Learning to like my cane

Ten years ago, I never would have thought I'd be 27 years old going to Wal-Mart at 11pm to hastily shop for a cane. I didn't even know the proper hand to hold it with. I found a $12 black collapsible cane that wasn't terrible and I was happy to have something for the next morning's commute. Getting to and from work had become pretty tough; it took 2 ferries and 2 busses with plenty of walking in between.

That first commute with my new cane was a learning experience, that's for sure. Right off the bat I noticed people's glances lasted longer. If my tattoos and piercings didn't get their attention, the cane sure did. I could sense the frustration of people having a hard time getting around me in the crowds. My coworkers on the other hand were super helpful and supportive.

I can't even count how many times I explained why I needed the cane during the first week. So many people assume it's for an injury and not a chronic illness. I've been asked if I was a skateboarder who just took a gnarly fall; that's one of my favs.

Photo Credit Meghann Prouse (above) & @yeahrockout (feature photo)

I use my cane for many reasons: balance, stability, security and the occasional sword fight. When I lost most of the use of my left leg, I could still stand on it okay, but I couldn't pick my foot up more than 6 inches off the ground. Having something to always lean on is very comforting when you have wobbly balance, double vision and vertigo that comes and goes.

My mobility has always been fluid with some days being way worse than others. For the most part a cane has done the trick, but recently I have had to use the electric carts at the grocery store more and more. Having a handicap parking placard has really helped a lot (but to my surprise, has also made me a target for harassment).

This year I began talking with my doctor about getting a wheelchair for the days/weeks/months that my legs are at their worst. I was surprised to learn that I'd need to be fitted for one first. You mean, I can't just walk into the wheelchair store and pick one out? My doctor explained it all and now I totally get it. It really is important to have something that fits your body.

Whether you use a wheelchair, cane, walker, crutches, steerable knee scooter, motorized wheelchair, hoveround or any assistive device, they do not make us who we are. However, that doesn't mean that our canes and chairs shouldn't look good and be something we are proud of. I'm so excited to see companies bringing well-designed products to the market. I now know my cane is the face of my MS and, just like my glasses, I like to keep it looking fresh.

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Kellen Prouse

Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Disabled in 2010 due to progressive multiple sclerosis. I have started the Wheels & Red project with my amazing wife Meg. Wheels & Red is a way for us to share our story with the world. No matter what you are going through you can always find and adventure.

