Friday, May 31, 2002
St. Charles County Post
By Valerie Schremp
Of The Post-Dispatch
Jennifer Bickel has lived with multiple sclerosis for six years. Meanwhile, she has her dream job and is preparing for a 50-mile walk.
Watching Jennifer Bickel bounce from woman to woman at the workout center, checking out their form on the machines and encouraging them to walk that extra mile - literally, you can't help but soak up some of her energy.
Heck, watching Bickel simply sit in a chair, talking animatedly and laughing about her life, you can't help but soak up some of her energy, and then wonder:
Is this what multiple sclerosis looks like?
Bickel, 27, lives in St. Charles and is the manager of Curves for Women in Bridgeton. She also has lived with Type I diabetes since she was 10 and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 21.
Beginning today and ending Sunday, she is joining 150 others in a 50-mile walk sponsored by the Gateway Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The walk is a first for the national organization. The local walk begins at the Loading Dock restaurant in Grafton, winds down the Great River Road into Missouri and ends at the University of Missouri-St. Louis soccer field.
Bickel first learned she had MS shortly after playing tennis one day with her boyfriend, Dan, who is now her husband. As she stretched out her right arm to hit the tennis ball, the racket flew out of her hand.
"I about decapitated Dan," she joked.
But after she picked up the racket, it dropped from her hand again. She felt a pain shoot up her arm and then felt pins and needles. After two MRI exams and a spinal tap, doctors told her she had MS.
At first, she didn't know what MS was. "Muscular dystrophy?" she asked, visions of wheelchairs and telethons racing through her mind.
No, her doctor explained. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, possibly disabling disease of the central nervous system. Its symptoms come and go without warning, and they can be as different as sleepiness, difficulty walking, double vision, paralysis and blindness. The cause, and a cure are unknown.
Bickel had a diagnosis, but the doctor couldn't give a prognosis.
"The best I can give you is something ambiguous," he told her.
At the time, Bickel was about to enter her third year of college at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, where she grew up.
The former high school pompom-squad dance captain cut her classload in half, because fatigue would overcome her during the day. She had a "scribe" sit with her during class to take notes because her hand wouldn't cooperate when she needed to write.
Bickel needed four years to complete the last two years of her Communication Disorders program, and she laughs at the fact that now she manages a fitness center. But it is her "dream job," she said.
She got involved with Curves for Women because in college, she not only had to battle diabetes, but also her weight, which hit 200 pounds. A friend told her about the franchise, which offered a 30-minute workout program. "I can do that," Bickel thought.
So she joined a branch and eventually started working as an instructor. She became a manager of the Bridgeton branch two years ago-setting an example for her members because she lost 50 pounds and hasn't gained any back.
She calls it her dream job because she is able to work a shift in the morning and sleep in the afternoon if she needs it. ("Power naps are my milk and honey," she said.) Her background in nutrition from living with diabetes and her background in anatomy from studying communication disorders helps her give advice to members.
And she'd rather work with people in an active, pick-me-up setting, she says, even if she fades out in the middle of the day or loses her train of thought in the middle of the conversation.
"I don't do the all-night dance party anymore, and I'm a dance party girl," she said, laughing.
Besides the afternoon naps and some difficulty with her hand and arm, she doesn't drive at night - her vision isn't good then - and focusing uses up too much glucose, she explains. And every so often, she has what she calls an "MS moment," which is sometimes scary. One day last week, she fell down the stairs at her sister's house, leaving her with bruises all over her arms and legs - "battle scars" she eagerly shows.
As for the walk this weekend? She's pumped. She's got two blister kits and two pairs of tennis shoes in her bag and plans to wear Curves for Women T-shirts because they and its members have been so supportive, both emotionally and financially, by giving pledges to the MS Society in her name.
"I live in encouraging other people through my disability, really," she said. "It's not that I'm ignorant of fear. I just recognize the obstacles and adjust accordingly.
"I will go on walking until you stop me."
* What: A chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system.
* Cause/cure: Unknown.
* Symptoms: Highly variable, depending on the areas of the central nervous system that have been affected. They include fatigue, tingling, numbness, painful sensations, blurred or double vision and muscle weakness. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision.
* Sponsoring Jennifer: To make a contribution to the National Multiple
Sclerosis Society under Jennifer Bickel's name, go online at www.mos.nmss.org
or call 1-800-344-4867.
Copyright (C)2002, St. Louis Post-Dispatch