Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

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Coming Out for the Ottawa Mandarin MS Walk

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“Coming Out” for the Ottawa Mandarin MS Walk

By Bea Vongdouangchanh

For Immediate Release

OTTAWA – April 4, 2017 - Six years ago, Pam Conquest woke up with pins and needles that wouldn’t go away. Her medical training as a nurse led her to speculate she might have multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable autoimmune disease which attacks the central nervous system’s myelin, the protective covering of the nerves. She brushed it off as a pinched nerve when it finally did clear up and didn’t follow up with her doctor’s order for an MRI scan.

“Nurses are horrible patients,” she says. “We take care of people much better than we take care of ourselves.”

A few years later, that never ending pins and needles feeling returned. This time, she felt numb from her breast down while on a cruise. She thought it was a vitamin B12 deficiency. When she returned from the cruise, she started taking B12 supplements, but it didn’t help. She was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS on Dec. 21, 2014. It wasn’t until April 2016 prepping for her first MS Walk, however, that she told her friends about her condition.

“At first I was really stressed out about it because I didn’t want to be viewed as different than anyone. I’ve always tried to be as strong as can be. No one wants to look weak. I had a hard time telling people that something was wrong with me,” she says, noting that she was not “completely surprised” by her diagnosis.

“I think I was more in denial. I think I still am in denial at some points. I don’t think it’s completely realistic that after two and a half years that I’m completely okay with the fact that I have MS,” she says.

But her first MS Walk was a “coming out” of sorts and it helped her come to terms with her new reality because it was such a positive experience to see those with MS and without all supporting each other. “The MS Walk means quite a bit to me right now because that’s actually how I came out to my friends. It literally means the world to me,” she says. “The MS Walk is my baby. My team is my baby.”

After “coming out,” her close friends, and even those she hadn’t spoken to in years, were extremely supportive, says the 28-year-old currently on leave from Ottawa Hospital’s General Campus because of a recent MS relapse. Last year, Conquest’s team Pins and Needles raised more than $6,000 for the MS Walk and hopes to surpass that at this year’s walk, taking place April 30 at Tunney’s Pasture.

Approximately 100,000 Canadians have MS. According to the MS Society of Canada, “MS is unpredictable and can cause symptoms such as extreme fatigue, lack of coordination, weakness, tingling, impaired sensation, vision problems, bladder problems, cognitive impairment and mood changes. Its effects can be physical, emotional and financial. Currently there is no cure, but each day researchers are learning more about what causes MS and are zeroing in on ways to prevent it.”

Aside from traditional support for donations (“I’m nagging everyone”), Conquest creates homemade bath bombs to sell in order to raise money for the walk. They go for $5 each or three for $12. “Every penny counts towards finding a cure – I think in our lifetime we’re going to find it,” she says.

In the meantime, Conquest says, “Try to stay as positive as possible, try to live every day to the fullest — YOLO [you only live once], literally, YOLO, you have to. With the good days there will always be bad days, but you always have to hope that there’s always going to be a good day after a bad day.”

About the Mandarin MS Walk - The Ottawa Mandarin MS Walk will take place on Sunday, April 30, 2017 at Tunney’s Pasture at the new location of 70 Colombine Way. Participants can enjoy the option of a 3 or 5 km accessible walk route along the scenic Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway or a 5 km timed run component. Over 1200 participants are expected with a goal of just over $270,000 in pledges. Registration and breakfast will begin at 9 am and the walk will be kicked off by the Royal Canadian Air Command Pipes and Drums leading the walkers out. A barbeque lunch will follow at noon and there will be a children’s activity area with a bubble bounce and the return of the Cos Player characters. This year marks the 26th annual MS Walk in Canada.

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