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  • krickett   Sep 17, 2015 11:11 AM
    Great article! Like you I'm young, have my tattoes and peicings, and MS. I lucked out one day in Winners/Homesense. They sometimes carry fantastic canes meant for decoration for the man cave or what not. I stumbled upon a black cane with a silver wolf head. They had a few cool others but this one was right out of Sherlock Holmes it something. So I found something to fit my style too, made it a bit better of a moment. My right leg is like yours and I took am onto a wheelchair for the bad days when I still need to go out. Should be an interesting adjustment this young. Best of luck to you!!
  • Devin   Sep 17, 2015 11:16 AM
    Man, thanks for this. I'd a guy in my 30s, I have a cane (and also a script for a wheelchair for certain occasions, just like you) and I have such a problem using it. It's a very hard thing to be a young(ish) guy and use a cane, no matter how much it helps. Always nice seeing I'm not alone (well, nice and not nice but you understand). Definitely going to gut it out and use it more now.
  • Jenna   Sep 17, 2015 11:17 AM
    Great read! It is hard when we are younger and look "ok" to everyone. Keep up the good fight!
  • Stacey   Sep 17, 2015 11:20 AM
    You rock! I'm 45 and I have not learned how to love my cane yet, but this article certainly helps. I too hate the stares I get when I use my cane. But more than that, I don't like feeling like I'm disabled. Learning to pick different shoes and not high heels has been my greatest challenge. And even though I know my limp is more pronounced without the cane, having the cane means that I am unable to walk on my own and that is what's been the hardest thing to deal with. So thank you very much for your inspiration, tomorrow I'll give myself a break and be in less pain by using my cane.
  • Mike   Sep 17, 2015 11:29 AM
    God bless you Kellen I have had MS since i was 36 I'm now almost 50 and I'm very very lucky. I do know you're struggles and it does make going threw life with MS better when you have a loving partner at your side. Never give up God knows your struggles.
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    JoAnne-SheisMe  Sep 17, 2015 11:55 AM
    I am struggling to think that one day it may come to this a mobility device .I 💘 LOVE my high highs👠 at this point i refuse to give them up. Thank you for sharing your story . Fighting MS together.
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    ashleyday542  Sep 17, 2015 12:20 PM
    Thank you so much for this! My mother has MS, and she loves her tattoos and piercings. However, since she has had to use her walker/wheelchair, she avoids getting any unwanted attention. She is avoids leaving the house most of the time, and she thought I did not want her to come to my graduation because I was embarrassed of her. I hope that she will learn to love her mobility devices!
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    josxmac  Sep 17, 2015 12:21 PM
    Thank you so much for sharing. I don't always need the assistance of a mobility device and I usually avoid it even when I do need it. I'm 28 and look younger than that, I get comments from people like, 'but you're so young.' Yes, and? Age has nothing to do with it.
    I'm inspired to make cool looking canes and mobility devices because we all deserve something special.
    I can't thank you enough for this post.
  • Mimzi  Sep 17, 2015 12:29 PM
    I really appreciated your post. you are rocking the cane and scooters. Thanks for sharing!
  • Michele   Sep 17, 2015 12:32 PM
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. As I read it, I felt as though I was listening to my daughter speak (she was diagnosed with MS two years ago, she is now 22). She also went and got herself the really cool, folding black cane, but then became nervous that her arms were just not strong enough to use it if her legs gave out. She did get herself a mobility scooter, and now uses it when she has a lot of walking to do. My heart ached when you spoke about your handicap placard, my daughter has also become a target for rude and ignorant comments. If only those people who made those comments or stared rudely could walk in your shoes for just one day!! Stay strong and God bless you
  • Marge   Sep 17, 2015 1:30 PM
    Thank you for your post. I have had RRMS since the age of 12. Now at 57 it has moved into secondary progressive. No more remissions, but that doesn't stop me from staying as active as I can. Just be careful not to overdue it. Since I have had this so long, my method of coping has always been to just push through it. I never realized how much I was hurting myself by doing that. Look into the TravelScoot. You can only buy them online but it only weighs 29 lbs and the lithium battery lasts 8 hours of running time. Last year my husband took me to Hawaii. First time for both of us. This little device is so easy I can fold it up and put it on the back seat of my car - by myself! It has really given me my life back. You can drive it right up to the door of a plane and they take it down under the plane like a stroller. When you get off the plane it is right there waiting for you. All the kids want to ride it! It is so cool. Go to www.travelscoot.com They sell them all over the world. My brother was in Singapore and saw a gentleman with one. He too told my brother that it was the best decision he ever made and even if they don't look like it, the scooter can handle 320 lbs so nearly anyone can use it! All the best!
