How a children’s book – and a puppy – helped Ontario woman cope with multiple sclerosis

Tammy "Mimi" Duchesne of Echo Bay, Ontario with her dog Phoenix.
Tammy "Mimi" Duchesne of Echo Bay, Ontario with her dog Phoenix.

When Tammy “Mimi” Duchesne went camping with her husband JP on a long weekend in the summer of 2005, she noticed that her left eye was seeing double. A few weeks later, while out on a bike ride, her eyesight became blurry.

Being a nurse, Mimi knew she had to see a doctor about her symptoms. And while she had a feeling something was awry, she wasn’t prepared for the diagnosis she received a year later: multiple sclerosis (MS).

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“I’d always remember the day when she told me the results of that [doctors] appointment,” JP says. “I didn’t go with her because I didn’t know if at that point if we were really thinking it was anything severe.”

JP was at work and waiting for Mimi to pick him up. When she did, she couldn’t hold back her devastation.

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“We were just parked on the street and then she said the doctor said it could be MS,” he recalls. “She would rarely cry – I think it was the only time I’d seen her cry at that point in time – but she just broke down.”

Mimi got her final and official diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS in 2010 (she has now progressed to secondary-progressive).

The next few years for Mimi would prove to be tough as her symptoms progressed fairly quickly.

Being the outdoorsy couple they were, Mimi and JP tried as much as they could to travel but eventually walking became more challenging, as well as her co-ordination and dexterity. Soon enough, Mimi wasn’t able to walk at all or use her arms and legs and eventually confined her to a wheelchair. She also lost the ability to speak properly.

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“It’s such a slow progressing disease and it’s different to something like cancer, where [cancer] has to kind of be dealt with now and there’s some sort of predictability and there’s a fight you can win,” JP says. “But with MS, it’s just slowly going to take things away and there’s no cure. You just don’t know if it’s going to be quick or if it’s not.”

Thus began a new life chapter for Mimi and JP, the couple from Echo Bay, Ont. – one that brought many ups and downs, changing Mimi forever. It also became a source of inspiration for JP who detailed Mimi’s journey in a new children’s book called Why Mimi Got a Puppy.

“It’s really a tribute to [Mimi’s] personality and her attitude about the disease,” JP explains. “It’s inspiring to me and encouraging to others – so I wanted to pay tribute to that in a way.”

The book details a special moment in the couple’s life when JP gifted Mimi with a new puppy named Phoenix for her 40th birthday last year. Phoenix would prove to be a source of happiness and therapy for Mimi, helping both her and JP in their toughest of days.

The book is also interactive in the sense that it comes with QR codes. By scanning the codes with your phone, the reader is able to see real videos of Mimi in a day in her life – from some of JP and Mimi’s most beloved memories on trips to the first time Mimi met Phoenix.

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“This disease has progressed so fast for [Mimi] and you never know what could happen – it could ultimately take her life in some way or another,” JP says. “[Phoenix] is a way to enrich her life from day-to-day. She continues to progress and she’s losing the ability to speak and struggles with swallowing and things like that, but just having the dog around has that therapeutic effect of having a pet. She just loves the dog.”

And while each MS patient’s experience with the disease is different, JP hopes readers young and old alike will get a better understanding of the disease. He also hopes to inspire others in not taking life for granted.

“I think if it can encourage somebody who thinks they’re spending a little bit too much time on their problems it can show them there’s a lot to be grateful for,” JP says. “I think it helps to change people’s perspective and attitude.”

The book can be purchased at

MS, a neurological disease, is known as “Canada’s disease” because the country has the highest prevalence in the world. One in every 340 Canadians live with MS, and three more Canadians are diagnosed with it every day. It affects three times as many women as men.

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– With files from Canadian Press

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