS diagnosis is devastating, but it can also be a gift in so many ways. My struggle makes me stronger and only changes what I can do, not who I am.
I think it’s important to educate people on the ability of disabilities, even (or especially) one’s children. One day while driving them home from a visit with their grandparents, I noticed that my three children were whispering to each other in the back seat. When I questioned the silence, my six year old son quietly asked, “Mom, do people die from MS?” How long had they wondered? How long had they been discussing it with each other? After a long pause, I said, “People who have MS can live as long as everyone else.” “Okay,” one said, satisfied, “Can we go for ice cream?” Tears streamed down my face. Maybe this MS is a gift … a chance at a new life that can better my life and that of my family.
And, with my years of work with the MS Society and having the privilege of supporting the MS Society as they have supported me, I have an even bigger family. My husband has been a rider in a local Bike MS ride here in Western Pennsylvania for as long as I can remember, and last year he even joined the dedicated FedEx team of cyclists. I always chalked up his MS 150 Escape to the Lake Ride as him needing an excuse to get away for a “guys weekend” each year. I really couldn’t connect to the experience that he had while riding … until I was diagnosed in 2010. Then, in a depressed, I-need-to-get-up-and-do-something act, I decided to train and ride. From the moment that I got on the bike, I was moved to tears to witness the enormity of the event and the commitment of the people who ride. Families, friends, teams from every facet of life.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s called the “MS Monster” for a reason, and everyone with MS is affected in different ways, both cognitive and physical. I have good days and bad; and, for every one of my good days, there are thousands of those with MS that can’t eat or get out of bed without the help of a loved one.
However, MS didn’t take my life away. It forced me to slow down and better appreciate the abilities that I do have along with all of the little things that make life worth living. MS is giving me the opportunity to help others in ways that I never imagined. Team FedEx and all who participate in Bike MS (volunteers, cheerleaders, riders) make our world a better place and inspire me to do more than I ever imagined possible.