Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

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Kanata resident says MS research holds a lot of promise


By Bea Vongdouangchanh

March 31, 2017

OTTAWA - When Sherry Leech was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in 2005 following crawling, tingling sensations in her face and her fingers going numb one by one, she says she wasn’t surprised to find out it was multiple sclerosis.

“My mother’s sister had MS. She died when I was five. So it was always known in our family what it was,” she says. “Honestly by the time I was diagnosed, it wasn’t a surprise at all when I went to the neurologist’s office that day, and she said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, you have MS.’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, that’s what I was figuring.’”

Leech’s cousin, who is the grand daughter of the aunt who died, also has MS, making her the third person in her family to develop the unpredictable disease which attacks the central nervous system’s myelin, the protective covering of the nerves. On April 30, Leech will take part in the MS Society Ottawa Chapter Walk at Tunney’s Pasture to raise money for research into better treatments and possibly a cure, so that her son, Nathan, does not have to be the fourth person in her family to develop the disease.

“We’ve had enough,” says the 41-year-old, who was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting 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.”

Leech says she hasn’t had a relapse in six years, but rather a “slow steady decline” in her mobility and cognitive functions. She stopped working as an auditor for the Department of National Defence in May 2010 because of the fatigue she felt and her inability to concentrate and focus. She uses a walker in her house and a wheelchair when she’s moving throughout the city. “I don’t have the stamina to walk and I also have very bad balance, so even if I had the stamina, I wouldn’t be trustworthy on my feet,” she says, adding however that participating in the Walk “is no problem, as it is a fully accessible event.”

This year will be Leech’s 10th year participating in the annual Walk. She and her husband took Nathan in his stroller when he was one, back when there were three local walks in the Ottawa area and the event was much smaller. Over the years, Leech has raised more than $32,000 for the MS Society of Canada, with donations coming from a core group of 60 friends, colleagues and family. Many of them make up her team, Walk and Roll, who come out annually to support her.

“Now, in comparison to 10 years ago, for me it feels more like a sense of community. You feel, ‘Yeah, you know what, you’re all out there working for the same purpose.’ When we started, it was just my husband and I along with our son. We signed up ourselves and that was it. For us it’s turned into a much bigger thing,” Leech says, noting that her favourite part of the Walk is “going to the site and seeing how many people are involved and for how many people this cause means something.”

For Leech, seeing the cause grow to include the vast support from those who don’t have MS is “heartwarming.” She holds hope that the funds raised will lead to innovative breakthroughs that will benefit her in her lifetime.

“The research holds a lot of promise,” she says. “I would like to get back to some semblance of a normal life. I don’t hold any illusions that everything would be cured, that all of my symptoms would be erased, but I would hope for something to come out of it whether it’s I can walk reasonably well again, or I can get through the day without having to nap in the afternoon—little things.”

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