Pain and fatigue are part of Whitney Murray’s daily life, but the Orillia woman isn’t about to slow down in her quest to help find a cure for multiple sclerosis.
Murray and her team, Whitney’s Walking Warriors, have been pounding the pavement as they collect donations and prepare for next month’s MS Walk.
“They’re amazing. I wouldn’t be able to do all of this without them,” Murray said of her team.
Murray, 28, was diagnosed with MS eight years ago.
“Half of my body would just stop working and I’d collapse,” she said of the early symptoms. “I thought it was just exhaustion.”
She was in her first year of studying legal administration at Georgian College in Barrie.
“How do I focus on school work? My memory wasn’t there.”
She had a choice to make: drop out or push herself to graduation.
“I decided I was going to fight,” she said.
She did graduate, and even earned some academic awards, but the struggle was far from over. She lost vision in her left eye (it has mostly returned), and the muscular fatigue and pain persisted. In January 2012, she had raised enough money to pay for the so-called liberation therapy many Canadian MS patients left the country to receive. Murray underwent the procedure in New York.
She felt the rush of blood as the treatment, also known as CCSVI, opened her veins.
Before the treatment, she could work out for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. After, it became an hour.
“Can you please slow down?” her mother said to her as the two were out for a walk.
She noticed an improvement immediately after the procedure, but then her condition worsened.
“A few years later, I was at the cottage and I woke up and thought, ‘Wow. My tongue hurts and my head hurts,'” she recalled.
She’d had a seizure in her sleep and bit her tongue and hit her head. After she returned home, the seizures continued for a week.
“Things started to go downhill,” she said, adding she regained some of the weight she’d lost.
She went through bouts of depression, but some medication and a four-legged friend helped her deal with it. Three years ago, she got Duncan, an English bulldog that had a number of health issues of his own.
“We have a special bond,” Murray said.
Duncan comes in handy on days when they’re out for a walk and Murray doesn’t feel like talking to people about MS.
“When I run into people and I don’t want to talk, I don’t have to. They want to pay attention to Duncan,” she said with a laugh.
She remains self-conscious about her condition when she’s having a bad day.
“I am open about having MS, but I do hide sometimes when it’s really bad because I don’t want people to see me like that.”
But talking about MS is important, and Murray knows it. That’s why she has raised awareness and money for years. This is the seventh year Whitney’s Walking Warriors are taking part in the local MS Walk.
There were about 10 people on the team during the first year; 64 have already registered for next month’s walk.
“It’s overwhelming,” Murray said of the support from friends, family and local businesses that have donated money and goods, including items for raffle draws.
The community inspires Murray, and Murray inspires her “warriors.”
“She goes above and beyond,” said Ashlee Chapman, who will be taking part in the walk for the third year. “She’s involved in everybody’s lives, so we all like to come out and support her.”
“I know how important this is to her,” added Jess Barnetson. “If this is one small thing I can do to help, I’m happy to.”
Barnetson’s young kids play a big role, she noted.
“The main reason I do this is because my children are obsessed with her,” Barnetson said of her kids’ “Aunt Wee Wee.”
“I want her to be around when they grow up.”
The feeling is mutual. As the youngsters laughed and played nearby, Murray pointed to them and said, “Those smiles make it easier to push through the pain.”
A garage sale to raise money for the team will take place April 28 at 267 Franklin St., starting at 8 a.m.