Joanna Wachowiak-Finlaison - 2005

"Nah, that's just stupid, drama stuff like this happens to other people, not to me."

I was lying in the MRI machine, trying to keep still while my thoughts were racing 100 miles and hour (it didn't help that it was really cold and noisy, despite the blanket and headphones leaking some kind of nondescript elevator music). Three weeks earlier I was flying somewhere over Iran, halfway to Paris and getting ready to start the lunch service when I suddenly realized I could feel pins and needles in my foot. Not too surprising, considering I was wearing high heeled shoes and had been running around the cabin of an Airbus for the last four hours or so. In Poland we describe this feeling as having "ants" and  I thought a whole ant colony installed itself in my leg. After a day in Paris and another flight when the pins and needles wouldn't go away, I started to get concerned, especially since my "ants" climbed up my calf and my thigh, only to eventually stop around my hipbones (apparently they were not much of climbers).

Did I think MS? Didn't even cross my mind. Pinched nerve, yes. Bad back, sure, taking under consideration my job (whoever thought being a flight attendant was a glamorous job...). And then, already with a referral to a neurologist in my hand, I hit the Internet and google-diagnosed myself. Diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis, the list was long and colorful. By the time I ended in the MRI's tunnel, we have excluded most of them and MS wasn't the worst of the options. Back in the neuro's office, the white lump on the lumbar section of my spine was glaring at me from the film suspended over the doctor's desk. And a diagnosis of "demyelinating disease" didn't sound like the worse option anymore. Even so, the over-chilled room suddenly felt hot, my mind went a bit numb and the world crumbled around me just a little bit.

It's been over six years since that day (or seven? I'm not sure, I'm in denial, I'm not counting and I'm happy with it) and I've realized that the world didn't crumble around me at all. I've been lucky, I've had more good times than bad moments - a bout of depression that just made me angry with myself, occasional fatigue that I never know if I should blame my MS or my innate laziness for, a loss of feeling in my leg that I've hardly noticed and a really sucky three weeks when I've completely lost my balance and spent my time between my bed and the toilet. My anger at my depression made me move my ass (pardon my French) and take it to gym for the first time in my life. I've met great people, good people, fun people that keep me going and don't let me feel alone. Last year I bought a shiny new road bike and did something that I never thought I would be able to do (I was a bit of PE skipper) - I rode the 180 miles from Houston to Austin. And I've enjoyed it. And I'm riding this year again. And I'm already excited.

PD. Whom I actually should thank, apart from my awesome husband and friends that support me, are the writers of the "West Wing" series. I had just finished watching the last season of it on DVD when I got diagnosed. And all I could think was that if President Bartlett could do it, so could I. Call me silly, but it worked.

Joanna's fundraising page for BP MS150 2011: