A couple looks at multiple sclerosis

These were the headlines from the flyer promoting our presentation for MS Awareness Week:
“2 different forms of MS. 2 inspiring voices. 1 continuing love story.”

As part of Clarke Historical Library’s annual speaker series at Central Michigan University, we had the opportunity to share our stories as a husband and wife who both are living with this chronic illness.
Combined, we’ve taken on MS for more than 25 years and show how the disease impacts people so differently. Jennifer was diagnosed in 1997, has secondary-progressive MS and no longer walks. Dan was diagnosed in 2000, has relapsing-remitting MS and is training to run a 10K.
According to the National MS Society, more than 400,000 Americans have MS. Of those diagnosed with this disease of the central nervous system, more than 18,000 live here in Michigan. Knowing these numbers makes it even more amazing that we found each other and continue to defy the odds we face together.
OurIt’s ha relationship started nearly a decade ago at the Society program, “Finding Your Buried Treasure.”
“I think that boy kind of liked you, Jen,” is how Jennifer’s mom opened their discussion as they drove home from that daylong event.
“No, Mom. Dan’s a self-help group leader, and I’m a group leader too. Really, that’s all it was,” Jennifer answered back, but all the while she kept thinking, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if he did?”
She soon learned that moms always know.
“I know we both are self-help group leaders. Really, there could be so much more,” Dan remembers thinking as he drove home with Jennifer’s email address and phone number in his pocket.
We both wanted to get to know each other beyond the disease that introduced us.
Our relationship grew from emails and phone calls to three years of dating and a wedding on Sept. 10, 2005.
Since our wedding more than six years ago, we have actively led an MS self-help group, participated in annual Walk MS events and served on the regional MS volunteer council.
We also do as much as we can through our writing, speaking and living life to the fullest to increase MS awareness and help people throughout our community and beyond to move forward with their lives.
This is why our recent presentation at the Clarke Historical Library was especially important for us. In addition to speaking for MS Awareness Week, we were invited to present as Michigan authors and to share stories from our recently released book, Despite MS, to Spite MS. Our book is a compilation of personal essays about how we are living with MS, accented by haiku-style poems from author Judy Williams, who also has this disease and shares these poems on her blog, “Peace Be With You on the MS Journey.” Portions of the book proceeds are benefiting the Society and Camp Courageous, a camp for people with disabilities in Dan’s hometown of Monticello, Iowa.
As Jennifer writes in the book’s introduction, “Not only does our story need to be told, but our voices should be heard. Mine being that of a woman living life with MS and a wheelchair, being as hopeful and positive as possible, Despite MS. And, the voice of a man, my husband, who is working, running, and also living a hopeful and positive life, To Spite MS.”
We are excited to write for the Society’s newly created blog and look forward to sharing more of our stories with you here.
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The National MS Society