Rule #1: Make it a Point to Know Your Enemy
Sometimes a disease like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) attacks seemingly out of nowhere, turning someone's life inside out in a blink of the proverbial eye. That's how MS bullied its way into Debra G.'s life. In 1978, Debra was working at her job as a bank operations manager, completing tasks and knowing she would be going home that night to her husband and two-year-old son, when MS suddenly struck.
"I was at work and got dizzy and couldn't see or walk. I had double vision. My husband had to come get me and take me home. When I got there, I immediately started getting sick and did that for 48 hours," she said. "My husband tried to get me to eat, but I couldn't. We went to the hospital and the doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong. It took six weeks to get through this episode, during which I could barely function."
Eventually, Debra went back to work but, a month and a half later, she had another attack at an out-of-town conference, leaving her unable to walk, talk or hold food down. By this point, she knew that it would be impossible to continue working. While at the Social Security Administration office to apply for disability benefits, she suffered the most severe attack yet. Beginning to feel unwell, she suddenly found herself paralyzed on her left side.
It was at the University of Utah Hospital, after they "poked and prodded me to pieces," that she finally learned she had Multiple Sclerosis. MS may have found Debra Girard, but she refused to be a passive victim. She worked hard at home and office and rode horses for fun refused to rein in her life any more than necessary. "I wasn't going to give up and put myself in a wheelchair," she said.
"I read everything there was to read, and talked to everyone I knew who had it or knew someone who had it."
First, Debra made it a point to know her enemy.
"When I first got MS, I set myself up with a whole stack of papers on the disease." she said. "I read everything there was to read, and talked to everyone I knew who had it or knew someone who had it."
And once she equipped herself with a storehouse of knowledge about the issue, she took what she calls the most important step in combating MS. She got mad. Debra said a physical therapist told her that people couldn't make progress if they were too angry, that they needed a more positive outlook. She didn't see it that way. Instead, she used anger at her disease as her fuel to keep moving forward.
"My thought was, the madder I get, the better I'm going to be,” Debra said. “I would tell this to anyone who finds out they have MS:You have to get mad and you have to fight the disease.”
Debra says another critical factor that enabled her to win her battle is the financial support from PAN Foundation that has provided access to the medications she needs. She found out about PAN from a local MS patient society and the phone call she made to the organization was a game-changing moment.
"We simply didn't have the money to pay for my treatments. The medicine costs more than we bring home in a month," she said. "Without PAN’s help, I wouldn't be walking, I wouldn't be talking. These medicines are keeping me out of the hospital. They change my life."
She doesn't ride horses anymore, but Debra still goes four-wheeling with her husband. She sews, reads and cooks her famous homemade chicken stew (she will not share the secret ingredient) for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"I tell everyone now to make sure they enjoy life,” she said. "Don't put things off, and make the most out of every day."
Debra added that she tells everyone I know about the PAN Foundation.
“When I told the people at the PAN Foundation that I had MS, it was easy from there,” she said. “The help started immediately. Without their help, I wouldn't have the life I have. I would be immobilized.”