  • pennie Kramer   Sep 17, 2015 1:37 PM
    I have been diagnosed 17 years. I too use a cane. Funny thing I thought at the time , now I know why I had to go to a class to use it properly. Im still kicking it. I miss my balance. I used to roller blade, skateboard and surf. Now I do good walking straight. I will never give up. God bless you and ty for your story.
  • DUSTI   Sep 17, 2015 1:46 PM
    I was just asked last night at work, "You are using your cane again?" I do not like to share that I have MS but I guess my thinking is wrong. I will be more forthcoming with my MS. The general public has no idea that we absolutely must depend on a device at times. But then there are the times when we do not. I see now how it can be confusing. Gently educating people and bringing awareness to MS is the best thing that I can do. Rock on all of you cane and chair users! I too have many tattoos. Oh and next week I will turn 54!
  • Carol   Sep 17, 2015 2:44 PM
    I really enjoyed your article/ Thank you, it really helped me. I'm glad you can rock a cane, I still have not loved my cane, and I am forever dropping it.
  • Tara   Sep 17, 2015 2:49 PM
    Both my parents used canes for their chronic illnesses. Through them and my grandfather, I learned to view a cane (or walker) as a snazzy accessory fit for a personality. Right now the love of my life, who has MS, uses a simple walking stick, but I do wonder what kind of cane he'll pick when he's ready for it -- probably something practical, compact and multipurpose just like his stick, fit for an engineer. Someday I'll need a cane; I'm thinking oak. :)
  • jennifer hall   Sep 17, 2015 2:57 PM
    I've used a walk aide FES system for about 7 years. It is calibrated to my gait pattern and an electrical pulse stimulates the peroneal muscles and nerves that lifts my foot. It has allowed me to work full-time as an occupational therapist. There are two brands the Walk aide system and the Bioness system.
  • Jenn   Sep 17, 2015 5:19 PM
    Loved the story I have MS and use a cane too because i won't always give in to the wheelchair ! If i have a particularly unsteady day I have learned to use the electric cart at the big King Soopers Only because I fell one time! Backwards and people wanted to call 911 until I explained that sometimes MS is the cause of a fall! Embarrassing to say the least but if there is too much ground to cover better not to fall away from gripping a cart backwards.
  • helen   Sep 18, 2015 5:38 AM
    Wow thank you so much for your sharing,means so much,I'm a newbie to this,still getting my head round it,but you so helped,take care and keep smilingx
  • connie   Sep 18, 2015 1:57 PM
    God BLESS you and Prayers ,my son is in the SAME situation ,God bless you ALL
  • Lisa Gouwens   Sep 18, 2015 2:44 PM
    Ha! That's exactly how I got my first cane! Except I think I was at WalGreen or Meijer. And people do think it's an injury. I can walk without it okay, but then I look like I'm drunk when I wobble! Thanks for your story.
  • Kaye Rowe   Sep 18, 2015 6:10 PM
    Great to hear your story Kallen. Mine began in 92 and really kicked off in 98, when not long after I was fitted for my first walking stick. Electric scooter around 2007 and now much more secure on a walker! Still use just the stick for short trips.
  • Sam   Sep 18, 2015 9:44 PM
    As someone who was diagnosed with MS when I was 17, I feel like I really relate to the tag line about you not being able to imagine yourself using a cane at 27. I'm 24 now and I can feel myself slowly declining thanks to this stupid disease. So it's nice to know that someone sort of in the same boat as I am is so positive. Keep your head up :)
  • Marilyn   Sep 18, 2015 9:55 PM
    Thank you Kellen. It is fairly easy to ease into negative patterns with MS. So nice to read your take on using a cane. Your experience truly gives us hope to keep moving!
  • Kathleen Miller   Sep 19, 2015 8:03 AM
    Thank you for sharing your life with us. I have MS and Lipedema neither one has a cure and they are working together to take my mobility away! I have a cousin who doesn't want to use a cane or any kind of devise to help her. She seems to think if she uses something to help her that MS has beaten her. I say WHAT?? No I think we should think about it another way: THAT WE SHOULD USE WHAT EVER DEVISE WE CAN TO SHOW MS OR ANY HANDICAP THAT IT ISNT GOING TO STOP US! WATCH US GO!! NO MATTER OUR AGES!
    But another thing that I have notice since I can't walk very well, is that people that have a disease that makes them handicapped don't go out of their homes! We need to understand that our families aren't embarrassed of us!! They love us! But people out there who have any power to change some things need to understand that we don't have transportation to get us out in public. If it is public or personal transportation it is hard to find so that we could live our lives as normal as possible.
    I think more handicapped people need to get out in public. That way the public would learn how to accept us, because if you think about it, how many handicapped people do you see out in public. Food shopping,holiday shopping, just going outside to talk to someone. We don't go out but we should! I am talking about people who live in rural areas not city people, I think city people can get out much better than people who live in small towns.

