Melanie Morris is no stranger to MS. With two close friends living with the disease, Melanie understands the various ways MS can present itself and the progressive nature of the disease. “My two close friends are daily reminders that this disease is real. Both were diagnosed after living vibrant, healthy lives through college. I’m willing to do whatever I can to help find a cure for MS,” said Melanie. She initially engaged with the Chapter as a rider in the 2006 Great Mass Getaway. An avid cyclist, Melanie took to the pavement to raise money and awareness for the Chapter.
A save-the-date announcement for September’s African-American Experience with MS educational conference caught Melanie’s eye last spring. This first-time conference focused exclusively on how the African-American population is affected by MS. MS is well known for treating no one equally: while Caucasians have a higher incidence rate of MS, the disease can follow a different and sometimes more severe course in African-Americans. A recent graduate from the Boston University College of Communications, Melanie was intrigued by this event and contacted the chapter to offer her time and professional skills within this program. From the beginning, Melanie’s desire to join our movement was evident. Her interest in MS was personal, and although her connections are outside our Chapter area, she jumped right in and gave 120 percent. “Initially I volunteered with the MS Chapter in my hometown, Rochester, New York. I participated in several fund-raising efforts during the annual MS 150 bike ride. I love to cycle to raise money for MS,” said Melanie. With her enthusiasm and her smile, Melanie constantly had her friends in mind as she worked with Chapter staff to deliver a successful conference.
With her research activities, marketing ideas, and her energetic personal skills, Melanie brought excitement and creativity to every step of the program planning process! Melanie’s connections to community resources and networks further enabled the Chapter to increase MS awareness and market the African-American conference. Utilizing her professional community contacts, TV contacts, and media contacts in the Greater Boston neighborhoods, Melanie successfully linked the Chapter directly to the Greater Boston African-American community. The highlight being a cable access interview Melanie organized with the Boston Neighborhood Network News. These connections were vital to the conferences high attendance, which included both African-Americans with MS, family members, friends and professionals with the community.
In addition to Melanie’s behind-the-scenes role in program planning she was a dazzling and dynamic emcee who engaged conference participants throughout the day long conference. With stories and humor, Melanie’s enthusiasm and desire to create a world free of MS honored her friends and all those in attendance.
The Chapter wishes Melanie well as she moves forward in her professional career. We hope that her next step keeps her in our Chapter area, and if you are fortunate, you too will have an opportunity to experience Melanie’s smile and optimistic attitude. Melanie is a young professional truly making a difference!
by Brooks R. Magratten
At varying times we have an epiphany -- that moment the belief instilled in our youth that we control our destiny crumbles. We learn, then, that our lives are largely shaped by forces beyond our control.
My epiphany arrived in the Spring of 1991. It was then our family physician revealed to me his suspicion that Paige’s (my wife) blurred vision and tingling sensations were the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Magnetic resonance imaging confirmed lesions on the spinal cord.
His words provoked an out-of-body experience. Denial and avoidance follow the initial shock. Only years later did acceptance begin to appear. I chose not to tell Paige until Boston experts confirmed the diagnosis. The months that followed were some of the most difficult of my life.
Watching one you love suffer a debilitating illness is emasculating. Instinctively we need to protect those we love. MS, however, is indifferent to needs and emotion. We are still largely powerless to protect its victims. MS disproportionately strikes Caucasian women, often in their 30’s, raised in the northeast. Paige fit the demographic perfectly.
Years later I heard a radio ad for a three day 50 mile walk on the Cape to raise money for MS. I was interested. It was something I could do, or at least wanted to try. I admit to being partially motivated by the physical challenge. By age 40 we have another epiphany that our physical abilities are not limitless. My male ego wanted to know if I could walk twenty miles in one day, let alone 50 over three. I also wanted to give Paige something more than wishes.
That first walk was not what I expected. The physical challenge was easier than I had thought; seeing the people was harder. They were not all jocks; few were. The walkers and volunteers defied categorization, except that MS had personally affected most. They walked for someone they love with MS. The emotion was powerful.
