High Marks to an Inventive Educator
When Cindy Shaffer received her MS diagnosis in 1999, her first thoughts were about information and education. This comes as no surprise when you learn that Cindy spent her career serving the children of Wichita, KS as an elementary school principal.
Cindy not only focused on educating herself about living with MS, but on finding someone who knew the “ropes” first hand about what an MS diagnosis might mean. This lifeline became a teacher in her own school who was affected by MS and from whom she took great comfort.
Yet, Cindy, a busy mom whose daughter was about to graduate high school, still feared her diagnosis and the unknowns that might be around the corner. She worried about stereotypical MS symptoms, such as the image of a woman in a wheel chair. Cindy recalls saying, “I’m not going to be that mom; I will continue to walk.” At that moment, she determined to adapt to her MS diagnosis and treatment, and live her life fully. Cindy credits the steadfast support of Randy, her husband of 35 years, and her daughter Tara as the reason for her continued drive to stay active.
“My husband always gives me a hand to hold. He’s a blessing.”
After beginning treatment with one of the disease-modifying drugs, Cindy immediately became involved with the National MS Society. Her first WalkMS was in 2000, with a small group consisting of her husband, daughter, aunt and close friends. Nearly 10 years later, her team is among the top ten fundraising teams in Wichita and Cindy additionally serves on her chapter’s WalkMS committee.
Despite her desire to not let MS slow her down, Cindy found herself increasingly fatigued. It took longer and longer to recover from short trips out of town and the demands of her school. Cindy coped by learning to manage her time better.
“When I looked at my calendar to make lunch plans with a friend, I would make sure there weren’t other appointments that day. I had to plan my days around one activity. I could no longer maintain a 10-12 hour day. It was frustrating.”
Cindy also managed increasing sensory symptoms, such as tingling and loss of sensation in her feet or legs. Cleverly, she compensates for numbness by wearing high heel shoes: “I can hear my gait in my high heels and know I am stepping safely.” Cindy experiences cognitive symptoms as well. Finding the right words when speaking spontaneously or even organizing her thoughts enough to pack a suitcase challenges her on occasion.
Although Cindy opted for early retirement a few years ago, the conclusion of this chapter in her career did not mark the end of her life as an educator. Cindy has been a regular contributor to Keep S’Myelin (a fun newsletter for kids and their parents). She also serves on the board of the All America Chapter, and advises the Pediatric MS External Review Committee and the National Programs Advisory Committee. Cindy is the co-chair of the Kansas Office, All America Chapter government relations committee, for which she traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for increased MS awareness and legislation to improve the lives of people living with MS.
As an active volunteer leader with the Society, Cindy has found a number of creative ways to engage her many talents, including innovative ways to raise funds for the MS movement. In addition to her WalkMS commitment, she has developed a “Join the Movement” license plate frame. These unique items not only create awareness, www.mslicenseplateframe.com, but fifty percent of the proceeds are also donated to the Society.
Cindy Shaffer feels blessed to have the love and support of her family. She in turn tries to pay forward the family support she receives by helping to support those who are newly diagnosed and being an MS activist. Her steadfast message for people with MS is “Stay positive; Be knowledgeable.”
“It’s important for everyone to be educated and learn about their illness. Understand what you can do as an individual, knowing that an MS diagnosis requires change. Still, you don’t have to stop doing the things you like to do.”