[oasis] [columns]

Kenneth Melanson

November 1996

Living with Illness

Well here I am again, having trouble figuring out what it is I want to write about in my article for Oasis. In fact, it's three days past when all articles are due! Whooopsy! Oh well, after what happened last night, I found a topic, really quickly. A topic which I am all too familiar with, and have chosen to deal with in this month's article.

I want to talk about how me, along with many other people in the world live with illness. For me, that illness happens to be MS (Multiple Sclerosis), in simple terms, scarring of the brain tissue. For me, I was diagnosed as having MS two years ago, during the summer between my graduation from high school and my first year of university. What a way to start university, huh? It wasn't that hard telling my friends about it, it was in fact easier then telling them I was gay! But, the pure shock of people when they found out what exactly it was, and that I will more than likely die of this illness caused most of my friends to be very shocked and dismayed that a very active person like myself would have such an illness.

In fact, I knew long before the doctor told me, or at least I had a suspicion. I had been having trouble moving my legs for a few months, and since my mom had MS, I figured that is what it had to be. It seems, somehow, it did the "hereditary" thing with me, transferring from my mom to me, which is unusual since MS is NOT hereditary. I was very certain the day that I went into the hospital for tests that I had it, but my mom told me not to worry, that it wasn't MS. When the doctor told me, my mom was shocked and began to cry a little. I myself, wasn't surprised, but the full realization of having a fatal illness didn't actually hit me until one day, much much later. I was trying to walk up my hill to get to the mail box to mail a letter, and as I began up the hill I was fine, but as I kept going, I began losing feeling and strength in my legs, and so I decided it would be best if I went home before I collapsed.

The reality for me is that, more than likely, I will not live to the age that I believe would be around the right time to die, which happens to be about 80. I will more than likely live to about 40, if I am lucky, 50. This is not something that I personally believe, but it is a statistical fact. Recently, out of pure curiosity, I read a report on MS stats from around the world, and I was shocked to find that most people who have their MS kick in at a young age, between 15 and 17 (I was 17 when it kicked in), only have a rough life span of about 25 years, with the average age of death being about 30 to 35. People who have their MS kick in about early to mid 20's seem to have a slightly longer life span, about 30 years, with death being between 45 and 50. In the case of people having it affect them after late 20's (rough 25), they seem to have long life spans with disease, upwards of 35 years...although there are cases where people who were 30, had it kick in and died at the age of 32. So, not all stats are right on the money. In the case of my mom, she is 45 now, and it hit her when she was 22. For me, I am 19 now, and it hit when I was 17. However, I plan to be one of the people who beats the odds!

I try not to dwell everyday on the fact that I have this illness, or that, sometime, maybe even later today, it might kill me. I live by the simple motto, "Live everyday to its fullest, and always try to smile, in the face of adversity", but sometimes its not easy to try to ignore this illness. Case in point, Saturday night. My good friends Mike and Blair took me to a party. Even before I had left the house to go pick Mike up, I knew my MS was kicking in. But, I hoped that it wouldn't get too bad. Well, unfortunately, that was not the case. By the time we got to the party, I could barely walk, and every time I tried to walk around, I would experience great spasms of incredible pain. There was a point that I couldn't feel my left leg below the knee. I had to have Mike step on my foot to confirm it (when he did, I didn't feel it). Even though no one was dancing, I really wanted to. To make matters worse, most of my favorite dance songs were playing on the CD player too, which made me very angry. I felt like such a useless person. I couldn't dance, I could barely walk. It took all my strength to try to get up out of the chair I was in! Mike kept asking me if I wanted to go home, but I wouldn't admit defeat. I never will. That's the one thing that I won't do, is let this illness defeat me. But at the same time, I can't help but feel useless, and a waste, because I can barely do anything when this illness is affecting me. I mean, I couldn't even dance with Mike when I wanted to, although I mustered up the strength to do the dog (long story), but then I had a hard time getting up off the floor.

When I see all the people who have no problems moving, and have no physical impairments when walking, I can't help but find myself wanting to be like them, but deep down I know, I will never be like them again. I can barely walk up my own hill some days! When I saw Mike and Blair dancing, I looked at them, and saw what I wanted to be, well. I couldn't help but feel very angry. This anger built up the whole night too, and as I was driving Mike home, I freaked on him. I felt so bad.

Life isn't made easy with an illness like this, however, I am trying my best to live out a full and productive life with this disease, and to try to get the best parts of life in now, while I am young and this illness doesn't affect me as badly as I expect in my later years.

Well that's it, end of my column. I would love to hear what you thought, so why don't you email me your questions and comments, please send them to my School account or my Home account. See you next month!

Remember, sex is great, but safer sex is better!

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