This September marked the seventh MS Challenge Walk. The walk itself is not getting easier. But seeing the people, many of whom are now friends, is. The goal of ending MS brings nearly a thousand people together each year for the challenge.
Paige and I have many reasons to be grateful. The disease has treated her more kindly than others. It has also involved us in a cause greater than ourselves. Over the last six years we have raised over $100,000 and enjoyed the support of countless friends.
Love takes many, often unpredictable, forms. I had no idea when I married that the most powerfully loving moment would be seeing Paige’s eyes at the end of the 20th mile. That has been the best blister balm of all.
The MS Challenge Walk has been a life changing experience. If MS has affected those close to you, consider the therapeutic benefits of blisters on the Cape in September, consider joining us for a walk on the Cape. You too may find love in the oddest places, like next to sweaty socks and warn-out sneakers.
The MS progressed gradually, but it's hard to remember living without it. Jessica, Nat, and I had to grow up a little faster than most of our friends. I remember being mad at the "MS" because it meant I had to shop for groceries with my sister while my mom waited in the car. Mom would help us make out the list and give us money before we went in to the store. We made up for it by picking out a few extra snacks. Helping out also meant other things. My dad, Jere, set up a bee hive in the barn behind our house so my mom could try bee sting therapy. I ended up being the "official stinger". Every couple of days I gathered up to 30 bees from the hive and placed them in a jar with extra long tweezers. I was decked out in a beekeeper suit, gloves, and hat. I became pretty adept with those tweezers and I was never stung. My mom joked that I was so good at it because I liked inflicting pain on her. This joke carried over to when I, along with my dad, gave her Avonex and Betaseron shots at home.
When I was younger, I only thought about how the MS affected me. It wasn't until I was older that I realized how much my mom was going through and fully appreciated how incredibly strong and resilient she is. I take after my mom in some ways. I like to make to-do lists and am a self-described neat freak. I can't imagine how frustrating it was and is for her--to see things she wants to do but cannot physically. If you met my mom, you would never see this frustration. Her smile and kindness fill up a room. I miss that smile - often.
I received my active duty commission from the Army in 2004 after graduating from Colby College in Maine. I've been stationed in Germany since then and I’m on my second tour of duty in the Middle East. I was deployed to Baghdad in October of 2005 for a year and arrived at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait this past March for a 15 month tour. I learned about the MS Challenge Walk from some of my mom's former co-workers and partners in crime, Jeanne Lunny and Monica McGrath. Monica’s an incredible family friend who helped Jeanne raise money so she could attempt her first Challenge Walk on the Cape. Their efforts exceeded the $1500 goal with all proceeds going for further research to cure MS.
“Challenge” is a pretty good name for the event and no one knows that better than me. Camp Arifjan is a flat stretch of desert land in the southern part of Kuwait close to the gulf. The summers here are brutal and the weekend of the walk the temperature during the day was up to 115 degrees and the humidity was incredible; so humid that my sunglasses fogged up when I walked out of my building each morning. To avoid some of the heat, I started the walk at 3:00 AM. I walked on an asphalt 1/2-mile track so I could accurately keep track of the distance. I wanted to complete the course, just like the official walk on Cape Cod. I knocked out 20 miles each of the first two days and 10 the last day. Ever the competitor, I wanted not only to complete the walk, but I wanted to run half the length. So I ran 10 miles Friday and Saturday and 5 on Sunday, which was by far the most humid day. I was soaking wet when I finally finished and had to wring out my t-shirt and shorts before putting them in my laundry bag. The walk was not easy, but for every blister or muscle cramp that slowed me down, I just thought of my mom and how she refuses to let MS slow her down. I can’t help my mother by holding her arm and walking around that ball field anymore. The MS Challenge Walk is a different way that I can help; that many can help. From an Army officer’s point of view, raising money and awareness are the keys to winning this fight to cure MS.
I look forward to completing the MS Challenge Walk next year on Cape Cod for my mom who’s had the much bigger challenge---combating MS, everyday, for almost two decades.
Simply put, my mom is my greatest inspiration.