Dealing with the challenges of multiple sclerosis

May is MS Awareness Month, and Central Albertans can help raise funds for research and support services by taking part

FAMILY SUPPORT - Bre Fitzpatrick (centre) is flanked by her parents Donna Fitzpatrick and Brian Fitzpatrick at the 2012 MS Bike tour. Bre works as a development coordinator with the local MS Society chapter and was diagnosed with MS in 2010.

May is MS Awareness Month, and Central Albertans can help raise funds for research and support services by taking part in several local events.

The Enerflex MS Walk and Run is set for May 26 starting out from the Kiwanis Picnic Shelter at Great Chief Park in Red Deer. Last year Central Alberta walkers raised $144,874.92.

“MS touches so many people in the community,” says Ellen Geddes, events coordinator of the Central Alberta chapter. “We have faith that local residents will take up our call to action and do their part to ensure that we can continue to offer the highest level of services possible to those affected by MS.”

Opening ceremonies for the MS Walk will get underway at 8:30 am on May 26th, including a Zumba warm-up. The Run begins at 9 a.m. with 5km or 10km distances to choose from.

The official walk is at 9:15 a.m. with three possible loops – 2km, 7km, or 8.5km, or any combination of those.

Organizers are reminding walkers that the event goes regardless of weather conditions. Also, the Johnson MS Bike Tour is set for June 8-9. It’s a pledge-based fundraising event that provides Canadians with the opportunity to ride through scenic and often spectacular parts of the country. The 2012 Central Alberta MS Bike Tour raised $130,666. Individuals or teams can register online at www.mswalks.ca.

Meanwhile, there is an employee at the Central Alberta chapter office in Red Deer who can often connect with new clients on perhaps a deeper level than others.

Employed as the chapter’s development coordinator, Bre Fitzpatrick also has multiple sclerosis.

It was in the fall of 2009 that she started noticing troubling symptoms, including numbness in her fingers and the trunk of her body. “I thought I had a pinched nerve,” she explains. She had completed university studies in communications at the time, and was working at a Calgary restaurant. But just after Christmas that year, she started losing vision in her right eye.

Several tests indicated it could be MS and an MRI confirmed it. The diagnosis was confirmed in early 2010.

According to the MS Society, multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system which is composed of the brain and spinal cord. The disease attacks the myelin which is a covering wrapped around the nerves of the central nervous system.

Fitzpatrick was told she had ‘relapsing/remitting’ MS, which means symptoms can flare up and then dissipate. “I might not have feeling in this hand, for example, but then it will usually recover and I’ll get either full feeling or almost full sensation back.”

In the time following her diagnosis, she found her thoughts tending to the worst-case scenarios. “I thought, I’m going to be blind, I’m going to be in wheelchair. My life’s going to end. I tended to go to the horror story side of things as opposed to focusing on stories where people live their lives and have very normal experiences.”

But her senses of optimism and resiliency eventually kicked in.

“I didn’t want to change my world, but I realized my work wouldn’t be easy to sustain.” She moved back to Red Deer in the summer of 2010 to benefit from a supportive family network. She got involved with the local chapter of the MS Society through contract work and now works as their development coordinator.

Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick deals squarely with the challenges of MS as they surface.

“If we had had this interview even two months ago, I would have told you there are some days that are worse than others, but for the most part I’m a very normal, happy and healthy girl. Yes, there are times I have less energy, when a symptom flares up but it usually resolves itself very frequently.”

But prior to this past Christmas she had been experiencing symptom flare-ups and prior to a vacation this year, she was also losing vision in her right eye.

A round of new medications helped and she was off to Hawaii. But on her return home, she started losing mobility in her legs. “It was probably the scariest thing that has happened with my MS. So had I walked in here two weeks ago, I would have been using a cane.”

And such has been her experience – times of normalcy interrupted with flare-ups that can really take a toll. But through it all, Fitzpatrick maintains a wonderful outlook. “I always think that there are people who have it way worse. But in any type of moment when you need to be resilient, your perspective on what is important in life changes dramatically. I think you also start to appreciate more, too.”

Fitzpatrick also points to the unexpected ‘blessings’ that have come her way including the support network of family and friends.

“If you can take the positive out of a (circumstance), you’re going to have a way better time along the journey. That’s where I try to keep my focus.”

editor@reddeerexpress.com

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