A Family’s Journey

A 1972 alum reflects on his wife’s heroic battle against multiple sclerosis

By Robert Derencz, ’72  |  Cover photo by Alberto P. Veiga/Flickr Creative Commons

“That’s enough; I’m finished I’m done.”

To the average person, those words sound like the words spoken by quitter; someone not willing to put up a real fight. In reality, those were the last words spoken to me by my wife, Sandy, as she lay in a hospital bed hours before she passed away. The words “quitter” and “Sandy” do not belong in the same sentence. Her story and battle with multiple sclerosis is one of incredible courage, faith, tenacity, and humor.

Sandy and I were married on Mother’s Day, May 11, 1975. We had met two and a half years earlier on a blind date coordinated by a mutual friend of both of our mothers. Our first child, Libby, was born in September 1976. Chrissy, our second child, came along in January 1979. We were the typical American family.

A few months after our second child was born, Sandy developed a problem with her vision; the ophthalmologist termed it “optical neuritis.” Sandy lost vision in one eye for a little over a day. Treatment with prednisone, a steroid, brought the sight back to Sandy’s eye. Crisis averted, we thought. Then, in 1986, Sandy began to walk with a limp. This limp deteriorated to the point that she was dragging her leg. The search for a cause began. Sandy went to see internists, orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons. She even met with a psychiatrist to see if she was suffering from depression—all in an attempt to find out why her legs weren’t working. Finally, after several months, she met with a physician specializing in pain management. After examining her, the first thing he asked was, “Have you ever had trouble with your vision?” Turns out, one of the early manifestations of M.S. is problems with the eyes. A visit to a renowned neurologist in Baltimore confirmed it: Sandy had multiple sclerosis. She was 33 years old.

It was about this same time that we called the Maryland chapter of the M.S. Society. Sandy’s name was registered and we immediately became members. Volumes of information came our way letting us know what was available to us in the form of help: seminars, support groups, transportation, and respite care—all just a phone call away. What did we do? Sandy and I fell victim to that virus called “pride.” Yes, help was a phone call away, but, thanks but no thanks, we were fine. This was a personal thing; we did not want anyone to know that Sandy had M.S. For the longest while, when she was asked why she was now using a cane, Sandy would respond with some phony story that she hurt her leg bicycling or jogging or skiing or falling off a motorcycle. Anything but admit she had M.S. Once Sandy “accepted” her disease, she became happier.

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1 Comment

  • Posted by Ellen | November 16, 2009

    Beautiful Story! Very inspiring!

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