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Support comes home
Yellowknife woman reaches out for those touched by multiple sclerosis

Danielle Sachs
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Laurie McLean was 31 years old and was sitting in a neurologist's office in Edmonton when she first heard the diagnosis: multiple sclerosis.

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Laurie McLean was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 14 years ago. She is starting a support group for those touched by the disease in Yellowknife. - Danielle Sachs/NNSL photo

Tears streaming down her face, she thought it was a death sentence, or at best a life confined to a wheelchair.

While alone in a hotel room she thought of her two children, Alyx, then three years old, and Chris, 10.

The born-and-raised Yellowknifer sat in her hotel room 14 years ago crying and thought, "I'm not going to let this beat me."

She had visited her doctor in Yellowknife before being sent to Edmonton for a barrage of tests. An MRI eventually confirmed what McLean already knew; having worked as a coroner, McLean had multiple medical texts to consult.

Before losing her vision and becoming partially paralyzed, McLean pored over all the information she could find, reading about symptoms and treatments.

"The Internet wasn't a big thing then," said McLean.

"Friends would print out information for me and I would have my son read it to me."

McLean has what's called relapse-remitting MS. It's categorized by a series of attacks, followed by a period of recovery.

However, some symptoms never fully go away. McLean said getting out of bed in the morning is a step-by-step process.

"You wake up and try and focus," she said. "Literally, I'm making sure I can see."

Then, McLean stands, making sure she can walk.

"Every day, hour or minute it could be different," she said.

"There are a lot of little things you take for granted, like hot showers."

McLean said heat is one of her worst enemies, as is extreme cold.

She said one of the hardest parts was being diagnosed with a disease she had no control over.

McLean left an abusive marriage and moved back to Yellowknife when she was eight-months pregnant with her daughter.

"I had just gotten my independence back and to be told I had a disease I had no control over was heartbreaking," she said.

McLean had her second relapse in 2006. She was working two jobs and was president of the skating club.

'Things were different this time around, my godson committed suicide and the stress hit me hard," said McLean.

In 2008, McLean stopped working.

"After all of this I realized there's not much of a support group in Yellowknife," said McLean.

She said she's been lucky, with the support of two wonderful kids and an extended group of friends and family.

"The MS Society has tried to set something up in Yellowknife before, but now that it's the NWT/Alberta Branch it's different," said McLean.

"I know the struggles from when I was first diagnosed, you don't hear much about MS and I'd really like to make a difference."

McLean started a Facebook group, MS Lives North of 60, and wants to turn the virtual support group into a regular meeting.

"It's open to anyone living with MS," said McLean.

"That could be friends, family, neighbours ... anyone who has had their life touched by this. I may not have all the answers but I'll find someone who does."

The first meeting of the Yellowknife Community Group is tomorrow, at 7 p.m. in the NWT Disabilities Council board room on Old Airport Road.

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