April 05, 2002
By: Emily S. Pohlsander
When Kerry Williams' legs feel too heavy and weak to support her, she knows she can count on the support of others to see her through.
Williams has multiple sclerosis, a disease affecting the central nervous
system, and through a support group and the help of her family, she says
she knows she can put balance back in her life.
MS often drains Williams' body of energy to shop, cook or even bathe her two daughters, Courtney, 7, and Autumn, 5. That's when husband Roy prepares dinner, sister Kris Kahler gets the girls ready for bed and sister-in-law Carla Robbins does some household shopping. Her parents, Monte and Marketa Kahler, and Roy's parents, Gene and Mary Williams, occasionally watch Courtney and Autumn on the weekends when Williams needs to catch up on some rest.
Williams, ordinarily an energetic woman who hates to sit still, says not being able to put a puzzle together with her daughters on a whim or plan a camping trip with the certainty that she will be up to it is difficult. A registered nurse with St. John's Regional Health Center, Williams dropped her hours to part-time last May because of MS.
Two years ago Williams woke up with sudden blindness in her left eye, a typical symptom of MS. While her sight has now been restored, she still has limited depth perception and peripheral vision.
"My eyesight is still not back to normal," she said. "It has its good days and its bad days."
It was the loss of sight, as well as headaches, paralysis in her legs and numbness in her face, that persuaded her to consult her doctor, who diagnosed her in May 2000.
"It hit me with surprise," she recalled.
Williams emphasizes the support she feels from those who love her, including her daughters, who struggle to understand how MS affects their lives as well.
"They have some concept," Williams said. "They know Mommy has a disease. They know that if Mommy doesn't get enough rest she gets really tired. They realize that I have to balance my time."
She says accepting her disease and being at peace enough with it to talk about it took some time. Anger, denial and guilt were initial feelings, she said. But instead of dwelling on her problems, Williams attends a monthly support group for other people experiencing the same trials. Together they work through understanding and coping with the devastating effects of MS.
"You just have to be comfortable within yourself to be able to say, 'I have MS and this is what I'm going through.'"
As a group of about 15 people, they set aside time to share personal stories and hear from medical professionals. If a support group member is having trouble swallowing, the group will hear from a speech therapist to learn exercises. Or if cramps are a common complaint, a physical therapist might be the guest speaker at the next meeting.
Williams is also looking for support in another area - financial backing for MS research. The annual MS walk is Saturday. Money raised from it funds research to find a cure for MS.
"You have to have the resources," she said. "You've got to have the funding for the research. That's how we as individuals can help by raising awareness. That's why we have the walk."
©Herald-Free Press 2002