Guest post by Wendy Raap, MSBike ambassador
I’m standing on the edge of the deck with my husband, watching all our friends and family gathered on the lawn. It’s Friday evening in the middle of our MS Bike event in Gimli, and we’re hosting a barbeque that we’ve been holding for the better part of 20 years. All these people – eating, laughing, hanging out together – are here for me. It’s no wonder why this evening always gets me a bit emotional.
I always say I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis by accident. Looking back now, there were a few clues throughout the years, but I didn’t string them together until after I was officially diagnosed. My first relapse hit me when I was in eleventh grade and I missed half of a school year, unable to smear butter on my toast or brush my hair. When I was pregnant with my second child, I experienced numbness in my hands. The incidents were so far apart that it was impossible to know they were related, not to mention that 42 years ago, MS wasn’t something that doctors were looking for. Back then, I was told that my symptoms were psychosomatic, because every time I experienced something out of the ordinary, I seemed to get better.
Fast forward to 1992, when I dislocated my shoulder and had to have surgery. As part of the follow-up to my surgery, I was in Kelowna to visit a specialist who was checking my arm for nerve damage, and he asked if I’d ever been checked for MS. His question surprised me because just before this trip, a family friend had asked me the very same thing. Two different people, two different days, two different cities, the same suspicion – MS.
Two different people, two different days, two different cities, the same suspicion – MS.
The specialist carried out a few nerve tests on my other arm and my leg, and told me to go visit my family doctor when I was back home, even though I think he knew I had no intention of doing so. It was my family doctor who reached out to me the following week, and let me know that the results showed that I had MS. I was blindsided.
Right after my diagnosis, things were rocky – I went through many relapses and many different treatments. At that time, there was a lot of avoidance and denial about the reality of my situation – my husband and I did what we had to do to get through it, and didn’t often talk about my MS. To my kids, my diagnosis wasn’t a big deal because they didn’t necessarily understand its implications. They just accepted it because they were kids.
I haven’t had a relapse in three years and I’m doing so much better now, due in part to how I manage my symptoms. I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years about listening to my body, knowing my limits, and taking care of myself. I’m much more careful with what I eat and what I do, and I try to walk every day and rest every afternoon. Most of all, I’ve learned to say no. No, I can’t do that, no I’m tired today – that kind of thing. My time is precious and I’ve limited where I spend it.
I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years about listening to my body, knowing my limits, and taking care of myself.
When my family and I started participating in MS Bike, it was just myself, my husband, my four kids, and my sister and brother-in-law (who worked the event as paramedics). Our team has grown over the years – my kids’ spouses and my grandkids have joined our family tradition and our team The Cyclepaths. Even my Dad, who’s nearly 85, rides with us! There’s a lot of us and the support from my family is incredible.
Last year, my oldest son and his wife and kids moved away so they don’t participate anymore. When they visited us last year, his kids got a little upset and told me they wanted to stay for the event, “Grandma, can’t we just stay a few more days?!” Echoing a similar sentiment at a recent Sunday dinner, one of my granddaughters asked me “Grandma, when is that bike thing, is it coming up soon?”
Last year, two of my granddaughters came and volunteered with me at check-in for the first time. I think it’s good for them to learn to give their time to a cause at an early age. I figure if I can teach them this as they’re growing up, they’re going to want to do it more and more. That’s my goal anyway!
One of my most memorable moments was five years ago, when I spoke at the dinner at the end of the event. None of my family knew what I had planned except for my husband, and it was a very emotional moment where I openly shared my story. It’s been a journey, but I think that it has probably been one of the best things that has ever happened to my family – especially my children. It made them empathetic, more understanding, and better people. They have a mother who doesn’t give up, and chooses not to use her MS as an excuse.
Wendy is our MS Bike ambassador who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Although she doesn’t cycle, the Raap family and their team, The CyclePaths, are at MS Bike every year with energy and enthusiasm, doing their part to raise awareness and end MS.
Loved Wendy’s story? Read more from our MS Bike ambassadors!