    If you know where I can find help getting a handicapped van I would appreciate anyone contacting me with the information.
    Thank You so much

    P.S.I think we need to get out and show people we are here. We should not hide anymore!!
  • Jordyn McNamara   Sep 20, 2015 5:31 PM
    My mom walks with a cane also, she can't lift her left leg off the ground because she had a bad relapse and lost all the strength in her left leg. she has a brace just below her knee to help her from falling because her foot drops. It's scary.
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  • Sandy   Sep 22, 2015 4:56 PM
    I felt strange using a cane at first also. but now so many have given me some really cool canes. I have a homemade on made from Aspen with a doorknob handle, an acrylic one, and one with a compass from my grandson in case I get lost. MY leg brace draws a lot of attention. a very rude man in Walmart ask me what I did to my leg. I told him nothing, my brain is broke. That got a look.
  • Shirley   Sep 22, 2015 6:23 PM
    I've been diagnose with ms for 18 yrs. I started noticing change about 6 yrs ago. My family I feel is tooo protective. I walk with my walker f I'm going to have to stand a while or go to the mall, I have something to sit on. My cousin and sister asked me about a cane, I purchased one but doesn't have a clue how to walk on it.. It's amazing I don't loose my balance or stumble as long as someone is with me, strange isn't it? I do have trouble lifting my right leg when I walk r stand for a period of time. I've heard about this knee brace that shock your nerve causing u to lift your leg. Need to know has anyone tried one before, text me with details please.
  • payton   Sep 22, 2015 7:10 PM
    I am 23 and recently diagnosed with RRMS, i take gilenya for it and seem to be doing just fine, i have occasional pain and numbness but will i eventually need a wheel chair ?
  • Ida  Sep 22, 2015 10:09 PM
    Thank you Kellan for sharing your story. I was diagnosed in 2013 with MS, and 2014 with Lupus I am now 36 and just recently come to the reality that I need my cane. I was really embarrassed to use it. My husband and children however, would encourage me to use it but I wad nervous. And not only the cane but also my walker, so I know you know how I felt. But I thank you for your courage, because now I use it on a regular so as not to be uncomfortable. So thank you and warm hugs ❤
  • Gayle  Sep 23, 2015 12:25 AM
    I was diagnosed with PPMS in 1989 and started using a cane in 1992 when I fell and broke my knee cap. I used a black foldable cane, like you mentioned, for a few years, particularly since I was traveling for business and it fit into the seat pocket on the airplane. But I got bored with the black. So I found a woman with MS who has a website and makes cane covers. I have about 15 of them, for different holidays, different seasons,, different moods. They lighten up the mood of having a cane; when people see it they tend to smile. I've had small children come up to me and point out the candy canes and Santa's hats, with laughter. I've seen something similar with people's wheelchairs. Embrace it! Have fun decorating it! Other people don't know how to react to mobility devices of any kind, so if you show some "fun" with it, it encourages others to at least be less serious or harsh.

    Also, you need to re-orient your mind to think of the cane as a "tool". Simply there to help you get around, help your balance, help you not fall. It also comes in handy for keeping elevator doors open, and making sure that other people are aware that you have an issue with walking/balance. It is not you! It's a tool. Keep that in mind.

