There’s only one thing worse than failing, and that’s not trying at all.
I’m Ms. Chamein Canton. I put emphasis on the Ms., because it stands for me as a woman with MS and not a woman defined by MS.
By the time I was in my twenties, I was used to hearing life-changing news from doctors. When I was eighteen, it was a breast lump that was, thankfully benign. Then it was you’re pregnant with twins. So, while I was used to receiving big news, I wasn’t ready to hear about dysplasia and my uterus in the same sentence. Pre-cancerous issues in the early twenties for most women are rare, but I wasn’t most women and I was on a journey I wish I could have opted out of.
I was divorced and my sons were little at the time. It was quite the balancing act as the only parent on the ground and receiving no child-support. I had to, as Tim Gunn says, make it work. From the age of twenty-three to just two months shy of my 29th birthday, I went through more treatments, procedures, and surgeries than someone twice my age at the time. The most grueling was treatments just before work particularly in the summer when I had to wear long sleeve to cover all the i.v. marks on my arms. Coffee breaks on the floor in the women’s bathroom weren’t any fun either. After going through all of that, I finally had a hysterectomy. I already had children and I looked forward to a life raising them as healthy mother, but that didn’t happen.
In the year leading up to my thirtieth birthday, I began to have unexplained issues. Double vision, numbness, tingling, and a creepy crawly sensation running through my limbs. Painful back and leg spasms tortured me endlessly. Finally, my doctor put me in the hospital for a week and ran every test possible, with no answers. Then he asked the right questions, I had an MRI, it was multiple sclerosis. I’d heard of MS. I remembered when Lola Falana was diagnosed, but I didn’t know what it meant and what affect it would have on my life. My sons were nine-years-old at the time. I didn’t have time to be sick, but when I ignored it, boy did I pay for it. I was wheelchair bound and crawling around to get from room to room. It was no way to live.
My dad, who was always with me throughout everything, told me that as long as I had MS, it wouldn’t never have me. I’ve lived with by that mantra ever since. I focused on living my life and doing everything I could to stay busy and active. By the time my sons were 15, I’d lived with MS for six years. I was still a member of the PTA, never missed an open school night, attended all of the sporting events and band concerts my children were in. I received the honor of being the MS Mother Of The Year 2002 for the Long Island Chapter of the MS Society. It was certainly a high point and by then I was an author with two books behind me and another seven books to come. The year I turned 50 was momentous for two reasons; it’s a milestone birthday, and it was a milestone for living with MS for 20 years. I am considered an old-timer in the MS community.
The next few years after my 50th were tough due to a severe exacerbation that I had to live with for almost 18 months before I came back to life and feeling like I was back in the land of the living.
Living with any disease doesn’t just affect one person, everyone who loves you is affected by what happens to you. It’s important to realize that your attitude will set the tone for how other people feel. It was important for me to be proactive about my health. The MS Society offers a bounty of programs to help. I took MS Yoga, Tai-Chi, and swim as a part of a mind, body, and spirit connection that still helps me center myself every single day.
I’ve also made an effort to write about MS to inform, entertain, and educate readers about the disease in fiction. Waiting for Mr. Darcy and Beverly Avenue Blues, both feature main north of forty characters that are living with MS. Each character approaches MS in their lives in a different manner, as we find with everyone that has MS.
In a weird way, I’m fortunate that I had to deal with sickness early on. It’s given me such a deep appreciation for life and every breath I take. You stop sweating the small things and while you will always have differences with people over any number of things, you live in the moment and that’s how you make anything in your life count. Every morning when I open my eyes, I am thankful to see whatever outside my window. Sun, snow, rain, clouds, it doesn’t matter, glad to see. By no means am I some Pollyanna walking around, we have some real difficult issues going on in the world, things that require us to work together to find commonality. It’s not good to look at things as all or nothing. Someone is either for you or against you. Well, sickness isn’t nuanced when it strikes. It doesn’t care about your beliefs, money, or place in the world. Baron or beggar, it’s all the same. Take it from someone who was in a treatment circle, not one of us was greater or lesser than the others. We were all fighters together. Better to be a band of brothers and sisters, than to separate into opposing corners, then everyone loses.
If you are living with an autoimmune disease like diabetes, epilepsy, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, grave’s disease, Addison’s disease, or Celiac diseases, just for a partial list, reach out to organizations for support and information. Many offer groups online and in person with professionals who can help you navigate insurance issues and so much more. Also, for your loved ones, check into caregiver support programs too. Everyone should be able to communicate and express how they feel. Although, we are going through a lot, we need to be mindful and take care of ourselves. As it turns out, your best resource is you. Therefore, take good care.
If you have MS, please check out the MS Society for chapters and programs in your area that can assist you with health and wellness. Many chapters have support groups online for the newly diagnosed and those living with MS for many years like me.
If you want to learn more about MS, find out the facts about life with MS. You can contact the National MS Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/
Waiting for Mr. Darcy.
Three friends over forty still wait for Prince Charming in the form of their favorite Austen character, Mr. Darcy. Not quite ready to turn in their hot chick cards for the hot flashes of menopause, they’d like to find a man who is charming, smug, intelligent and cute to share the primes of their lives with (even if one of them doesn’t know she’s looking and he’s closer than she thinks). Together they navigate this brave forty-plus world and find out Mr. Darcy is closer than they think.
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