March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, a month to create more awareness about a disease that more than 2.3 million people are affected by worldwide. This staggering number translates into millions of patients seeking answers on why their bodies are no longer being cooperative. Fatigue, numbness, weakness, pain, cognitive and mood changes, sexual, bladder or bowel difficulties or muscular and visual changes are some of the reasons patients turn to the medical community for help.
In 1986 when I received my own diagnosis I was blessed to find a gentle and compassionate nurse practitioner. With kid gloves she helped me see that my life was far from over. At age 28 I simply needed to learn how to readjust my sails to live the spectacular life I'd always imagined. Since then I've met other nurses and MS specialists who are dedicated to helping patients find their best new normal.
My heroes are not splashed on covers of magazines or discussed on Morning Joe. They are quietly changing the lives of countless patients by making a difference in extraordinary ways. Here is my tribute to them.
I remember it well. The day a sentence, one phenomenal sentence, indelibly entered my heart. It was short, to the point and brought tears to my eyes. I was sitting in a room filled with women, all dressed to the nines, who were patiently waiting for the fashion show to begin.
Someone grabbed the microphone to welcome us. I recognized the voice and when I looked up I saw the woman responsible for creating the MS Center we were honoring, the MS Center who embraced my family and me after my diagnosis. She was my nurse practitioner, the one who became my friend and mentor, the one who changed my life.
She introduced herself, spoke eloquently about MS and explained the mission of the fashion show fundraiser. Then she added:
"I will not rest until we find a cure for MS, even if that takes the rest of my life."
The words seemed to hang in the balance while my heart processed its remarkable meaning. There was someone out there working incessantly to make my life better.
What sort of person works tirelessly to find a cure for a disease that's not their own? Who selflessly dedicates their life to such an endeavor?
For me the answer began with June Halper, a tireless advocate who touched my heart so long ago. She's a nurse practitioner, author, CEO, businesswoman and creator who possesses the energy of the Energizer bunny on steroids. She is an amazing human being.
I recently wrote a piece for Mango Health on the four ways my diagnosis made me a better person. I credit June for being the one who, in 1986, taught me how to take the DIS out of ABILITY. Since then I've met countless other MS advocates, in and around the medical community, who are also doing incredible work.
I could write a book about them.
Through June I've had the good fortune of being affiliated with The Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC), the preeminent professional organization for Multiple Sclerosis healthcare providers and researchers in North America. As their blogger I'm honored to meet members of CMSC who work every day to make our lives better.
March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month and to honor it I wanted to introduce you to some of the tireless advocates who are members of CMSC.
Their common mission, as you can see from their quotes, is to create a better quality of life for those living with MS, to instill hope in all of us, and to find a cure.
I thank them for making a difference in the lives of those living with MS. They are brilliant and passionate in the work they do.
They are my rock stars; they are my heroes.
This post was previously published on Cathy's blog, An Empowered Spirit.
Cathy Chester is an award-winning writer and health advocate who has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for almost 30 years. She writes about finding the joy in life despite disability. MS does not define her, so Cathy also writes about living a quality life in midlife, social good causes, animal rights, book and movie reviews, and the importance of using compassion and kindness as a way of making the world a better place. Her work has been published on numerous websites as she is passionate about helping others manage the difficulties of living with a chronic illness.
Follow Cathy on Twitter.