In 1992, Stacey Easterbrook took part in B.C.’s first MS Walk with her teenaged niece, Dawn, by her side.
They walked in support of Debbie Ayre, Stacey’s sister and Dawn’s mother, who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1983.
After 25 years, Easterbrook still walks. For years, she walked in solidarity with her sister. Now she walks in memory of her.
A lot has changed since that first walk, said Easterbrook. In 1992, B.C.’s single walk took place in Stanley Park. In 2017, there will be 17 walks in B.C., in communities from Vancouver Island to the Fraser Valley.
In 1992, her sister Debbie had been fighting MS for nearly a decade. “She was already in a wheelchair by then,” said Easterbrook. “She was diagnosed in her 30s and she went fast downhill with the disease.”
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system, which affects the brain and spinal cord. The disease attacks the protective covering of nerves, interrupting or completely disrupting nerve impulses and damaging the nerve fibres themselves.
Debbie’s symptoms started out small and progressed quickly.
“It started out with her vision, and then pins and needles in her hands,” said Easterbrook. “Then her legs went numb and it progressed so fast. She was having to walk hanging on to walls. Then she was in a wheelchair.”
Canada has the world’s highest rate of MS, and there are an estimated 100,000 Canadians living with the disease. There is no current cure, and after decades of research the cause of the disease remains unknown.
In her 25 years of participating in the annual MS walk, Easterbrook has seen her community’s awareness of MS grow by leaps and bounds.
“They are getting more information out now,” said Easterbrook. “Getting the word out about it, that’s the important thing.”
Easterbrook remembers her big sister Debbie as a beautiful, vibrant woman. She was a mother of two and she had three grandchildren before she passed away in 2007 at 57 years old.
“That was really great, seeing her as a grandma, too,” said Easterbrook. “She tried her best to always be very positive and optimistic. ’Til the day she died, you know, (she believed) there was going to be a cure.”
“She was just a really good big sister,” she said.
Easterbrook describes herself as a “regular Cloverdale girl.” She works as a special education assistant at Cloverdale Catholic School, which she attended as a young girl. Her involvement with the MS Society and the annual walk fundraiser has led her to make connections with others affected by the disease as well, including with parents and students from her own school.
“We have a mum in the school right now, it happened just like my sister. She went from walking, maybe using a walker here and there, to now being in a wheelchair all the time,” she said.
“The reason why we’re doing this is to help raise funds for and to get the word out about (MS),” she said of her own involvement. “Even though I don’t bring in the most money, every penny counts, and I’m very grateful to my friends and family that pledge me every year.”
This year, Easterbrook is a Walk Champion and she will lead the Surrey Scotiabank MS Walk on Sunday, May 28 at Hawthorne Park, 10513 144 St. It’s a family oriented event where community members can choose to walk one of the provided routes, which vary in length and include a wheelchair accessible path. The funds raised from the event support research into the cause, treatment and cure of MS as well as programs for Canadians who are affected by the disease.
For more information on participating in an MS Walk near you, or for information on how to donate, visit mswalks.ca.
For more information on MS, visit mssociety.ca.