Friends take a stand in the fight against Multiple Sclerosis

Jan Bakeberg and Terry Mooney are about to take a walk for those who can’t, carrying the images of people they love in their heads and very close to their hearts.

Both Maple Lake women are seeking pledges that will allow them to participate in the 2002 MS Challenge Walk, a first-time event for the Minnesota Chapter of the MS Society designed to raise funds to fight Multiple Sclerosis. Each walker is required to raise at least $1,500 in pledges for the 50 mile walk that will begin in the northwestern Twin Cities suburbs on September 28 and conclude at the Metrodome on September 30.

Multiple Sclerosis is the most common chronic disease of the central nervous system, typically affecting people in the prime of their lives. The course of the disease is totally unpredictable and each person with MS will have a unique set of symptoms, ranging from mild numbness to severe paralysis, with symptoms coming and going in a pattern of relapses over time.

At present, there is no cure for MS. Treatments that are in use are aimed at relieving and preventing relapses and delaying disease progression in order to preserve the quality of life. But the search to find a cure for a disease that affects 2 million people worldwide and 400,000 North Americans is being aided by the funds provided through events like the MS Challenge Walk.

Jan heard about the Challenge Walk on the radio and made an instant connection. “I immediately thought of Bette,” she said.  Bette Cantin retired recently from her position as Business Manager for Maple Lake Schools and Jan is a former high school teacher who watched her friend cope with the debilitating progression of MS. “I was diagnosed in 1976,” Bette said. “I lost the sight in my left eye for 21 days. I will never forget that.

“From 1976 to 1992, people didn’t know I had MS too much,” she said. “Every once in a while, Roger or Ken (superintendents Riesgraf and Engel) would say, ‘Stay home for a while. You need to rest.’”

Bette said that when her daughter, Linda, died in 1992, the stress of that event may have caused the onset of symptoms that limit her mobility.

“By 1994, my walking had really started to decrease,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing, my walking. I have lots of strength from my waist up, but from my waist down, there’s not a lot.”

And although MS is not thought to be hereditary, Bette’s daughter, Nancy Wolff, was diagnosed with the disease in 1986 and now, both mother and daughter use walkers to get around.

“It affects everyone in a different way,” Nancy said. “Mom has strength that I don’t have. She’ll be out in the kitchen doing things that I don’t have the strength to do.”

Nancy, who lives with her two teenage children in West St. Paul, was 23 when she was diagnosed with MS.

“She was 18 when she got sick,” Bette said. “But they told us it was a different disease because MS wasn’t hereditary, so she couldn’t get it.”

Nancy said there are still things she can be thankful for. “I was lucky enough to go through high school and have children without knowing that I had MS,” she said.  It’s been 16 years since her diagnosis and she said she really started needing assistance walking in the past three years.

“My legs have pretty much given out,” she said. “And my hands are affected to the point where writing can be a pain. It’s like they have a mind of their own.”

Elementary teacher Terry Mooney also worked with Bette at Maple Lake Schools and is no stranger to MS. Her father, Doctor Leo Banks, a dentist in Fairmont, lived for years with the effects of MS and died six years ago.

“He always walked to work and he started having problems getting his right leg to go forward,” she said. “And that scared him.”  It was also hard when other people didn’t understand what the problem was.

“There were rumors around town that he had been drinking,” Terry said. “He wasn’t drinking, but it was just that his gait had changed because of MS.

“He had to quit work and that was a huge thing for him because he was raised in one of those German families where the man was supposed to be the breadwinner. But he was so gracious about it and never complained.  “I just watched him get weaker and be able to do less.”

But attitude is everything and Bette said the right attitude can go a long way.  “The best words of wisdom was something my doctor said in 1976. He said, ‘Remember, if you want to be a cripple, you will be.’”  And Nancy agreed.

“I don’t consider us crippled,” she said. “We just got dealt a bad hand.”

Nancy said she used to be a travel agent until her slow speech and inability to pronounce certain words spelled an end to her career. But now she works for the Red Cross and finds fulfillment in what she does. “It’s like I”m giving back to people,” she said.

And that’s exactly what Jan and Terry had in mind, too.

“There are other issues that get such attention,” Terry said. “MS is one of those issues that doesn’t have as much awareness. That’s why the (Challenge) Walk is such a good thing. . . it gets attention.”

Jan said her involvement in the Challenge Walk has also been an education.  “I’m learning so much about MS and how it affects everyone so differently,” she said, adding that every dollar raised goes into research or to provide assistance to MS families.

The women are training for the big event and Jan has met the minimum pledge requirement, but Terry is still working to reach the amount that will make her a part of the MS Challenge Walk.

“I signed up much later than Jan, so I’m kind of just beginning,” she said. “And it’s hard to ask people for money, especially right now with the way things are.”

But the cause is a good one.  The deadline for donations is in mid-September and both women are seeking support from the community to reach their goal and perhaps raise even more.  All those seeking more information on the walk or to make a pledge can call Terry Mooney at 963-3389 or Jan Bakeberg at 963-5167. In addition, pledge forms will be located at the Messenger office on Division Street in downtown Maple Lake.  And the commitment Jan and Terry have made to the MS cause is already appreciated.

“I think what they’re doing is wonderful,” Nancy said. “I’m flattered to know someone who is helping out the MS cause.”