Words by Randy Roper
“The doctors say it’s Multiple Sclerosis.”
Those were the words I heard from my mother as I woke up, laying in a hospital bed, and still drowsy from whatever drugs they’d given me the night before.
The date was May 13th, 2013. Almost five years to this day. It’s a day I’ll never forget. It’s a day my life changed forever.
Multiple Sclerosis (or MS) is an autoimmune disease of the brain and spinal cord. The body’s immune system attacks itself, causing damage to the central nervous system. MS is potentially disabling. Physicians have no idea what causes it. There is no cure.
In the United States, approximately 400,000 people live with MS, and on this day, I was labeled #400,001.
MS symptoms could consist of numbness or weakness of the limbs, vision loss or double vision, tingling in the body, tremors, slurred speech, fatigue, dizziness, bladder and bowel function problems, muscle spasms and inflammation of the spine. By the time I was diagnosed, I’d already gone through the vast majority of those symptoms.
For months prior, I was in and out of hospitals and doctor offices, trying to get an answer to why the entire left side of my body was numb, but no one could tell me exactly why.
After months of examinations, I finally had a neurologist tell me, “You have all the signs of multiple sclerosis. But don’t worry, you won’t end up in a wheelchair.”
The doctor left the room and I just sat there. Frozen. 15-20 minutes must have went by before the doctor came back to schedule a follow-up. I was scheduled to come back in for a MRI, but a few days later I canceled the appointment. By this time I was in complete denial. This doctor must have me misdiagnosed
Me? MS? How could this be?
I don’t smoke. I only drink socially. I don’t eat red meat. I’m young, pretty, in the best shape of my life. At least that’s what I thought…
I ignored the neurologist’s request and tried to figure out something on my own. But it wouldn’t be long before symptoms started getting worse. Before I knew it, I was being rushed to the hospital in the back of an ambulance.
At this point, I didn’t know what was going on with my body. I didn’t know if I was dying. My wife was 7 months pregnant with our first child, but I didn’t know if I’d live to see my daughter.
The next morning when I woke up in the hospital, I was thankful to be alive. And when I found out it really was Multiple Sclerosis, I was almost relived. At least I finally knew what was ailing me. Now that I knew what it was, I could figure out how to beat it.
Plus, I had a baby on the way. I had to get stronger for her. But the baby had other plans. Two weeks after I was diagnosed, the baby came two months early…
It’s hard to believe this time five years ago, I was visiting my premature baby in the neonatal intensive care unit, worrying if I’d be strong enough to hold her in my arms.
Those days were the hardest and darkest times of my life. But by the grace of God, we made it through. Five years later, my whole family is happy and healthy.
MS can be a crippling disease. Thanks to my doctor, Dr. Charles Abbott, my supportive wife, my family and friends, I’ve made it and learned how to manage it.
The last five years haven’t been easy. There have been a lot of aches and pains, bumps and bruises. But MS couldn’t stop me from living my best life…
Life happened. But MS didn’t stop me.
It actually made me. I’m exactly who I am supposed to be. A loving husband, father of two beautiful children, a son, a brother, and a friend.
I’m still here. I still have a plan, a purpose. I’m on a journey.
I know there are people out there hurting, stressing, and broken. But no matter what you’re going through, never give up.
Without the pain, I wouldn’t know the joy. Without the lows, I wouldn’t recognize the highs. One does not exist without the other. And in some strange way, I’m ok with that.
Maybe the disease was God forcing me to slow down. To be better. Get more rest. To free my mind. Appreciate the blessings in my life. That is what MS did for me.
Today is World MS Day. There are millions of people around the world that struggle with the disease, daily. And I’m one of them.
Imagine barely being able to get out of the bed. Losing control of your limps. Losing forty pounds. Looking in the mirror and not recognizing your own reflection. Not looking like yourself, not feeling like yourself, and losing confidence in yourself. Walking with a slight limp and hoping no one notices. Losing your mind. I went through it all. But I can finally say I’m better.
There are days when I feel great. Other days, I could sit with someone, and they wouldn’t know I’m silently pushing through aches and pains. That’s the nature of the beast.
Multiple Sclerosis isn’t a joking matter, and today, I felt moved to use my platform to bring awareness to the illness.
For more information about MS, visit worldmsday.org.
If you’re reading this, and know anyone with MS, any disease, or have a friend or loved one you haven’t spoken with in a while, give them a call.
Everyone you meet is fighting battles no one knows about. Be kind to each other. Always.