The rumors started a few years ago.
It all began when they had seen her struggle to get to the car.
It was not a pretty sight.
Swaying from one side to the other, Jennifer stopped to take a breath and regain her balance. Her brain was telling her body to walk upright, with that strong, steady gait she had always been so proud of. But somehow, that message didn’t reach her muscles because she kept on waddling like a duck.
As she looked down, she realized how uneven the sidewalk was. Every tile that was sticking out turned it into an obstacle course.
She stopped again and looked at her neighbor’s porch. A shadow quickly moved away from the front window.
When she finally reached the car, she had to hold on to it, to stay on her feet. Jennifer opened the door and swung herself into the driver’s seat. When she drove away, she already felt exhausted, and the day had barely begun. She wondered how well she would do at the audition.
The people next door were old school. They didn’t say much, and when they did, it was usually behind her back. Much of the world was a mystery to them, and yet, they acted as if they knew everything.
For one, they thought that Jennifer was lazy, because she hardly ever left for work in the morning. They had no idea that Jennifer had a state of the art voice-over home studio equipped with ISDN and SourceConnect.
Secondly, they were pretty sure that Jennifer was faking a handicap. One day, they had seen her walking with a cane. The next day, she seemed to be totally fine. Besides, she looked great. Sick people usually don’t look that good.
Perhaps Jennifer was feigning disability to get money from the government. How else could she afford the mortgage? After all, she had no job and people abuse the system all the time.
The neighbors also knew something else: Jennifer liked a drink or two. That would explain the swaying and the stumbling on the sidewalk. In short: Jennifer was a jobless, lazy drunk who shouldn’t even be driving. She should be ashamed of herself!
This week is MS Awareness week, and like many other people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, Jennifer was gearing up for the annual Walk MS event in May. She needed sponsors for the walk and she decided to stay close to home. Jennifer loved to bake and had an idea: she would go door-to-door with her delicious home-made cookies and raise funds for the event.
As the oven was heating up, she thought back to the last meeting of her support group. That night, they had discussed the many misconceptions surrounding MS.
Larry, the facilitator, warned everybody:
“When it comes to a chronic illness like MS, if it’s not visible, it does not exist. In other words: as long as you’re not in a wheelchair, people tend to think that you must be doing alright.
Some folks think that MS is the result of a poor diet or negative thinking. In other words: you’re basically doing it to yourself. Eating healthy and an optimistic attitude alone could solve the problem. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
As you know, many MS symptoms are silent. Different people have different symptoms and some of them come and go. There’s poor coordination, fatigue, vertigo, visual disturbances, tremors, spasticity, weakness, slurred speech, unstable walking, sensitivity to heat… do I need to go on?”
POLLING THE PEOPLE
“When they surveyed people in the UK about MS last year, almost half of the respondents couldn’t name a single symptom. Others believed that MS was contagious or inherited and almost always fatal. None of that is true. Mind you, the people that were interviewed were from a cross-section of the population. They weren’t exactly uneducated.
So, on top of suffering from a nearly invisible autoimmune disease, people with MS also suffer from these myths and misconceptions.”
At that point, Carlos interjected. He had been a flight attendant for many years, until MS had him grounded.
“I always tell people: Even though I have this disease, it’s not who I am. I’m still the same person. I don’t want your sympathy. I want your understanding.”
Have you ever wondered what it feels like to have MS? Singer-songwriter Kristie Salerno Kent was officially diagnosed in November 1999. She made a short film about living with MS. Please take a few moments to watch it. I think you’ll like her approach. Depending on your computer, you might have to turn the volume up a little:
Let’s pick up Jennifer’s story where we left off. Her scrumptious chocolate chip cookies were ready and wrapped with an orange ribbon. Within the hour, she had sold almost her entire batch to the people on her block, and there was only one house left: the neighbors. On her last legs, she rang the doorbell.
“What’s up with you?” asked the neighbor. “It looks like you were hit by a truck.”
“Oh well,” said Jennifer. “It’s the fatigue. I’ve been going door-to-door to sell these cookies for the MS Walk…”
“I know exactly what you mean,” interrupted the neighbor. I get tired too. We all do. Just get some rest and you’ll be okay. Why are you selling cookies? Did you join the Girl Scouts?”
“It’s for people who want to sponsor my team for the MS Walk in May. You get three for a dollar,” said Jennifer.
“MS… that’s what Michael J. Fox has, right?” asked the neighbor. “He looks fine to me. Saw him on the Olympics a few weeks ago. Once an actor, always an actor.”
“I believe he has Parkinson’s,” said Jennifer. “I raise money for Multiple Sclerosis.”
“I’ll tell you what,” said the neighbor. “I just gave money to those poor people in Haiti, and I’m sure you’ll make someone else happy with these cookies for Multiple… whatever it is. Right now, my pizzas have arrived.”
As Jennifer walked back to her house, the guy from Domino’s made his delivery.
“Sir, that’ll be $18.98”.
“Here’s twenty five,” said the neighbor. “Keep the change.”
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
MS is a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system.
Approximately 400,000 Americans have MS, and every hour someone is newly diagnosed. Worldwide, MS affects about 2.1 million people. Even though there is no cure, there are now FDA-approved medications that have been shown to “modify” or slow down the underlying course of MS. In addition, many therapeutic and technological advances are helping people manage symptoms.
The National MS Society is the largest nonprofit organization in the United States supporting research for the treatment, prevention and cure of multiple sclerosis. Approximately 83% of Society income is devoted to research and service programs that enhance the lives of people with MS and their families.
Every spring nearly 300,000 people unite across the country to participate in Walk MS. All walks have an accessible route so people of all abilities can participate. Funds raised support the Society’s research and services programs.
*Source: National MS Society
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