By Sharon Dodge
I was 10 years old when I first heard the words “multiple sclerosis.”
They came from my father, who at the time was a pilot for American Airlines. I thought it was odd that Dad was traveling into the city to see special doctors since he was never sick. I still remember the complicated explanation for these strange things that had been happening to him.
I didn’t understand it at all.
Unfortunately for my dad, he had a very progressive form of MS and just before his 49th birthday, he died from complications of the disease. I was a daddy’s girl in every sense of the word and this loss when I was only 22 years old was devastating.
Dad would never walk me down the aisle at my wedding. He wouldn’t meet his firstborn grandchild. Try as I might, I cannot come up with words that would adequately describe my shock when, only eight years later, I sat before a neurologist and listened to the words, “You have MS”.
Even more difficult was explaining to my mom that I had just been diagnosed with MS after she had already watched her husband deteriorate rapidly. Now, she had to contend with watching her daughter fight the same disease.
Somehow, through my own shock and fear, I convinced my family that their pity was the last thing I needed. I desperately wanted to be surrounded by positive people and I needed their support.
My husband is a Naval Aviator and we were stationed in Spain when my MS symptoms began. Our son was only three years old. We were put on a medical evacuation flight to Germany where they run their MRI 24 hours a day. I was awakened in the medical barracks at 3 a.m. for my turn.
A spinal tap followed with complications when I leaked spinal fluid for two days and had to have emergency surgery to clot the hole. We were then flown to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington D.C., where I became a patient at Walter Reed and then had a second opinion at Johns Hopkins.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel sorry for myself in the beginning, but thankfully my self pity was short lived. I had already lived through this disease once and I knew better than anyone that a negative attitude was a waste of time.
I had MS. I had to accept it and decide how to deal with it.
I attacked my MS with enthusiasm and passion. In the past 10 years since my diagnosis, I have learned many important lessons that have guided me and kept me focused.
I have learned that passion is highly contagious. As a successful team captain for the Walk MS for many years, and now of an amazing team for Bike MS, I have found that the more excited I am, the more driven my teammates become.
I have learned to ask for pledges with boldness and without hesitation. This is my life we’re talking about. Why should I hesitate or be shy?
I also have three beautiful children to consider; my twin girls Caitlyn and Sarah are now 9 and my son Tyler is 14. It’s my job as their mother to make sure they do not grow up fearing this disease. Knowledge truly is powerful and my husband and I make sure our kids know as much about multiple sclerosis as they need to know on an age-appropriate level. We view MS with positive thoughts and ideas and help our kids see that a challenge can be a good thing.
Of course it’s not just about me. When our family and our Team Navy raised over $40,000 at two different Bike MS events this past year, we were doing it for the 400,000 plus people in the United States who are struggling with MS on a daily basis.
Multiple sclerosis has been much more forgiving toward me than it was to my dad. I know in my heart that there is a reason for this that I may never fully know. When I got MS, I was also given choices. I could be bitter and angry at the rotten deck of cards I was dealt or I could stand up and do something about those cards.
“I figure we were put on this earth with one shot at living and that is what I intend to do. Not just live, but live well.”
I have developed a passion for fundraising and Bike MS. I have a new found courage to speak at a national level to those who are scared and suffering. I have compassion for all who are dealing with MS and other neurological issues.
Most of all, I have surprisingly found pride in something I never imagined I would. As I crossed the finish line in Ocean City, New Jersey, this past September after pedaling just over 50 miles with my incredible son, I turned to him and without even knowing where the words came from, I said “I have never felt this proud to have MS”.
These past 12 years since my diagnosis have taken me on an incredible journey and I have actually enjoyed the ride.
Sharon Dodge and her family have recently returned to Whidbey Island from the East Coast for their fourth tour of duty at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Her husband, Bill, team captain of Team Navy, will serve as for Commanding Officer of the station’s Naval Information Operations Command.
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