Why March matters

The orange ribbon is the symbol for Multiple Sclerosis. The ribbon above is from the yearly walk for MS where people can walk for a cause; it hangs above my desk as a reminder.

Laura Heckenlaible

The orange ribbon is the symbol for Multiple Sclerosis. The ribbon above is from the yearly walk for MS where people can walk for a cause; it hangs above my desk as a reminder.

By Laura Heckenlaible, Lincoln High School

With the snow melting, spring sports season and thoughts of finals running rampant in everyone’s minds, it’s easy and almost unavoidable to fly through the month of March without even thinking about the bigger picture. For myself, when I think of March I don’t think of a pot of gold or the warm weather; my mind shifts focus to someone far more important: the bravest person I know, my mom.

12 years ago, at the young age of 39, my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis also known as MS. From that moment on not only her life but my family’s life was forever changed. For my mom, the ability to balance became difficult. Each day was a guessing game as to whether her legs would cooperate, and self-administered shots full of medicine to mask the effects were delivered to the front door. For my family, I can’t remember a day I didn’t worry about my mom falling at home or at work and no one being there to help. Worst of all, when my mom got the heart-wrenching news about what was coming in the future, she was told that there was no cure. Neither my family nor my mom knew what the future held. 

I can bet for many of you reading, the words Multiple Sclerosis are foreign. Any time I tell someone about my mom, I’m met with the question “What’s that?” According to the National MS Society, Multiple Sclerosis is defined as: “An unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body.” 

For someone with MS, when their brain sends signals to the legs or arms to move or take a step, sometimes that signal doesn’t make it or takes longer to be delivered. Symptoms like fatigue, weakness, dizziness and tingling or numbness in one’s face or extremities are common. More severe symptoms may include vision loss, paralysis, cognitive issues, epilepsy and depression. Though the cause of MS is not fully known and may vary for different people, for every person with MS their own body’s immune system is constantly attacking their central nervous system thus creating damage and causing the inference of information. MS can completely take over one’s life causing some to lose any sort of normality. 

Now at this point, many of you may be wondering what the correlation between the month of March and MS is. March happens to be National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. Because my mom has a minor case of MS compared to others, even when I tell people about her specific case, many seem to brush over it. What they don’t realize is that each person’s experience with MS is different. No matter the extent of the disease, the effect pervades each person’s life greatly. Their whole life is altered. Just because one’s case is less minor does not mean that each day isn’t filled with struggles. In a study taken by the National MS Society, it was found that nearly 1 million people worldwide are diagnosed and live with MS. It was also found that women are three times more likely to be diagnosed. Though MS affects mainly people over 20 and under 50, young children and elders can also have MS. Just because many people are not aware of the effect MS is having on people does not mean it is not prevalent. 

To this day my mom is still fighting this terrible disease. Despite her hardships, my mom is the most positive and loving person I have ever met. Even on the days when it’s hard for her to get out of bed, she still manages to make me laugh and help me in whatever ways she is able. With new developments in medicine, my mom no longer has to self-administer shots and is able to instead take pills daily. New medicine has allowed my mom the ability to do so much more than she used to. She has even been able to pick up some light weights and perform physical therapy activities recommended by her doctor.  I can see in the smile she greets me with every morning that she is feeling better. Even in this day in age, there is still no cure but researchers and scientists are creating medicine and working towards hopefully someday finding a treatment. 

As the month of March continues and rolls to the next, I encourage you to not forget the bigger picture. Don’t brush over MS and the over 1 million people fighting the disease with an immense amount of bravery each day. For myself, no matter the month, I’m honored to be able to have such an amazing role model who fights each day; I just so happen to be able to call her Mom.

This story was originally published on The Statesman on March 8, 2022.