The support of family and friends- Anyone who is forced into taking on the challenge of fighting multiple sclerosis can have success. This success is based partly on health care, partly on will power, and partly based on having great support from family and friends. I have been extremely fortunate with an overwhelming amount of support. It is truly a gift. The support was evident from the very beginning and has continued to this day.
On Remembrance Day (November 11th) 2006, before my diagnosis, I was at work my restaurant as usual. Slowly during the day, my entire right side went numb. It felt as though my entire right side was asleep. Scared, I decided to go to the hospital. I knew I could not drive, I called my parents to have them take me. I had my business partner come in and explained to him where I was going. My parents arrived and I left for emergency; I had no idea that was the last time I would work for 7 months.
We arrived at the emergency room of the Misercordia Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta. Instead of having to wait to get in, the nurses brought me right in to the emergency room. I knew it was serious. The doctor ran tests, had me scanned, and took blood. After several visits by the doctor to my bed, the point became really clear- they had no idea what was
wrong with me, but the doctor knew it was something serious. The doctor asked if I had any family history of MS to which I had to answer “yes” (my aunt on my Mom’s side has MS as well). I started to think where there was smoke there may be fire.
I was referred back to my family doctor who began prepping for the reality that I had MS. He referred me to an MS specialist at the University of Alberta. I will never forget that day; I went to the U of A Science Building and got off the elevator and the sign in the hallway read ‘University of Alberta Multiple Sclerosis Research Department’. The elevator closing behind could have been a dungeon door. I went in to the waiting room and checked in. There was a older lady in a wheelchair and her husband waiting as well. I remember looking at her and thinking “is that what my life is going to be?” The reality and gravity of my situation had hit me like a freight train. I entered my appointment with the head of the University’s MS department. He ran tests and asked questions and asked me to get an MRI. I had a few months to wait for the MRI appointment. The MRI eventually confirmed I had MS.
A few weeks after the attack, I went to stay with my parents for a month or so. I tried staying on my own, but I was unable. About two weeks after the attack, I awoke to the feeling of an axe splitting my head at the centre. I could barely move, let alone think straight. I managed to grab my phone and call my dad and speak one word “help”. I am forever in debt to him as I can’t imagine the strength it took to drive the twenty minutes to come and get me and not know what he would find when he arrived. Back to the emergency room we went. I was prescribed a type of steroid to help with the inflammation. After this episode my parents ‘strongly recommended’ that I stay with them until I was more able. It was a brilliant strategy on their part; they allowed me to feel like I had a decision (which I probably did not) to stay at home or go with them and keep my pride.
I wisely chose to accept the invitation.
One of the side affects of the attack was that I was unable to focus my right eye. The next few weeks were horrible. I had very limited mobility due to my sight and balance and I couldn’t read, watch TV, or leave the house on my own. The only thing I could do was cook with supervision. While I stayed with my parents I would cook for them every night. My Mom or Dad would take me to the market everyday and I would pick something out. So there I was at the stove attempting to do my best impression of a gourmet chef. However, I could not really see that well out of my right eye so the fridge, which was immediately to the right of the stove, would get regularly covered with whatever I was cooking. After dinner, my mom would take me for a walk (while my Dad cleaned the fridge). I needed to move and this was the only way as my balance was so bad that someone had to be with me so that I did not walk into traffic. It would have been a site to see- my tiny Mom walking her 250 pound son by the arm in the middle of an Alberta winter.
I was finally able to go home, but I was not yet ready to return to work. The walks that started with my Mom I continued on my own. Slowly the walks became runs. When I first started running I couldn’t run 1 km without stopping (or almost dying). The runs continued and the distances increased. About the same time, another Aunt on my Mom’s side of the family had been diagnosed for the second time with breast cancer. My extended family formed ‘Team Solidarity’. We each started walking or running and keeping track of our km’s run/walked. The goal was to ‘ceremonially’ get from Edmonton to Calgary and back (roughly 700kms) in support of my Aunt’s battle with breast cancer and my struggle with MS. Even my 90 year old grandfather kept track of his distances as he walked to the pond near the seniors residence where he lived. I carried my family with me every step while running for the team. The team was successful and we more than covered the distance.
I found the experience with ‘Team Solidarity’ to be hugely motivational. I kept running and eventually hired a trainer as I developed the goal of completing a half marathon. I trained and the following summer I ran my first ever half marathon in Red Deer Alberta. My immediate family made the drive from Edmonton for the event and a good friend of mine, who was in school for massage therapy at the time, also came to act as my personal masseuse (actually, she used the hours toward her diploma). It was pretty amazing to have all those familiar faces in the crowd when I crossed the finish line.
The December following the Red Deer (and Canmore) half marathon, I met my wife. We clicked immediately. I remember the horror I felt the night a few weeks after we met I decided to tell her about my MS. I remember thinking, “this could be it.” I was truly afraid of how she would react. However, I could sense things were going to get serious so I thought it best to tell her as early as possible. True to her character, she didn’t even flinch. She has never paused in her support of me and she is an angel. I’m so lucky to have her in my life and my daughter is extremely lucky to have my wife as her mother. We were engaged in January and married in August of that year.
My wife’s family has become extremely supportive as well. This past April, my symptoms flared up to the point where I had to take a few days off of work. We have a very active two year old daughter and my wife is due in July with our second child. My wife’s mother made the 2 hour trek to our house almost immediately to help my wife with our daughter while I recouped. It is support like that which is invaluable in battling a disease like MS. Peace of mind in knowing things are being looked after.
I know how lucky I am for the friends and family I have. It saddens me to know that not everyone has a support structure like I do. Words can’t really express how thankful I am for the people who support my wife, daughter, and myself. All I can really say is a heartfelt ‘thank you’ and offer my assistance in return whenever it is needed.
Until next time,