With an estimated 240 Canadians out of 100,000 living with multiple sclerosis (MS), it has been called Canada’s disease. In the US, cases above the 37th parallel run 110-140/100,000 and below they’re lower, for some reason, at 57-78/100,000.
MS afflicts those in northern climates more, although the Inuit have a notably low risk for contracting it. Studying a world map showing incidence of the disease, one can see that it is an environmental issue, with diet, climate and genetics all playing a part.
So, what exactly is MS? According to www.mssociety.ca, “MS is currently classified as an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord). MS is unpredictable and can cause symptoms such as extreme fatigue, lack of coordination, weakness, tingling, impaired sensation, vision problems, bladder problems, cognitive impairment and mood changes. Its effects can be physical, emotional and financial.”
“Unpredictable” is a key word here. It’s as though the monster from under your childhood bed has crept up to spend each day of the rest of your life with you. Oh, and did I mention there is no cure?
When Kayla Montgomery, an award-winning long distance runner from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was diagnosed with MS at 15, she spent a year in denial, feeling bitter and fearful about what lay ahead. In her TED Talk from 2015, Montgomery, then 19, says she did a lot of “pretending” that she was fine in those early days, until something a youth pastor said became the slap in the face that led to acceptance. She came to realize that MS is “just a disease” and it’s all a “part of living in a broken world”.
Wow. Wise words coming from such a young person. She points out that, as we all know, bad news is inevitable in life. “If you allow it to get the best of you,” she says, “you’ll miss the opportunity to turn something bad into something good. When we’re consumed in self-pity we tend to stop looking for solutions.”
One just has to read the news on a regular basis to know how broken the world is. But focusing on what is “broken” does nothing to provide a “fix”, either in the world or our personal lives.
Montgomery decided to view MS as her motivation, not her monster, and despite losing the feeling in her legs when they get overheated – which of course they do when she runs – she’s pushed herself to state titles and a collegiate career. Of Montgomery’s athleticism a New York Times article says, “Defying most logic, she has gone on to become one of the fastest young distance runners in the country – one who cannot stay on her feet after crossing the finish line.”
We can rail at injustices in the world all we want, but if we want sanity, if our goal is peace, we end up like Montgomery, accepting the negative, identifying matters within our control and letting the rest of it go.
I figure if Montgomery can run long distances on legs that go numb, surely I can ride my bike 150 kilometers over two days this summer on legs that feel to raise money for this unpredictable, incurable disease she deals with on a daily basis.
So join the fight, if you haven’t already. Donations to the MS Society fund research (which learns more about the illness daily and is seeing great success with stem cell work), government advocacy, financial support and services that empower Canadians affected by MS. Here’s the link to donate: http://mssoc.convio.net/site/TR/BikeTour/OntarioDivision?px=2745493&pg=personal&fr_id=5983
To join Team Rita 60 and ride: http://mssoc.convio.net/site/TR/BikeTour/OntarioDivision?pg=entry&fr_id=5983