Cloverdale's Barbara Atchison

Walk of a lifetime

Barbara Atchison considers herself lucky.

At 81, she lives independently and remains active, despite living with multiple sclerosis (MS) for 50 years.

Even after being diagnosed, she and her husband ran a sporting good store, A and G in Cloverdale, for 25 years.

These days, sometimes a former customer – perhaps a man who might have purchased a baseball glove or hockey skates as a child so many decades ago – recognizes her from the store and says hello.

Nowadays, although Atchison must get around with a walker, she is still grateful for the ability to exercise at least an hour a day.

“(MS) hits every person differently,” she says. “I’m one of the few people (with MS) who doesn’t have pain.”

Her workouts combine tai chi exercises and the physiotherapy techniques she learned over the years through the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“If I wasn’t doing regular exercise, I wouldn’t be walking,” she says, adding that she knows two people who were diagnosed about the same time she was who didn’t exercise in later years and are now in extended care facilities.

Atchison was diagnosed at a time when may doctors didn’t know what to make of MS symptoms – loss of balance, impaired speech, extreme fatigue, double vision and paralysis, some of which come and go without warning.

In Atchison’s case, it was a left leg and right hand that stopped functioning.

She recalls that the leg problem forced her to stop going along on her husband’s hunting walks.

One piece of advice her doctor gave her in the early 1960s: She should not carry her two adopted children.

She worked hard at the family’s expanding store from 1970-1995, when she and her husband retired.

Afterwards, they remained active together, going camping, taking a cruise though the Panama Canal, and going on several bus trips throughout Western Canada and down to Arizona.

In more recent years, and since her husband’s passing five years ago, Atchison has continued to be involved with her church, and has, until recently, “led” a local walking group.

“They quit when I quit going,” she says with a wink.

She stopped driving just before the age of 80 when her right hand wasn’t strong enough to work the ignition switch.

Atchison has been a committee member for a local MS support group for 12 years.

(Atchison’s MS Self-Help Group meets the third Wednesday of each month from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at Fleetwood Christian Reformed Church, 9165 160 St. Atchison can be reached at 778-373-0284).

Atchison has been involved with the MS Society since the early 1980s, when she got help with physiotherapy at the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver.

She’s been involved with the annual MS Walk in Surrey for years, helping to support a fundraising event for an organization which has helped in her struggles with MS.

MS patients are helped to deal with a range of symptoms, physiotherapy and legal support.

“MS is still a mysterious disease,” says Suzanne Jay, director of communications of the BC and Yukon division of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, which is organizing walks in 26 communities in B.C. on May 1.

Money raised will help finance the free support services for MS patients, as well as MS research.

There are currently anywhere between 55,000 and 75,000 people with MS in Canada. Between 7,300 and 10,000 of them are in B.C.

About $1.6 million was raised in B.C. from last year’s MS Walks.

But Jay says that figure is deceptive.

With the variety of support services and research priorities for the MS Society, “that number is not always enough.”


n The Surrey MS Walk takes place on May 1 at 10 a.m. at Fleetwood Park, 15802 80 Ave. Check-in is from 8-9:45 a.m. Both the 3K and 5K routes are scooter and wheelchair accessible. For more information or to register, call 604-602-3221 or visit Early pledge drop-off is also available on April 30 from 12:30-3:30 p.m. at the Newton Library, 13795 70 Ave.


Multiple sclerosis facts


• MS is unpredictable, affecting vision, speech, hearing, memory, balance and mobility. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, double vision and paralysis.

• Its effects are physical, emotional and financial, and last a lifetime. There is no cure.

• While it is most often diagnosed in young adults, aged 15 to 40, it also affects children, some as young as two years old.

• MS Society of Canada volunteers and staff provide information, support, educational events and other resources for people with MS and their families.

• Researchers funded by the MS Society are working to develop new and better treatments. Their ultimate goal is the cure for MS.

• Canadians have one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the world.

• MS is the most common neurological disease affecting young adults in Canada.

• Women are more than three times as likely to develop MS as men.

­— Source: MS Society of Canada