Keith Mychaluk started fundraising for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada in 2002 and it’s estimated that he’s raised around $225,000 in the past two decades.
His motivation for fundraising is personal. From a young age, Mychaluk watched his mother, Karen, suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system.
She started experiencing symptoms back in 1971, a year after Mychaluk was born, but it wasn’t until a few years later that doctors diagnosed her with MS.
Throughout his life, he’s watched her symptoms get progressively worse.
“I remember my mom. … She used to go fishing, she used to downhill ski, she owned a florist shop in Oak Ridge,” Mychaluk recalls from his younger years.
“As the disease slowly progressed, I’ve watched her go from using a cane part-time, when she started having mobility issues, to two canes and a walker, … a manual wheelchair, part-time and then full-time, and now she uses a power chair.”
“You know, through all of that I’ve never once heard her complain about the disease or get down on about it. It’s pretty inspirational.”
Mychaluk admits, watching his mother’s health deteriorate has been hard, but they’ve come to understand that it’s a long game and progress is constantly being made to help fight the disease.
“It’s very difficult, as a family, to see her try to figure out, ‘Is a cure around the corner? … How close are we? … What type of medications are there?’ Here we are 50 years later, and we are closer to it,” Mychaluk said.
Stephanie Mosher with the MS Society agrees and said research and treatment have made leaps and bounds over the past 20 years.
“Two decades ago, we didn’t have treatments for MS. If you were diagnosed, you might be told to not exercise or to rest, you might not be able to stay at your place of employment at the time, depending on the progressiveness of your MS,” Mosher said.
“But now there are 17 disease-modifying therapies. And that really is because of people like Keith and his family who are dedicated to raising those funds.”
Mosher added that the momentum with MS research is, in large part, possible because of the fundraising efforts from so many Canadians, like Mychaluk.
“When you hear about someone like Keith, raising funds to support his mom, there are so many other people that can relate to that and are encouraged by that,” Mosher said.
Mychaluk was surprised when the MS Society told him that he has raised a total of over $200,000 over the years. It also mentioned the significant amount that he alone has donated, out of his own pocket.
“Apparently, I’ve donated over $34,000 of my own money in that time … and would do so again.”
Knowing it’s not always easy to donate — especially during the pandemic — Mychaluk is very grateful for the support. Every year, he makes sure to personally reach out to each person who has donated to his cause and say thank you.
Over the past few years, a friendly rivalry has started up with Mychaluk and another MS Society top fundraiser, Wee Yong, a professor at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Unversity of Calgary.
“I’ve beaten him pretty good last few years, but he’s actually been getting the better of me lately,” Mychaluk said. “He’s number one right now and I’m number three … so I’d like to throw something out there … I’m going to catch you this year Dr. Yong!”
Yong responded, “catch me if you can, Keith!”
Yong, who co-leads the MS NeuroTeam at the University of Calgary, has been fundraising himself over the past 15 years and enjoys a little friendly competition.
This year, he started a fundraising challenge with the entire Alberta MS Network across the Universities of Alberta, Calgary, and Lethbridge. He’s winning in that competition too and said his peers have coined the term “Yongadvantage.”
“Thanks to all the fundraisers, whom researchers like me truly appreciate,” Dr. Yong said. “We, on our part, are very glad to help fundraise as well — particularly when there is friendly competition to keep the battle going.”
It’s a battle Mychaluk said he’ll keep fighting, not only for his mom, but for everyone who suffers from the debilitating autoimmune disease.
“I’ll be doing this until my last breath.”
Read more: Jayman Built 2021 MS Walk
The MS Society has plenty of great events coming up that people can take part in, like the MS Walk happening on May 30.
“In the fall, we also have lots of our education events, such as our MS Connect conference, which is really a great opportunity for the MS community to hear all about the amazing research that’s happening, but also for them to learn how to navigate their MS,” Mosher said.