There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not in pain, but I tolerate it,” says Lynda McKinley. “I’ve had it for so long that I just let it roll off my back.”
Millions of people around the world are affected by multiple sclerosis; a disease undetected by the naked eye that affects quality of life and physical and mental well-being for those who live with it.
Locally, there are multiple individuals and families throughout Adair County that have been affected by this disease. MS is an autoimmune disease that can cause blurred or loss of vision, muscle tremors/spasms, slurred speech, extreme fatigue, memory loss, loss of balance and walking ability and it just makes everyday tasks daunting for those who live through it. Waking up and making the bed or getting ready for the day can be debilitating for someone with MS.
“I think there aren’t enough conversations about this disease and I even struggle talking about it; my daughter says I need to open up more about the ways MS affects me,” says Breeding resident Heather Burkett.
March is MS awareness month and associations across the globe are working to help raise awareness to this condition.
There is no cure for MS, but those who live with it like Lynda and Heather, find unique ways to manage their pain and day-to-day activities.
For Adair resident Lynda McKinley, she manages her MS with the help of prayer, her family, and photography.
“I always had issues with my legs hurting and being tired but I always though it was a product of exercise,” says McKinley. “One day while warming up for a workout, I started having blurred vision and my pulse started racing. The next morning I had complete vision loss and one side of my face was drawing up.”
McKinley had a cat scan and MRI completed and her doctors found seven lesions within her brain and after additional testing, she was diagnosed with optical neuritis and MS in 2001.
“I was terrified,” says McKinley. “I had two young sons and I was in complete denial. I cried a lot, prayed a lot, and I was angry.”
McKinley says she felt depressed at times following her diagnosis and it took her six months to tell family members outside of her husband and children. She worked through those feelings by researching the disease and looking for ways that she could help herself and others affected by MS.
“I found out that a MS walk was happening in Bowling Green so I organized a local team with friends and some of my co-workers at Adanta,” says McKinley. “We raised $13,000 doing fundraising and I became an MS ambassador and started hosting MS walks here in Adair County.”
McKinley continued to plan and organize walks until her second exacerbation caused vision loss in her left eye. Her doctor recommended a IV steroid treatment and her vision was completely restored. At this moment, Lynda realized that she wanted to cherish every sight for the rest of her life.
“I took up photography and it helps me remind myself of the blessings even on my bad days,” says McKinley. “Losing my vision completely is a possibility with this disease so I try to stay positive by taking photos and looking at the gifts of God in nature.”
McKinley says her sons Joe and Jacob and her husband Joe, help her to draw strength each day to face her disease.
“My husband always reminds me not to overdo it. But, with a lot of prayer and listening to what my body is telling me, I manage each day differently,” says McKinley.
Breeding resident Heather Burkett also deals with her MS in different ways on a daily basis, but she says that listening to her body is key in dealing with constant discomfort and pain associated with MS.
“I always say I have MS, but MS will never have me,” says Burkett. “I’m a fighter but it still affects making plans to attend church or to see friends; all of a sudden I don’t feel well and I can’t do what I would like to do.”
Heather says that keeping a positive attitude and reminding herself of her blessings helps her to get through those tough days when her body is in constant pain.
“I always tell myself that I have too much to live for to let MS have its way, but some days it does,” says Burkett. “Over the past few weeks I’ve had to have IV steroid treatments and it is just a reminder that I do have this disease.”
Burkett says she leans heavily on her parents, her kids, grandkids, and her husband for support, but she says her relationship with the Lord is really something that helps her stay positive on a daily basis.
“Praying everyday is big and having prayer partners and warriors in your corner is important for me,” says Burkett. “Knowing that there is some many wonderful this in this world and beyond this world is comforting.”
Burkett moved to Kentucky from South Carolina in 2003 when she found out she had MS. She was scared of what might happen to her and with a young son and daughter, she didn’t want her husband to end up raising their kids alone.
“I moved here because my parents were here and at the time, I didn’t know what would happen to me,” says Burkett. “It was a scary feeling, but my family has helped me so much and knowing the Lord wasn’t finished with me yet has helped me tremendously.”
Burkett says that the Lord is her spiritual rock, but her physical rock will always be her husband Lee.
“We’ve been married for 29 years and he has been my rock,” says Burkett. “I’ve heard a statistic that 90 percent of people with MS end up divorced and when I first got diagnosed I told him that he didn’t sign up for this and that I would understand if he wanted to check out.”
Lee stood by Heather faithfully as she has went through exacerbations, vision loss, and memory loss over the past 15 years, but thanks to steroid treatments and optometry advancements Heather has been able to work through those symptoms.
“There were a few years where it affected my eyes and I couldn’t drive, but thanks to some great eye doctors, I was able to regain my vision,” says Burkett. “As far as short term memory loss, I do my best to make lists but then I just forget them at home and just wing it.”
Because of the support she has received from her family and friends, Burkett is extremely grateful for her loved ones.
“I just love doing anything with my family, especially with my grandchildren, but if I were giving advice to someone recently diagnosed with MS, I would tell them to keep a positive attitude, find your spiritual self, and know that it can always be worse.”
By Adam Capps