Jennifer Bain puts a face on MS for annual walk

April 20, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT |

KEEDYSVILLE — Jennifer Bain is more than her disease.

She's a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend.

She's not defined by the cane she uses or the scooter that helps her conserve energy.

And she doesn't care for labels that identify her limitations.

But when it comes to the challenges of living with multiple sclerosis — an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system — Bain said she's pretty much an open book.

"In fact, I might share more than many people want to hear," the Keedysville resident said.

Bain, 59, is putting a face to the disease as this year's ambassador for Walk MS at Antietam National Battlefield.

The fundraising event, now entering its 24th year, will be held on Saturday, April 28, and is expected to attract more than 700 participants.

Check-in begins at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 10 a.m.

According to the National MS Society, a goal of $70,000 has been set for this year's walk at Antietam. The 3- or 5-mile walk will start and end at the Philadelphia Brigade Monument.

Bain said she and her family have volunteered with the walks since 1989 — the year she was diagnosed with MS.

"We started in Frederick (Md.) by showing up the day of the walk," she said. "When the walk began in Hagerstown's City Park, we became members of the team that organized the event."

She was chosen as this year's ambassador "when the team realized that I had never served in that capacity," she noted.

Bain's diagnosis more than 20 years ago came with shock and tears, she recalled.

"What I knew of MS was not optimistic. I knew of a few cases and those were people who went downhill quickly. I didn't want that for me," she said.

Looking back on her diagnosis, Bain believes she was showing signs of the disease long before her doctor labeled it MS.

"Any symptoms I had were simply treated," she said.

It was a urinary tract infection (UTI), accompanied by pain, frequency and urgency, that led her to a doctor in 1986. Researchers have found a connection between bladder dysfunction and MS.

"After 12 weeks of antibiotics, I was OK," she noted. "But after visiting most of the bathrooms in Disney World in 1988, I went to see a new urologist, who was concerned with repeated UTIs and antibiotics that were not helping. He sent me for an MRI. I remember sitting in the waiting room at Shady Grove Hospital, reading info about MRIs. I remember seeing MS diagnosis. I didn't know what the doctor was looking for."

After learning she had multiple sclerosis, Bain said she immediately went to the Internet seeking information.

"I found a wonderful support group and am still friends with one of those women, who I've never met face-to-face, since she is from Oregon," she said.

Bain shared her diagnosis with family and close friends but not with people she worked with.

"My MS was invisible to most," she said.

Bain was employed as a group leader with Weight Watchers International, beginning in 1986. She retired in 1996.

"No one was complaining about my work. I was the one who didn't like the way I was doing my job," she shared. "I knew where to find information but it wasn't rolling off my tongue. My recall was too slow for me. So I stopped working. That was a sad day for me."

The progression of the disease has been slow, Bain noted. But she has gone from relapse-remitting MS, which includes unpredictable attacks, to secondary progressive, which starts as relapse-remitting but evolves into a progressive disease — "and that label was hard to swallow."

In trying to understand her feelings about MS, several years ago Bain said she wrote about the challenges:

"Sitting on a stool while I worked at Weight Watchers was hard. Accepting using a cane was a big step for me. It's a vanity thing. The first time I used a wheelchair was humbling. Buying a scooter was admitting I had to conserve energy no matter what. That was hard. Moving to a walker was very hard but it's a safety issue. Falling and breaking something is not what I want or need to do. Vanity once again plays a role."

As part of being this year's walk ambassador, Bain said she has the opportunity to promote the event and explain the importance of participation.

"It means money is being raised to fund research and help all MS patients and their families," she said. "In 1989, when I was diagnosed, all that could be done was treat the symptoms. Betaserone was the first disease-modifying drug (DMD) on the market in 1993. Next came Avonex in 1996. I began this immediately, then switched to Copaxone in 2000."

Bain said she sees all these drugs "as a light at the end of the tunnel. When I asked a favorite neurologist of mine, David Heydrick, if this research would benefit me, he answered, saying 'You are the type of patient participating in the clinical trials. So, yes.' He gave me hope for a cure. I just hope it will be in my lifetime."

Facts about MS

  •  Every hour, on average, a person in the United States is newly diagnosed with the disease.
  •  Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis.
  •  The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted but advances in research and treatment are helping.
  •  Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with more than twice as many women as men being diagnosed with the disease.
  •   MS affects more than 6,500 people in Maryland, 400,000 people in the United States and 2.1 million worldwide.

—  National Multiple Sclerosis Society

If you go ...


WHEN: Saturday, April 28; check-in begins at 9 a.m., walk at 10 a.m.

WHERE: Antietam National Battlefield, off Sharpsburg Pike, Sharpsburg

CONTACT: Register in advance at

MORE: Local organizers are still looking for volunteers to help with check-in/registration on walk day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.  Persons interested in volunteering should contact Amanda Glenn, Hagerstown Walk MS coordinator at

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