For the second year in a row, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada is hosting a virtual MS Walk – an event to raise funds to help those living with MS. The organization hopes individuals and/or small bubbled groups will get outdoors to show support during the month of May, which also happens to be Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month in Canada.
“We are encouraging all of our participants to get out and walk any time, anywhere during the month of May,” says MS Society of Canada community fundraising specialist Nicholas Doucet. “This could be as simple as taking a stroll in your own backyard, going for a walk around your community or going out for a hike.”
The virtual event will also include a livestream that will see teams and participants come together to share their experiences with MS Walk and celebrate their achievements toward funding programs and research with the MS Society.
“That way, we can all be together to celebrate MS Walk Day … Sunday, May 30,” says Doucet.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system and can affect vision, memory, balance and mobility. The severity and duration of MS can vary. On average, 12 Canadians are diagnosed with MS every day. There is no cure and the cause is unknown.
Fredericton resident Julia Stewart was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2004. She was studying for her master’s at Dalhousie University in Halifax when she noticed a tremor in her hand. After months of visiting health centres to figure out what was causing the tremor, an MRI solved the mystery.
“The tremors started to go throughout my whole body and I couldn’t move,” Stewart says. “After a couple of months, I had to leave my studies for a period of time until I could be diagnosed.”
Stewart, who is now an MS Society ambassador, says she didn’t know much about the disease before her diagnosis.
“I didn’t know anybody who had the disease, no one in my family had the disease; I was the one who drew the short straw.”
According to the MS Society of Canada, the causes of MS are not entirely known and multiple factors like environment, infectious agents and genetics could play a role in developing MS. More recently, research has shown that bacteria in a person’s intestines could influence the development of the disease.
“This is one of the big questions around MS because there is no real concrete reasons of why this disease happens,” says Stewart. “It could be all sorts of things so there’s no answer at all.”
Events like MS Walk help the organization raise funds for research to study these risk factors, which could lead to targeted treatments now and a cure in the future.
“Funds raised are critical to MS research that’s happening right here in Canada,” says Doucet. “Since 1948, we’ve invested more than $190 million into research so this is something that is very important.”
Doucet says donations raised through the MS Walk not only go to research, but also provide people living with MS with valuable programs like virtual wellness, peer support groups and help to caregivers. One of their newest program additions since the COVID-19 pandemic began is the MS Knowledge Network, which provides MS information and support for anyone in Canada over the telephone and online.
Like most Canadians living with MS, Stewart faces the disease with courage.
“I’m managing it using some of the therapies that are approved,” she says. “It just treats the symptoms, it doesn’t cure the disease — there is no cure for MS, so that will be an ongoing battle until there is a cure…. Learning how to live with it was part of the battle and continues to be.”
Global News is a proud supporter of the MS Society of Canada and the MS Walk. For more information, visit mswalks.ca.