Long version of completed Fundraising Page blurb:
In the past year, I’ve come to the realization that volunteering and serving others is an essential part of living a meaningful existence and finding fulfillment. I am not a great swimmer, but I’m a dedicated swimmer, having swam for my small college team all four years of my college experience (there was an additional year of college in there somewhere). When deciding how I might best contribute my abilities toward something significant, meaningful, and good, I remembered that swimming and service have often been combined. In 2003, along with my mother and one of my best friends, I myself participated in such an event in Barcelona, sponsored by the X FINA World Championships, for the Fundació Esclerosi Múltiple (Multiple Sclerosis Foundation). In case you’re interested, you can find their website at the following address: www.fem.es
I had already found the MSAA’s equivalent activity, Swim for MS, and was planning to participate, in honor of all the individuals and families in my life who have been affected by the disease, when a best friend of mine (a different friend from the one mentioned earlier) was diagnosed at the beginning of November, which diagnosis finally gave him the answers he’d been needing desperately. This diagnosis finally made it possible for him to start to understand and explain all of the assorted symptoms from which he’d been suffering over the last decade. His diagnosis (relapsing-remitting M.S.) certainly cemented my choice to commit to a year-long Swim for MS challenge.
Please, if you can, give a little bit (or a lot-a-bit). Don’t forget that donating money is not the only way to give. At any point, you can share of your own time and talent. If swimming doesn’t suit you, there are a myriad of other ways that you can help.
M.S. is still a very mysterious disease. In encephalomyelitis disseminata, the body attacks itself—specifically the myelin sheaths protecting axons in the neural network. The damage to the myelin impairs the ability of the brain to send itself signals and to communicate with the spinal column (and therefore with the rest of the body). When myelin is damaged, the body responds the same way as it does to many other injuries or illnesses, by sending material to the degraded site and causing inflammation. The resulting pressure generally causes attacks (called “flare-ups,” “exacerbations,” etc.) and eventual scarring, which show up as lesions in the brain. It is common now for doctors and patients to track the progression of the disease by using a series of MRI’s to map existing lesions as they accumulate over time.
M.S. patients want to avoid catching cold and other sickness because the body responds to illness by degrading the blood-brain barrier and letting more T-cells into the brain. Heat also causes this degradation, which is why colder conditions are easier on those with M.S.. The new influx of T-cells then get to work attacking the myelin. The attacked myelin degrades, and the body responds the same way as with many other injuries and illnesses, by sending material to the degraded site and causing inflammation. The resulting pressure generally causes attacks (called “flare-ups,” “exacerbations,” etc.) and eventual scarring, which show up as legions in the brain. It is common now for doctors and patients to track the progression of the disease by using a series of MRI’s to map existing legions as they accumulate over time.
Definite causes remain hazy, but treatments improve constantly, which means that the future for those diagnosed in the twenty-first century is also unknown. Perhaps the newer, radical improvements in treatment will prevent attacks (which strike very much at random) and help stave off disability, for more years or maybe forever. Nevertheless, all the available data indicates that the majority of the M.S. population will eventually reach the progressive stage of the disease, during which the rate of debilitation rapidly increases. (For some, this “stage” is the only type of M.S. they ever know, out of four possible types.) 25% of those with M.S. never find themselves wheelchair-bound. Yet the disease comes with all sorts of other unpleasant consequences. The nature of the disease is such that the unpredictable scarring caused by the destruction of myelin can lead to any neurological symptom, problem, difficulty—for example, cognitive disabilities such as memory loss and slurred speech. The unknowns are nearly limitless.
In the face of all that uncertainty, my best friend has chosen to adopt a somewhat ambivalent, but mostly positive, attitude: “Like asthma, there’s nothing I can do to predict a future attack, and there’s nothing I can do to change it” (aside from self-administering thrice-weekly doses of medicine and making other small lifestyle improvements as suggested by the doctor). “So what’s the use of being upset about it? That won’t change anything, either. Besides, you’re all so upset for me that I don’t need to be.”
I choose to swim in order to alleviate both the everyday and the unpredictable, irregular discomforts that persons living with M.S. experience. I choose to swim to encourage a positive attitude, so difficult in a disease that often presents with bouts of depression. I choose to swim because uncertainty is not inherently negative. I choose to swim for the possibility of a brighter future for all those facing down this shapeless disease.
It’s really amazing to me how much life can change in a day.
One day, completely normal. The next day, half of your body goes numb.
One day, straining to regain mobility in physical therapy. The next day, starting to get back to normal, as the flare-up dies down.
One day, inactive and vacillating. The next, springing into action.
One day, swimming twenty laps. The next, waking up to a bright, new day, with twenty new dollars contributed to the MSAA to ease the burden of so many people living with M.S..
For you curious folks, I am keeping a log of my Swim for MS activity (right) here.