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I didn’t ask for MS, so now I’m stealing from it

By Dan Digmann

It is said multiple sclerosis affects each person differently and no two cases are alike. 

I almost always agree with this assertion. That is, until I think of a common thread that connects many of the nearly 1 million other people in the United States who are living with this chronic disease of the central nervous system.

Few – if any – of us asked for it. 

Then again, it’s hard to make a wholehearted request for something we never saw coming. I mean, did you? Whatever first led you to the doctor to determine what was causing the (insert your initial symptoms here) you were experiencing, did you actually anticipate and aspire for the diagnosis of a progressive illness? Me neither.

The numbness I was feeling in my hands, torso, and feet for sure were the result of me pinching a nerve during my weekend of pick-up basketball games. I remember thinking before I went to my doctor back then in 1999, “I probably overdid it because I’m not in as good of shape as I once was, and I am getting older.”

Oh silly, naive 27-year-old Dan. You are so ill-prepared for what’s coming down the pike to blindside you and totally turn the trajectory of your life. 

I never asked for an MS diagnosis. 

I didn't think it was an option. I barely had heard or knew anything about MS. That is until after all the tests, exams, and scans I underwent led the radiologist to conclude the cause of my symptoms “most likely was multiple sclerosis.”

A sunken sense of betrayal settled in as I struggled to conceptualize how a weekend of pick-up basketball and an assumed pinched nerve mercilessly transitioned into something so monumental. What just happened here?

In the weeks that followed that initial report, it's not like I went all Shakespeare and asked for the formal diagnosis “to be or not to be” MS. Rather, I was engaged in developing strategies for how I would respond to and praying for the strength I needed to handle whatever diagnosis was coming my way. 

And then it happened. I was formally diagnosed with having MS and forever would have something in common with what eventually would be nearly 1 million other people in the U.S. 

Few – if any – of us asked to be diagnosed with a stealth-like disease that without warning has the power to affect countless actions such as seizing our ability to walk. Controlling our bladders. Blurring our vision. Weakening the sensation of feeling in our fingers and toes. Fogging our cognitive processes. Evoking uncontrollable emotions.   

After all, who would ever ask for anything such as this?

But here’s the thing: while there’s a lot that stinks about living with and having MS for more than 21 years, not everything about it has been bad. Getting diagnosed with MS sparked a sense of empowerment and determination in me to not give the disease the final say in where my life is going. And my life continues to move forward as my attitude is one thing MS cannot control.

In spite of MS, I met my loving wife, Jennifer (who also as MS), and I am proud of everything I’ve accomplished – such as earning my graduate degree, serving on my church council, and advocating for MS research and programs in Washington, D.C. 

Like my MS diagnosis, I never asked for any of these positive things. No, I actually just have stayed focused and surrounded myself with the positive people who support me on my quests to boldly claim and steal these victories from MS while it’s looking the other way. Or better yet, when it’s looking me right in the face.