Wednesday, March 17, 2010

One More Step--An Essay About Having MS

My daughter was diagnosed with MS in 2000. She was devastated with the news, and had a difficult time coming to terms with what that could mean for her future. However, Rachel has never been a quitter. She came back fighting as this essay reveals, and lives every moment as fully as possible.

**Please contact me if you would like to make a donation to the annual fundraiser, the MS Walk or go to this website:

One More Step by Rachel Carter

I work in sales. When my customer first said to me, “You run don’t you?” I thought to myself, ‘well, kind of.’ “You should do the Robie Creek half marathon with me,” he said. I thought, ‘I can’t run a half marathon! That’s 13.1 miles!’ But he kept going on and on about how fun it would be and what a great team we would make. I was sucked in. I started thinking, ’of course I can do it. I can do anything. It will be great!’

Then I started training. The first day I only ran three miles; and it was hard. I mean, hard. Then I remembered I had MS. ‘Could I really run a half marathon,’ I thought. ‘Every step is hard for me when I am running.’ I was no longer sure that I could actually run 13.1 miles. This is where the story of my training for a half marathon begins. The thing about this half marathon in particular, is that it is not just any half marathon; it is known as “the toughest half marathon in the Northwest.” The fists 8 miles are up a hill that gains 2000 feet in altitude. That is steep. How could someone with MS possibly do this?
When I started doubting whether I could actually do it, I realized that I no longer had a choice. Not only had I already committed myself to my top buying customer, but also I had tried to convince everyone in my company to do it with me. I could not back out now. I had no excuse. No one at work knew I had a medical condition.

Every day, I ran. I said to myself, ‘This is difficult, but I will keep going one more step until I have completed the distance I need to run today.’ I realized could go one more step. That was amazing to me. When I passed four miles and I felt like I might die, I did not. I woke up the next morning and felt all right again. That was amazing to me. When I passed five miles, I wanted to stop after four because it was so hard to keep running. But, I kept going because I knew I could go at least one more step. That was amazing to me. This continued to happen, and I continued to go that one more step until I had put in the miles I needed to that day.

Then I ran my first race. It was a 15K. It was 9.3 miles and most of it was up-hill. I thought I was not going to make it. It felt impossible to keep going. I kept thinking that I had it worse than the rest of the people around me. I was more tired than they were, I thought. I could not necessarily make it to the finish line, where as they knew they could, I thought. Then I thought, ‘NO! I will not let this disease get in my way!’ The advantage I had was that I knew I could push myself harder than most people could. I could get through what most people could not. I had experienced the worst, and I had kept moving forward. I could do this, too. I could go one more step.

The hardest part of my training was pushing myself every day, and the thoughts of unfairness that I had about my disease that arose from getting so tired. I would realize that other runners had their own issues. They had their own reasons they doubted they could make it to the finish line. But, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘but, I have MS! I have a greater reason to feel sorry for myself than anyone else here.’ But, I quickly, or not so quickly, would push that thought out of my head. No matter how sorry for myself I started to feel, I always came back to the thought that kept me going. ‘I can go one more step.’ This became my mantra. It is all right that I would feel sorry for myself sometimes, because in the end, I kept taking one more step.

I remember what it feels like to lose the ability to walk. I remember falling to the floor because my leg decided to stop letting me control it, and not knowing what I would do. Feeling completely panicked because I did not know how I would get up, or how I would get help. I have been there. I was lucky enough to get better. Now I can run. Not only can I run, but I can run ten miles!
In fact, I can run 10.8 miles. I know I can because I did, on my next race. I signed up for that race as part of my training when I was on vacation in Hilo, HI. I thought it was the perfect next step in my training for the half marathon, and it is very possible I will never get the chance to run in Hawaii again. I thought it would be easy. After all, I had run almost that far the week before, and I had been told that it was flat.

