Wednesday, May 2, 2012

MS.. the year of my diagnosis, 1990

When I was in high school, my dream was to, someday, become either an English teacher or a writer.  I began junior college immediately after graduating in 1987, taking general courses, but thoroughly enjoying the rhetoric class I took.  My instructor praised my writing skills and was very encouraging and I felt I could follow this path in the long run, but yet I was also lost inside myself as to where my life was going and chose to not continue in my education for the next year or two.
I wish I could explain this to the younger version of me and save myself from years of heartache and pain. 
My parents, along with a close friend of theirs, decided to open a home-town ice cream and popcorn store later the following year, which made the decision to not continue with school a bit easier.  The friend contributed the financial side of the store while my parents did the work, including making all the ice cream and popcorn.  Wow, it was the BEST ice cream I have ever had to this day!  It was called Heartland Ice Cream & Popcorn Factory and it was probably one the cutest, most colorful places anywhere nearby.  I loved working there, had many employees who eventually became friends and many of our patrons became daily visitors.  It was terribly disheartening how our business was not able to stay open nearly as long as we would have liked, largely due to another local ice cream store/company that has been in business for many years.  They have cornered the ice cream market quite nicely and not even Baskin Robbins has been able to stay in town for too long in our area.  It took me many years to be able to stomach their ice cream but I am, once again, a fan of theirs.

During the time my family owned Heartland, we had a huge dry-erase board on one of the walls where I would write the names of the 36 flavors of ice cream we featured.  One evening I was working with a girl named Angie and as I was sweeping the front room of the store, I looked up at the sign and it was completely blank.  I called out to her and asked why she had erased it.  Angie looked at me, giggled and said it had not been erased.  I was confused so I walked up to it and ran one of my fingers across where some of the words should have been, and sure enough.. my fingers had marker on them.  What was going on?  Angie looked thoroughly dumbfounded as I stepped back and still could not see a damn thing on the sign EXCEPT the silver frame that held the white dry-erase board.  I was frightened.  I immediately called my mom, who drove to pick me up that evening, and made an appointment the following day with our family doctor.  This was my first symptom of MS.. Optic Neuritis.

When I was told I had Optic Neuritis, it was simply that and nothing more, although I was sent to a neurologist after seeing the eye doctor.  Over the next few months, I had two more completely separate issues that led to my diagnosis of MS on November 12, 1990.  Although those six months seemed eternal, compared to most, it really wasn't long at all.. but in those six months, I matured far beyond my 21 years.
Studio pic of my Abuelito in his younger days.
Not too long before making the appointment when I received the diagnosis, my mom had booked a flight to go to Bolivia for November 13th.  Her father (my Abuelito) was very ill and was only expected to live another 2 or 3 weeks.  After the news of my having MS, my mother felt very conflicted as to what to do so I knew I had to be strong for her and not let her see me cry, no matter how much I desperately wanted her to not leave me at that moment.  Yet I knew she needed me to "allow" her to go to her mother and be there for her so I kept my feelings to myself and never shared this with her until a few years ago.  I needed to be strong for my mom just as she needed to take on a different role with her own mother as they both cared for my Abuelito as he died before their eyes.  He lived until February 14, 1991, so Mom's trip lasted much longer than we all anticipated but it was necessary and I understood.

In my mom's absence, I was given the roll of manager of our store and it was a huge responsibility for me.  At the same time, I was also dealing with fatigue, numbness, pain and still getting used to the thought of living with MS for the rest of my life.  It was a difficult time, to say the least.  One other thing happened while Mom was gone, too.  We had to put our beloved dog, Tootsie, to sleep, after many years of her health diminishing.  1990 was just a bad year!  But as I always say, life goes on and we have somehow moved on and become stronger within ourselves and as a family.

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