Monday, March 11, 2002
By LIZ FREEMAN
Sparks Lunney describes his wife, Linda, as his hero.
She doesn't gripe or accept pity. She doesn't allow herself to get down.
"This is a lady who does what needs to be done," he said.
This is a lady who has been living with multiple sclerosis for 14 years.
The couple relocated a few years ago from New York to Naples, both leaving behind power careers for a simpler life better suited for managing her disease. Now 58, she was in her mid 40s when she was diagnosed with MS, the often-crippling disease of the central nervous system for which there is no cure. She was the typical age when MS is likely to strike women, which is three times more likely to afflict women than men.
The couple's outlook on life and the quality of their relationships have become richer in the years since then, he said.
Since September, the couple has been at the helm of the support group, Naples Living Well With MS Group, the local affiliate for the South Florida chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The group meets the third Thursday of every month, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the Whitaker Wellness Center in Grand Central Station on Goodlette-Frank Road near downtown Naples.
"The purpose is support, encouragement and information," Sparks Lunney, a clinical psychologist, said. "You are birds of a feather. It is being connected with people who are dealing with the same thing. It has a powerful effect. You don't have to explain yourself."
Since taking over as facilitators of the support group, the couple has added a Web site for people with MS, their families or significant others to get the latest information on activities. The support group sessions often feature speakers about managing the disease, nutrition and exercise, and the human spirit.
Since January, Tai Chi classes are held at the Wellness Center on the last Saturday of the month, in which the low-impact aerobic exercise has been found to be a help for range of motion and muscle flexibility for people with MS. The class is from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
"I don't like the term 'caregiver,'" Sparks Lunney said. "I call myself an MS-er once removed. You live with it. Regardless of the chronic illness you have, there are so many cards you have."
After the diagnosis, the couple realized they had to put their entire lifestyle on the table, to evaluate how to best manage the disease, everything from nutrition to attitude. The hallmark of MS is the changing nature of the symptoms, such as fatigue and impaired ability to walk, which can wipe out the individual one day and let up the next day for a "good day."
"There are things you do to promote health, you do a lot of pro-active things," he said of good diet and low-impact aerobic exercise such as Tai Chi. "If you are not pro-active, you can become engulfed in self pity, anger and fear."
Managing MS also means "being planful," he said. "You don't do the extra walking if you don't have to."
In New York, his wife commuted to her job as vice president of Golden Books, publisher of children's books. Today she still writes and edits children's books, just down the hallway in an office in their home.
The Web site for Naples Living Well
With MS Group is http://hometown.aol.com/nlwwms/index.html.
The support group coordinators also can be reached at 352-5364.
Copyright © 2002 Naples Daily News