As a child of 5 or 6, I have vivid memories of visiting the home of my grandparents.
We spent many a Christmas there, the home where my mother and her 6 siblings grew up. My grandfather was the breadwinner, and my grandmother slowly declined while trying to raise her 7 children. She had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the 1950s, when there were no treatments available. She was basically told to "get in bed and stay there." My grandmother developed seizures, slowly became wheelchair bound in her 40s, and finally bedbound in her 50s. My cousins and I used to spend time sitting on her bed, visiting her and watching TV. My grandfather would never let her be placed in a nursing home. He insisted that she stay in the family home, and he cared for her until she passed.
Multiple Sclerosis was my family's enemy. It was something to be terrified of, something to dread and despise. In such a large family, everyone waited to see who would be next. Would any of my grandmother's 20+ descendants be the next victim?
As a child, I recall spending hours reading books and raising money for the National MS Society "Read-a-Thon," and my mother encouraged me to help the cause. It was our family's cause, and the disease had impacted us so severely. Raising money for MS research gave us hope and made us feel powerful in a powerless situation.
At 34, I became the latest victim of the family enemy.
Like my grandmother, I had a very large family with 6 children. The similarities were shocking. Like my grandfather, my own husband has become my supporter and caregiver. He is my rock, and I could not be more fortunate.
Having MS has given me such a new perspective on life. The little things that used to seem important are meaningless. Now I realize that love, family, friends and fun are what make life worth living. When you feel that your time to enjoy life is limited, you begin to actually live. The truth is, none of us are getting out of this alive. We all have a limited time in this realm, so why waste a moment of it? I am grateful for MS at times, grateful for the perspective and gratitude it has given me. If it weren't for this illness, I may still be sweating the small stuff. I may still be blindly wandering through life, unaware that my time is precious.
So in the end, the family enemy may well have been the best friend anyone could have. A friend who has shown me what is truly important in life.
My cousins and myself with my grandmother, I was about 3
My grandmother in the Army during WWII
My husband and I today