Well, it was not easy. It was not flat, and it was not an easy next step in my training. It was hard. I got so tired I thought I would have to sit down in the middle of the street. I actually considered doing this. I thought, ‘no one else here has MS. No one else here is as tired as I am.’ Then I thought, ‘but I can take at least one more step.’ I decided to keep taking one more step until I could not take any more. Then I saw the finish line. I saw my family; I saw my niece, my husband, my parents, and my daughter, all looking at me with expectancy. They were so proud to see me coming toward the finish line. I realized I was finishing 10.8 miles. That is when I knew I could run a half marathon. Because I could take one more step.

I am now four days away from my up-hill, half marathon. Every day, I think about the fact that any minute now, I could lose the ability to run. I could lose the ability to walk. Nevertheless, today, I can take one more step. I will not let the fear of my disease keep me from my goal. I know now, that I can do it. I can run a half marathon. Because today, I can take one more step. I will not throw that away.

I have spent months training, pushing myself every step of the way. I would like to say that I truly believe I could not be more prepared. However, that is not true. I keep thinking in the back of my mind, ‘if I had not let the MS tire me out so much, I could be more prepared. If I had pushed myself a little harder, I would be more prepared.’ Honestly, I am scared to death. I do not want anyone there to know I have MS; that I may not be able to finish what I am about to start. I am going to do it anyway. Moreover, I will be happy with myself. No matter what happens, I will be happy with myself. Because I have continued to go one more step. I have already won.

4 Days Later:

I did it! I finished the toughest half marathon in the Northwest! It was next to impossible, and I thought many times throughout the race that I could not go one more step. However, I could; and so I did. The thoughts came to me when I needed them; the words said to me by my loved ones, “you have already won.” I had put in the miles, taken all those steps to get to the race, now all I needed to do was cross the finish line.

When I had to walk on the steepest part of the hill, I thought to myself that I had given up, that I did not care anymore. Nevertheless, when I thought of the flowers my family sent me two days before the race with the explanation that I was getting them now instead of later because it did not matter what happened at the race, I had already won, I went one more step. When I thought of the email my friend sent me right before I got on the plane saying how proud she was of me that I had gotten that far and I had already won, I took one more step.

When I realized that I only had three more miles to go and I was still standing, I took one more step. When I looked at my watch and realized that even though I had been forced to walk part of the hill, I was capable of making the time I had been hoping for, I took one more step. I kept taking one more step until I crossed the finish line.

The true victory came when I crossed the finish line. My husband was right there waiting for me, because he had known all along that I could do it, and I collapsed into his arms. I had absolutely nothing left. I realized right then that I had not walked part of it because I had given up after all. I had walked it because I had no other option. I had nothing left. I had given everything I had to continue taking one more step until I crossed the finish line. Moreover, I had I finished a half marathon, despite my wicked disease!

I would like to end the story with the amazing feeling of accomplishment that comes from reaching the seemingly impossible goal. However, that feeling fades when reality comes back. I did not become miraculously disease free. I woke up today, 3 days after the race, and felt horrible. I am exhausted and all of my symptoms are back. My arms hurt, my balance is off, and I have no coordination in my hands. My vision has holes in it, which leaves me with the eerie feeling of being on mind-altering drugs. I am dizzy and I cannot concentrate. I am scared to death that I will wake up tomorrow and have a relapse because I pushed my body too hard.

Instead of feeling amazingly accomplished, I am depressed. This leaves me wondering; was I actually expecting the MS to disappear if I proved that I could run a half marathon? I guess some small part of me was. The reality is I have MS. I will always have obstacles to overcome. The lucky part is that I have the tools to overcome them. Even when I feel weak physically, I know that I am strong mentally. No matter what happens, I would choose to do it over again. This is how I am learning to live with my disease. I cannot, and will not, let it stop me. I know that I can take one more step, even if I do lose the use of my legs.
Tomorrow, I will wake up and feel better. I will go for a run. Even if I cannot physically do it, I can mentally do it. I will always take one more step.

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