MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – When Sharon Wallace was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1997, her doctor told her she would be in a wheelchair within three years. Wallace balked.
“No,” she said. “That’s wrong.”
Now, 15 years later and with the aid of a walker, she entered the offices of the National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter, in Hartford.
“Big Bertha here isn’t even for my MS,” said a defiant Wallace, referring to her walker. “She’s mostly just there to carry my oxygen tank, which by the way isn’t for my MS either. The oxygen is for blood clots in my lungs.”
While her MS may not cause her to use oxygen, just three years ago, it forced an end to her 13-year career as a large account liaison with Verizon Wireless. Wallace claims that she handled more than 75,000 lines each month, yet was able to recognize every customer by his or her voice. Eventually, cognitive issues related to her MS forced her to stop working, but not because her customer recognition faded.
“I always knew who I was talking to,” recalled Wallace, who then lived in Airmont, N.Y. “But I would trip over my words or forget certain aspects of the job. It was very hard to leave.”
Wallace, a Windsor native, then decided the time was right to return to her “old stomping grounds” – Connecticut. Almost immediately she became more active in the fight against MS.
In 2009, Wallace volunteered at her first MS event – Bike MS in Windsor. She worked at a registration table for the event where she met East Hartford resident Sue Tukey. Ever since, the pair has become a staple at Connecticut Chapter events, ranging from the Greater Hartford MS Taste of Hope to the MS Motorcycle Ride. The pair will once again be working the registration table at the 2012 Travelers Walk MS on Sunday, April 22, in West Hartford.
For Wallace, it’s her opportunity to give thanks to those who do what she cannot.
“I cheer, I shake hands, I give hugs,” said Wallace, who now resides in Middletown with her boyfriend Phillip Harris, who also has MS. “I love being able to thank them for doing things I can’t do; that gives me my high.”
Long-time National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter, volunteer Sharon Wallace, Middletown, poses with cyclist Kevin Butler, Manchester, at the 2011 Bike MS: bkm/Steelcase Ride at Griffin Center in Windsor. Wallace, who helped with registration and check-in, was diagnosed in 1996 with multiple sclerosis. She is an active volunteer at many chapter events and partners with the programs and services department to help also with advocacy, educating lawmakers on the effects of MS and urging them to support legislation ensuring quality of life for people with disabilities. Butler, 25, whose great-grandmother lost her battle with MS, cycled the 25-mile route as a member of The Cutters fundraising team. Butler works as a project superintendent for Centerplan Construction in Middletown. For more information about the 2012 Bike MS ride, please visit www.ctfightsMS.org.
Her gratitude also extends to fundraising. Wallace frequently contributes to Walk MS, Bike MS and MS Motorcycle Ride fundraising teams. While she isn’t picky about what teams she donates to, her contributions are consistent—always in increments of 18. In the Hebrew faith, the number 18 stands for life.
“It’s not only for myself,” explained Wallace, who shared she would undergo another round of chemotherapy to treat her MS the following week. “But for anyone just receiving his or her diagnosis, or someone else who has had MS for many, many years. This will help someone, some way.”
More than 6,000 Connecticut residents, like Wallace, live with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. Symptoms can include, among other things, numbness and tingling in the extremities, difficulties with vision and speech, stiffness in the limbs, and in extreme cases, complete paralysis. There currently is no cure for multiple sclerosis.
Wallace, a noted animal lover who also volunteers at the Humane Society in Meriden, further showcased her selfless spirit.
“By sharing what I’ve gone through, I can help somebody else,” she said. “There are good days and there are bad days, but if I can help people, it makes for more good days than bad.”
The 2012 Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power, will be held Sunday, April 22, at 12 sites located across the state, including the University of Connecticut West Hartford campus. Lunch is provided compliments of Subway restaurants and Coca-Cola.
Travelers Walk MS community partners include News 8, WUVN Univision, Clear Channel Radio Connecticut, to include The River 105.9, Country 92.5, KISS 95.7, ESPN 1410 AM, KC 101.3, 960 WELI and ESPN 1300 AM. Other community partners include 95.9 THE FOX, WCTY 97.7 and Connecticut Cruise News.
To volunteer, register, donate or learn more about the 2012 Travelers Walk MS, please visit www.ctfightsMS.org.