The MS (group) Hug

Several months ago I signed up to attend monthly meetings organized by the MS Society. I’ve been getting phone calls and emails about the meetings religiously, but blew it off for one reason or another. Today I decided to show up.

About a dozen “MSers” sat around a long table drinking coffee. The group consisted mostly of older women, a few middle aged men, some with canes and walkers, another in a wheelchair. One gentleman rode in on a bicycle which made me smile. A few came with their caretakers, another with a service dog. We each were invited to talk a little about any trips we took this summer, or trips we were planning. I talked about my wonderful week at my friend’s Alpaca ranch in Idaho. It was much more than anything the others had done over the summer: a fondly remembered day trip to a casino for one young girl in a wheelchair, a few days in the pines for a woman about my age.

Carlos sat across from me. Young and seemingly healthy in a tank top which showed off his tattoos, I liked him immediately. He was quiet, self-effacing, confident. He began to speak. Carlos is a Marine. He and his cousin joined together and got through the rigors of boot camp together. Carlos said that boot camp was difficult on a psychological level, but the physical part was not too tough for him. He and his cousin graduated and went on to Infantry School where hiking miles on end with sixty pound backpacks was a daily activity. Carlos began to fall behind. He couldn’t keep up with the cousin he had competed with his entire life and he had no idea why. He thought he was just tired, missing his family, maybe a little depressed. But still, he fell further behind the rest of his class with each day. He was sent to see a doctor and given the diagnosis of MS. Carlos is nineteen. He now makes pizza and dreams of making enough money to live on his own.

I was diagnosed with MS at 56 years of age. After I’d seen the world, had babies and walked and swam and done just about every damn thing I wanted to. I snorkeled in the Bahamas, rode an ATV in Cancun, smelled the juniper from the back of a Harley, stayed up all night and partied all day. I’ve never been as thankful for that than I am today, or as guilty about the amount of time I’ve wasted feeling sorry for myself. Because there are people, young people, who are struck down with this unpredictable disease in their teens. People who have to put their dreams and goals away because they are too sick to do much except…be sick.

I’m not sure if I’ll go back to the MS group. There was a lot of complaining and few answers for me and the negativity frightened me. I saw what I was about to become…

Until I met Carlos.

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