Joanne Craven can remember the exact moment she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“This is a date I’ll never forget,” she says. “March 1, 1984. I was having trouble with double vision and problems with my bladder. I went through a bunch of testing. There was a neurologist who came to Abbotsford once a week and I was seeing him, and he said to me, ‘I think you might have MS.’”
At the time, she was a student at UBC in Vancouver, studying to be an educator. She was in her third year, and the vision problems were impeding her ability to study. Her doctor’s wife was a nurse at the MS clinic, which also happened to be at UBC, and he suggested Craven should go see her.
“That’s where everything got going,” she says.
At the time, the only thing doctors could do for MS patients was prescribe prednisone. She had to quit her studies, unable to keep up with the reading demands.
Now it’s decades later, Craven is 54, and there are plenty more options, more resources, and more knowledge about the neurological disease. But still, there’s no cure. MS is one of the most common neurological diseases affecting young adults in Canada, and Canada has the highest rate of MS in the world at approximately 100,000 people nationwide.
The Fraser Valley MS Walk is coming up on May 28, and will be held in Chilliwack. It will draw in supporters from Hope to Surrey, including Craven’s team, the MSFits. Funds raised at the MS Walk are dedicated to supporting groundbreaking Canadian-led research into the cause and cure for MS, as well as helping Canadians with MS live better until a cure is found.
Craven hasn’t given up hope that a cure will be found within her lifetime.
“There’s been huge advances,” she says of the growing research and treatments. “It’s so exciting to watch the advancements that they’ve made.”
Over the years, the members of her team have come and gone, but she has stuck with it. “I have some fabulous friends who are there and are very supportive.”
There were times though when Joanne didn’t have the support she needed.
“Because I was diagnosed when I was a university student and hadn’t begun my career, there were things that were offered to employees that I was unable to have as I had a pre-existing condition. Some employers were not willing to give me time off when it was advised by my neurologist. My family has been supportive and I consider myself to be very lucky.”
She still worries about many things, especially the future. Currently, Joanne is being cared for by her 81-year-old mother. “I don’t feel I would like to be in an assisted living environment and I could not live on my own unless someone was there to help me.”
Despite her fears, Joanne remains hopeful. Recently, the first Canadian MSSCAMS stem cells trial for MS was given a grant of $4.2M. Joanne says, “It was incredible and exciting news. I feel that they are so close to a cure.”
She had once hoped MS would be cured by the time she was 50. Now her goal is to see a cure by the time she’s 60. But even without a cure, living with MS today is easier than it once was, she says. When she was first diagnosed, she shied away from self help groups. But soon she realized what they offered, and now she spends a good deal of time with the MS Society, pushing for that cure.
And she has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“I feel fine,” she says. “I feel that I’m very lucky that 33 years later, I can still stand on my own two feet.”
She was even driving up until about four years ago, when her eyesight demanded she stop. While she does use a walker and a scooter to get around, she doesn’t need them all the time.
“I live the basement of my mother’s,” she says. “It’s not easy, but I have said I will do the stairs until I can no longer do the stairs. People say ‘you’re not stubborn, you’re determined.’”
Between activities with friends, helping with the society, she also finds time to continue going to meetings in Abbotsford.
“I think it’s fabulous,” she says of the support found there. “It’s made a huge difference in our self-help group.”
This is the 23rd year she’ll be taking part in the MS Walk.
This year’s walk will be taking place on Sunday, May 28 at The Rotary Trail on Petawawa Road adjacent to the dog park. For those outside of the Fraser Valley, similar walks will be held the same day around the province.
To register and for more information visit MSWALKS.CA .