This is a photo of me as a pom pon girl in high school. During my high school years, I remember having tons of energy in all areas of my life. It was when I started college that I started to experience mental, emotional, and physical fatigue that simply intensified as the years passed. Fatigue is the most common Multiple Sclerosis symptom.
During my freshman year in college, I also started having significant symptoms of depression, another common MS symptom. The summer before my senior year, I also started having dizziness and vertigo, and this triggered panic attacks. I had lived with anxiety since I was a child, but this was on a whole new level.
I’d like to say that I sought help for all of my symptoms, but I did not. I shoved it all down, and forged ahead to graduate school. I set a goal for myself to get a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and to become a Licensed Psychologist. At the age of 36, I reached that goal. But I was beyond exhausted. The year was 2003.
I was eventually diagnosed with MS in August 2016 when my left arm and hand went numb. I finally had a symptom that I couldn’t ignore or push through. I went to my doctor, and she immediately sent me to the hospital to get multiple MRIs done. The results showed lesions in my brain and spine – classic Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple blood tests, to rule out other medical conditions, confirmed the diagnosis.
I am happy to report that function returned to my left arm and hand, and that I have been stable (i.e. no new MS lesions) for the past 6 years. Getting the MS diagnosis was scary as hell, but my life finally made sense to me. The diagnosis also made me determined to enjoy all areas of my life moving forward. As I indicated on my Profile, I am Reclaiming the Joy of My Youth.
This is one of my favorite photos of my parents. They were visiting me at my home in San Diego, California in 1998. I was working on my Ph.D. and hadn’t yet decided which state I would seek licensure as a Psychologist.
After completing my postdoctoral residency in 2001, I decided to move back to the Midwest. I proceeded to get my Psychologist License in Wisconsin.
My parents were still able to enjoy the San Diego house during the winter months after my dad retired full-time in 2002. They were very happy to get a break from Northern Illinois winters.
In this photo, they are sitting on my back patio, which could not look more different than my current back patio here in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Many of us struggle with loss during the holidays, especially now during the pandemic. This is notably true when it’s a parent that has passed on. This is my husband and his mother, Ann Clark, who died on Thanksgiving Day in 2017. My own father, Edward Kercher, died in 2011, a few days before Father’s Day. It doesn’t get any easier as the years pass, as much as you wish it did.
My mom, Ulla Kercher, is an amazing woman. At 88 years old, she just moved to a small home in a senior living community in my hometown, Rockford, IL. She has been a widow for 10+ years and had maintained two houses after my dad passed away, one in Rockford and one in San Diego, CA. My dad would be so proud of her and delighted that she is doing well with an abundance of support from family and friends.
I was with my dad when he had hospice care at home in 2011. One special moment I will never forget … my dad was lying in the hospital bed, with my mom and I by his side. He had been failing quickly since his terminal cancer diagnosis the week prior. Suddenly, he spoke softly, saying to my mom, “There are no words to describe how much I love you.” He passed away a few days later. They had just celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary three weeks prior.
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.“
It was 5 years ago that I started having a strange numbness in my left arm and hand. I had just started swimming laps at my gym, and I knew something was really wrong. By the first week of August, I couldn’t do anything with that arm and hand. After multiple doctor visits, blood tests, X-rays, and MRIs, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis on August 26th. It was the biggest shock of my life.
Looking back now, I realize that I started having MS symptoms in college, such as vertigo, fatigue, and depression. But I didn’t know it was MS at the time. It took paralysis of my arm and hand in 2016 to get my attention and into an MRI machine that showed lesions in my brain and spine. Thankfully, by the Grace of God, function has returned to my arm and hand, and I have been stable on medication since that time.
But I never know what tomorrow brings. And that is where the strength comes in. It is terrifying having Multiple Sclerosis. So I lean on God for all my strength, joy, hope, and peace. And because of that, I THRIVE. This photo is me at 17 years old when I was vacationing in Pompano Beach, Florida in 1984. For me it captures the determination I feel to face all the challenges in my life going forward.