    My friend's website, if you're curious, is ClassicCaneCovers.com . I'm also a District Activist Leader for the MS Society, located in WA state, if you want to get in touch. Take care.
  • Susan B Cook   Sep 23, 2015 1:57 AM
    I admire your "spunk" and optimism and the fact that you and your wife are actively trying to help others as well. My niece is in a bad stage right now. She has remitting relapsing...gets worse then stabilizes. Seems to keep getting worse. She has done the MS walk the past few years with family and friends. She too is young. Right now she is unable to move her hands and arms. They are in her words dead. with no feeling...except I don't have to tell you there is pain and headaches. Her legs at times just give out. I will pray for you and for a cure for MS for you and my niece and for everyone who suffers with this horrible debilitating and painful disease. Love and prayers, Sue (better known as MAWMAWSUE or MIss Sue. ) lol
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    veronica-ronnie  Sep 24, 2015 10:58 AM
    I'm still getting used to my recent MS diagnosis (I'm a "young" 48 year old female). I've had a difficult time walking and despite having fallen and tripped several times, I have only used my cane twice. It felt so awkward and like everyone was staring at me. But it DID make me feel safe. Thanks for your article - it inspired me to start using my cane more often and to not worry about what everyone else is thinking!
  • Caitlin   Sep 24, 2015 11:04 AM
    Hi Kellen! WOW! What a great article and view on assistive devices. I am a personal trainer in Dallas who solely works with people living with MS and I would love to share your story with my clients who are hesitant of using a cane.Thank you for taking the time to share your story and keep fighting! All the best- Caitlin, Mind Set
  • Lauren   Sep 24, 2015 2:12 PM
    Thank you. Thank you SO much. I'm 36 and just started using a cane...it's not been easy AT all. This was so helpful. Thank you.
  • Darlene   Oct 24, 2015 2:24 AM
    Loved reading your article. I have MS and have gone through so many fazes, Wheel chair, cane. I struggle to walk but this gives me hope. Others that use a cane put one of my Kickin' Cane Covers and I honestly can tell you. You will feel better about yourself. They will notice and in stores people will nod at you, smile and gives you a sense of self worth. I hand make these and it really is good therapy for myself. I'm to young to use a cane. I can help you find what you would like. Darlene www.kickincanecovers.com
  • Kim Couch   Sep 2, 2016 6:54 AM
    Thanks for this post. I'm fairly new to MS (2 years) and this current relapse is extreme. I've been too vain for a cane, but I now just look drunk when I walk. I am ready to swallow my pride and get something to assist my walking because I have 2 teenage girls and it breaks my heart that I can't do things like take them to the mall. I'm ready to get a cane and ignore the stares.
  • Denise Piccola   Sep 13, 2016 10:04 AM
    I'm 45 years old had ms for 12. Years I get so sad depperesed, I use to run track and all I miss dancing working. And all😔
  • Denise Piccola   Sep 13, 2016 10:04 AM
    I'm 45 years old had ms for 12. Years I get so sad depperesed, I use to run track and all I miss dancing working. And all😔
  • Robin Rodriguez   Dec 8, 2016 9:30 PM
    This is an awesome story! My husband was just diagnosed with MS and you sound just like him tattoos and all..people would stare at him and me too we are both heavily tattooed my husband Damian could barely walk and I need to be by his side to prevent him from falling so it's bad enough staring at our tattoos they think my husband's drunk when it's his MS. He's teying too use a cane and the doctor wants him too try a walker! But your story is touching and awesome story I'm glad we read this.
  • Daniele Butts   Jul 13, 2018 3:11 PM
    I am 45 yr old veteran. I am crying as I write this. My devastation starts in 2013. I didn't know what to think when I came home from deployment and just a month later they were checking me for MS. On June 25, 2015 day before my birthday they confirmed and chose to tell me by saying it was limited as to the time I would be able to pick up my grandchildren. This past May my left leg has started acting up the same way my left arm has. I went to my neurologist who sent me to primary care. Primary Care blew it off as it wad torn ligament ora sprain. It has gotten worse since June 20 when I saw them and we put it in a brace. The pain is significantly worse and the mobility is becoming harder and harder. I am considering a cane. Although at this point I am not too sure of what my next move should be.
  • James Baxter   Oct 9, 2018 8:18 PM
    I've got MS and have major troubles keeping my balance, walking, doing anything on my feet & moving. Sometimes it's not so bad, it's a bittersweet thing cause I know it's just a matter of time before the struggle returns. I've just started looking into canes & I've come too the realization I need one. My pride has refused to accept it all but it's reality. I'm only 25, was recently diagnosed with dimentalting disease known as MS. It really *****in sucks & stresses me out. Takes a toll on my being.