For the last two years, several multiple sclerosis fundraisers have had to be scaled back because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but MS Awareness Month is still vital for people living with the disease and their supporters.
The annual MS Walk has gone virtual again for 2021, but the MS Society flag is still flying outside Duncan city hall for the month of May, and the Big Stick at the Cowichan Community Centre will be lit red for World MS Day on May 30.
“It’s mostly about getting awareness to the community at large,” said Sue Whittaker, a volunteer and ambassador with the MS Society in the Cowichan Valley. “It’s great to see MS community in the Cowichan Valley being supported by the City and the CVRD.”
MS is often called “Canada’s disease” because Canada has the largest per-capita rate of the disease in the world. Approximately 90,000 Canadians are living with MS, and an average of 12 more are diagnosed with MS every day. MS is three times more likely to affect women than men. Scientists have no explanation for why the disease is so prevalent in Canada or in women, Whittaker said.
With large, in-person gatherings prohibited across Canada, participants in the 2021 MS Walk are encouraged to create their own routes in their neighbourhood or on local trails and walk with people from their own homes or social pods. The MS Walk is one of the society’s biggest fundraisers, along with the MS Bike in September and Burgers to Beat MS at A&W in August. The MS Society is 98 per cent self-funded.
“These events are really important to us,” Whittaker said.
Whittaker was diagnosed with MS in 1996 when she was in her 30s — the typical diagnosis comes between the ages of 20 and 40— when she was a full-time teacher and played on a women’s soccer team.
“I had to make some changes,” she said. “It’s about reimagining yourself all the time.”
Whittaker had to give up soccer, but took up cycling instead, and began volunteering more, including her work with the MS Society, which has been beneficial in many ways.
“I have yet to meet someone involved with an MS event or the MS Society who is not a happy, smiling person,” she said.
Visit www.mssociety.ca for more about MS Awareness Month.