Three women with MS bonded by friendshipPam Baker Herrick, a 48-year-old, lifelong resident of Duluth who has multiple sclerosis wants to take a few moments to share my story, educate the community on MS and explain how you can support the cause to cure this chronic disease as part of MS Awareness Week, March 2-8.
I am a 48-year-old, lifelong resident of Duluth and I have multiple sclerosis.
This week, March 2-8, is MS Awareness Week, so I wanted to take a few moments to share my story, educate the community on MS and explain how you can support the cause to cure this chronic disease.
I had no awareness of MS until I was diagnosed eight years ago. I knew no one with the disease and for a long time did not know I had MS. I knew I was growing fatigued more easily, had tingling in my hands and spasticity (tightness) in my legs, but did not know I had MS. As my condition worsened I was no longer able to maintain my employment and eventually I went on disability. Thankfully, I had great support from my family. However, others had difficulty understanding my issues since the symptoms of MS are not easily seen.
That’s when a mutual acquaintance introduced me to LuAnn Wasbotten and Laura Anderson at a party at her home. As the party was winding down, we found ourselves sitting with each other around a table when one of us mentioned how exhausted she was and that the commotion was starting to get to her. The funny thing was that each of us was feeling the same way. That’s when LuAnn told us she had MS.
We laughed as we all admitted to having MS. We talked until after midnight, sharing stories about how MS has changed our lives and the symptoms that impact us. Both LuAnn and Laura had been diagnosed with optic neuritis, the most common MS symptom, which causes blurred vision and blindness in one eye. While I did not have this symptom, I could relate to them. It was truly a relief to have someone to share the “MS war stories” with.
Over time we’ve grown to become very good friends, serving as a great support system for one another. We can relate to one another’s symptoms and empathize with each other about how MS makes the everyday things one takes for granted more difficult. For us laughter is a great coping mechanism. We can laugh when one of us struggles to communicate her thoughts or stumbles when walking. We get together frequently for movies, lunch or just to talk and laugh.
MS is a disease that affects more than 2.5 million people worldwide, including 400,000 people in the United States and about 9,000 people in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Each week 200 people are diagnosed with MS, more than one person per hour. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with more than twice as many women as men diagnosed with the disease. It occurs more commonly among Caucasians, particularly those of northern European ancestry.
While symptoms vary across individuals, they include abnormal fatigue, severe vision problems, loss of balance and coordination, slurred speech, tremors, stiffness, bladder and bowel problems, numbness and tingling of extremities and cognitive degradation. In the worst cases patients can develop partial or complete paralysis on a permanent basis.
While there is no cure for MS yet, advances in treating and understanding MS are achieved daily, and progress in research to find a cure is very encouraging. To continue these advances we need your help.
The annual MS fundraiser is the MS-Walk, which is scheduled this year for Sunday, May 3. The walk starts at the Hampton Inn in Canal Park with check-in between 9 and 10 a.m. The walk starts at 10. To register your own walking team or to donate to a team or individual, check out the Minnesota chapter of the MS Society at www.MSsociety.org.
Pam Baker Herrick is a Duluth native.