Pictured here is Stettler resident Philippa Brysiuk speaking at the MS golf tournament in Red Deer back in 2019. Brysiuk, who was diagnosed in 2002, is dedicated to helping raise funds for the MS Society and also to raising awareness about the disease, and all the more during May which is MS Awareness Month. photo submitted

Pictured here is Stettler resident Philippa Brysiuk speaking at the MS golf tournament in Red Deer back in 2019. Brysiuk, who was diagnosed in 2002, is dedicated to helping raise funds for the MS Society and also to raising awareness about the disease, and all the more during May which is MS Awareness Month. photo submitted

Central Alberta resident reflects on her journey dealing with MS

May is MS Awareness Month in Canada

Living with MS can present a multitude of challenges, but Stettler resident Philippa Brysiuk holds to an optimistic perspective no matter what a day may bring.

“I was diagnosed on February 7th, 2002,” she recalled. “I will never forget that date.”

And it wasn’t like she didn’t have enough to face at the time. “It started with the loss of sight in one eye the day that I was supposed to have surgery to remove a lump in my breast,” she added. At first, she thought her vision loss might be related to high blood pressure.

“But my blood pressure was just fine. So my doctor said that if I had any other neurological symptoms with it, to remember them.” Later on, her hand went to sleep.

An MRI was scheduled.

“My first symptom was in September of 2001 and I was on medication for it by June of 2002.”

May marks MS Awareness Month in Canada, and Brysiuk recently joined Stettler Mayor Sean Nolls and County Reeve Larry Clarke for an official declaration. She explained that her diagnosis was made relatively quickly, as sometimes it can be a lengthier process.

But when she looked back, she realized she had a symptom much earlier, when she was about 25.

“I had burning in my feet, and it became worse when I walked. If I sat down for a while, then got up and walked again – it was excruciating,” she explained. “I didn’t know that was a symptom until about two years into my MS journey.”

Brysiuk was initially diagnosed with the relaxing/remitting form of MS.

Now, it’s described as ‘secondary progressive’.

MS is defined as an unpredictable disease that can vary greatly from person to person, according to the MS Society of Canada.

It attacks the protective covering – myelin – of the brain and spinal cord, causing inflammation and often damaging the myelin in patches.

When this happens, the usual flow of nerve impulses along nerve fibres (axons) is interrupted or distorted.

Some of the more common symptoms include problems with balance and dizziness, depression, fatigue, gait (difficulty in walking), pain, sensory impairment, numbness/tingling, spasticity, tremor, heat intolerance and weakness.

There are a variety of ways to manage symptoms, ranging from pharmacological treatments to physiotherapy, occupational therapy, exercise programs and alternative and complementary treatments.

Looking back, the period of the diagnosis was also particularly challenging for Brysiuk as her mother-in-law had recently passed away from ALS.

“So with my symptoms, I thought either I have a brain tumour or I’ve got ALS,” she remembers. “It can’t be anything else.”

When the diagnosis was confirmed, of course it was very serious but there was a tinge of hope, too.

“When they did tell me it was MS, I thought, you mean I will get to see my kids grow up?”

She also remembered that shortly after her diagnosis, staff from the MS Society in Red Deer came to Stettler to do a seminar about the disease.

“I knew nothing about it – I had known one person with MS, and she was in a wheelchair permanently. That’s all I knew about it. So it really was the start of a learning journey for me. I have spent the past 20 years learning about MS and learning about the myths – of which there are many.”

She also feels that the more she knows about it, the better off she is.

“The more I know, the better I feel.”

But as mentioned, the challenges are very real.

“My disability level on a scale of one to 10 is probably at about a six,” she said.

“But it’s not my life – my life is my family,” she added. “There are some things that I cannot do for myself which is frustrating because I’m only 61. I should not be in the body of an 80-year-old,” she added, referring to how she can often feel.

“My grandfather died at 94, and I think that he was more physically able at that point then I am now,” she explained.

Other challenges run the gamut from constant battles with fatigue to a strong sensitivity to heat to struggles with balance.

“You never know fatigue until you have to rest after having a shower,” she said. “It’s one of the most common symptoms.

“It can also take me two days to recover from a five-hour drive. And that’s not being the driver – that’s being the passenger.”

Brysiuk also recalled that after her diagnosis, her symptoms eased off a bit for a time.

“I am a personal believer that your brain is the best medicine and that you can (make) things stay in the background for a time if you want to,” she explained. That’s not to say it can be ignored, she added, pointing to the fact she did have to eventually retire early from her much-loved job as a financial adviser at the Stettler Scotiabank four years ago.

“I personally believe there are two choices – you can either curl up in a corner and say ‘poor me’ or you can accept it and move on,” she said. “There is nothing I can do about it – it is part of me.”

That said, she is an independent person who finds joy in doing as much as she can for herself.

And she also finds fulfillment in helping others who are newly-diagnosed and in sharing her experiences at large. She’s also an avid fundraiser, having raised more than $60,000 over the years for the MS Society.

“Our team has also raised almost $150,000. And that’s just out of Stettler,” she said, referring to events such as the annual walk.

“Depression is a really bad side effect of any disease, but of MS especially,” she added. “I have felt myself being pulled down a couple of times, but I’m still able to level out. It can be issue, but I try not to allow it to be.”

That sentiment fits in well with her philosophy which is, “I have MS but…MS is just a speed bump on the road of life, it may slow me down but it won’t stop me!’

Not only is May MS Awareness Month, but May 30th is also World MS Day.

A virtual fundraising walk is held that day as well.

Brysiuk’s fundraising link is https://secure3.convio.net/mssoc/site/TR/Walk/NationalOffice?px=1917299&pg=personal&fr_id=7369

She is also open to chatting with others about MS via her Facebook page, too.

“I want to share; I want to help.”

Just Posted

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

(Black Press File Photo)
Sylvan Lake RCMP charge youth with weapons offences

The public helped to identify the individual involved in an incident at the pier earlier this month

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

Most Read