Annual walk is a 'day without Multiple Sclerosis'

Some 1,000 people are expected to turn out for the annual walk in support of Multiple Sclerosis research and treatment, which will wind through Mount Pearl on May 24th.

It’s the 25th year for the walk, which has grown so large over the years that it had to be moved from its starting point at Bowring Park in St. John’s. This year the starting point will be St. Peter’s Primary School on Ashford Drive.

Among the participants will be one of the most active MS Society organizers in the province, Zita Kavanagh of Mount Pearl, who says the annual event has special meaning for her.

“Not only do you get people with MS at the walk, but you get their loved ones, family and friends who support them,” she said. “There will be people in wheelchairs, with walkers, canes, we get children, people with pets, we get all sorts on this walk. It’s one of our biggest fundraisers.”

Anyone interested in participating can register online through the MS Society of Canada.

Kavanagh is walking as part of a team called Small Steps Big Steps. The name stems from her experience when she was first diagnosed with MS in January 2010 and spent five days in hospital unable to walk. She had fallen down in her house and was unable to get up.

“I didn’t know if I was ever going to walk (again),” said Kavanagh. “I came home, struggled, then went through heavy physiotherapy to get back to walking. It seemed like it was small steps I was going through and then all of a sudden coming to big steps.”

After being diagnosed, Kavanagh thought her future would mean life in a wheelchair. But a heavy dose of steroids and some medication and physiotherapy since then have kept her mobile and active. Last Friday, she attended a flag raising ceremony for MS at St. John’s City Hall and later presented a book on MS to the Ross King Memorial Library in Mount Pearl, something the local chapter of the MS Society does every year as well as make presentations in schools.

Kavanagh was 46 when she was diagnosed, a day after her daughter Jesse’s birthday. The disease can affect vision, hearing, memory, balance and mobility and be accompanied by heavy fatigue. It can be aggravated by stress. Kavanagh says looking back she realizes she was probably exhibiting symptoms for some time, perhaps as long as 12 years, before the attack that left her temporarily immobile. “The symptoms can mimic other diseases so it can be hard to pinpoint it as MS,” she explains.

Kavanagh said she expects she will have to spend a few days on the couch recovering from the annual walk, but it will be worth it.

“That walk is special to me because that day you are walking with all of your people, all of the people who are there to support you, people who are living with it every day and all the varieties of it,” Kavanagh said.

The atmosphere of the walk, ironically, lets Kavanagh rid her mind of the stress of having the disease. Her son, daughter and husband accompany her along with the family dog, Cookie. “It’s the one day I don’t have MS,” she said. “That’s the joy of it, knowing I have MS but that I fought it that day.”

Posted on May 7, 2015 .