LAKELAND - At the age of 21, Kassidy Doonanco's life was flipped upside down. In August of 2019, she woke up and realized she lost half her sight.
“That was my first symptom," says Doonanco, who was living in Calgary at the time, working as a flight attendant and cabin safety manager. She immediately went to the optometrist, and then to the Emergency Department.
That first symptom was "sudden and abrupt," recalls Doonanco.
At just 21 years old, Doonanco was young and healthy, and could have never imagined her eventual diagnosis. But, after a CT scan and multiple MRIs, it was determined that Doonanco had multiple sclerosis - a she would be diagnosed with highly aggressive form of the disease.
Now, living back in Glendon, Doonanco has had to rely on the support of her family, friends, and the community as she learns how to navigate her diagnosis. She also became an MS Society Ambassador living with multiple sclerosis, taking part in the Jayman BUILT MS Walk, and raising funds to support others living with the disease.
Over a year-and-a-half after her first symptom, Doonanco says she has developed other symptoms. She walks with a limp, requires a cane, experiences dizziness and fatigue, and goes through bouts of vertigo.
Not only did she lose her sight, but she lost her driver's license and her job, due to the disease. She admits it was a difficult time, but, returning to the Lakeland has resulted in Doonanco having "incredible support" from those who love her. Her family has supported her both mentally and financially, and the community often steps up to help get her to any necessary appointments.
Last year, a friend of Doonanco's showed up on her doorstep. The friend, Maxine Whelen, along with Whelen's husband, bicycled 48 km in honour of Doonanco, arriving at Doonanco's home to greet her. The act was a sign of support that Doonanco truly appreciated.
She describes the bike ride by her friend, as being "really wonderful." In 2020, a group of Doonanco's supporters raised over $3,000 for the MS Walk, and while MS Walks held across the country will look different again in 2021 due to the pandemic and continued restrictions around gatherings, she encourages others to take part and help with the cause.
Funds raised are directed to the MS Society of Canada, where they are put toward research and supporting those living with MS. Much of the funds raised locally do return to the local level.
It didn't take Doonanco long after her initial diagnosis to get involved with the MS Society, and she continues to be involved. This year, her team, 'The Blind Bats' has a goal of raising $2,000, and as of last week, was well on its way to meeting that goal.
Donnanco has benefited from the support of the MS Society, both in Calgary and in the Lakeland. Services offered range from mental health to physical health, helping Doonanco navigate through relapses and stay as healthy as she can.
Personally, she will complete the Jayman BUILT MS Walk this month by going for a walk around Glendon with her family. The walk is virtual, and Canadians are encouraged to get out and do their own individual walks with members of their households.
"It’s very important for us to do our part," says Doonanco, when asked why she would encourage others to lace up their runners and fundraise for the cause. While she still has the ability to get out and walk, many people living with MS do not have that ability. Having the support of the MS Society has made a direct impact on Donnanco's life.
“It takes a village to manage a disease like MS.”
Clearly, Doonanco's diagnosis resulted in a huge shift in her life. But, the overwhelming support of friends, family and the community "has really helped me through this journey."
She adds, "It made me realize, that even though it’s a small community, people have the biggest hearts."
In past years, the Lakeland MS Walk has been known for its strong fundraising efforts, attracting hundreds of people to the in-person event that is normally held in St. Paul, and raising thousands of dollars annually.
This year, participants have the whole month of May to take part in the walk, and fundraising efforts are underway. The St. Paul MS Walk website shows that over $12,000 has been raised online so far. The goal set for the walk is $38,000.
Teams registered for the walk can access a fun and creative way to take part in the walk through the Team MS Party Pack, which contains event decorations such as balloons and streamers to help participants bring their MS Walk to life. The community will also come together at 12 p.m. ET on May 30, World MS Day, for a live-stream rally.
The MS Society provides information, support and advocacy to people affected by the disease, and funds research to find the cause and cure for MS. Money raised supports the MS Society’s work to advance treatment and care, enhance well-being, understand and halt disease progression, and prevent MS.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect vision, memory and mobility. It is estimated that one in every 400 Canadians live with MS, and 12 Canadians are diagnosed every day, according to information from the MS Society. It is the most common neurological disease among young adults, with more than half of adults diagnosed with MS being between 20 and 49 years old.
More information about the MS Walk is available through https://www.mssociety.ca/