My name is Danielle Furey and I am a wife, mother of four, attorney, writer, runner, triathlete, traveler and adventure seeker. Oh, and I have Multiple Sclerosis. MS is just one of the many things that makes me unique. MS does not define me, it is only one piece of the very large puzzle that is me.
I have been a runner my whole life. Running is one of my absolute favorite things to do. It is how I relieve stress, where I think through problems and come up with creative ideas. I can’t think of anything better than going out for a run when the sun is just coming up and everyone that I know is still asleep. I ran track in high school and briefly in college (until I discovered rugby). I ran my first marathon in 1995 and signed up for another one a few hours after I crossed the finish line. I ran through pregnancies and I ran with kids in a jogging stroller. I raced short and long distances on a regular basis. I felt great until one morning in 2002 when I woke up to find that I could not feel anything in my right leg below the knee.
My leg felt like it had been amputated below the knee and I had to keep looking at it to remind myself that it was actually still there. At the time, I was living in the Czech Republic, so when the neurologist told me that I could have MS I thought that that there had been some mistake in the English translation. I flew back to the US for another MRI which unfortunately confirmed the findings of the Czech neurologist. My brain showed three white matter lesions. MS was a possibility and could not be ruled out. However, MS could not be diagnosed definitively without a second event or relapse as it is referred to. I was 33 years old.
I eventually did regain feeling in my right leg, however over the two years following my Possible MS diagnosis I lived in fear of a relapse. I read books about MS, I scoured the internet for information and I waited for the relapse that never came. When I moved with my family back to the US in 2004, I donated all those MS books to the library. I filed away the diagnosis in the back of my brain and convinced myself that there was no way I had this disease.
For the ten years following the diagnosis my health was perfect.
I continued to run almost every day and added biking and swimming to my repertoire. I started competing in triathlons of all distances; sprint, olympic, half-iron and iron distance races. I trained every day, at least once a day and raced regularly. In November of 2010, I partially tore my right Achilles tendon during the marathon portion of an iron distance triathlon and this set off a domino effect that eventually led me to relapse.
In February of 2011 I had surgery to repair my Achilles and was put in a hard cast for eight weeks, then a boot for several weeks after that. This entire recovery period was excruciating not because my foot even really hurt, but because for the first time in my life I couldn’t run. I turned mean and nasty. I snapped at and argued with everyone. I dreamed of running again, but when I was finally free of the cast and boot I could barely walk on my right foot. I went through physical therapy to learn to walk correctly and then run. Months after the surgery when I was finally able to run again, my Achilles was always sore and swollen because I would inevitably overdo it by running too far or too fast. By the end of the year I had literally become a crazy person. I was lashing out at everyone around me. I had no way to manage stress without running so I turned it all inward and I made myself physically ill.
By the beginning of 2012, I was so weak and exhausted that I could barely drag myself out of bed in the morning. At first I thought that I had the flu but I couldn’t seem to kick the constant fatigue. Then I developed an intense squeezing pain under my rib cage that spread up through my chest and throat leaving me breathless and panicked. The pain was constant and relentless for four months. I tried to hide how much pain I was in. I went to work every day and I took care of my kids. But when I got into bed at night I would cry myself to sleep from the pain. I went from doctor to doctor in every medical specialty to find out what was wrong with me. I had test after test and no one could tell me definitively what was wrong. I will admit that MS did cross my mind, but I was determined to find any answer other than MS. When I suddenly began to lose all feeling in my left side, I knew I couldn’t avoid the possibility of MS anymore and made an appointment to see a neurologist specializing in MS.
In May 2012 I was given a definitive diagnosis of Relapsing- Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. MRIs showed twelve white matter lesions on my brain and one on my spine. Part of me was relieved to finally know what was happening to my body but another part of me was terrified that this disease would tear me apart mentally and physically. I can’t deny that I threw myself a huge pity party at first and prepared for a life of potential handicap. But as the pain subsided and most of the numbness disappeared I renewed my love affair with running. As I kicked up the mileage week by week I realized that MS was not holding me back as I had previously thought but was in fact doing the opposite. MS was fueling my runs. Every step that I took became a blessing that I was thankful for. With this realization, I replaced self-pity with self- confidence and determination.
I believe that we are endowed with certain burdens and certain gifts and that ultimately we must find a way to use our gifts to overcome our burdens. One of the burdens that I must bear is MS but my love of running is the gift that I will use to triumph over MS. And so I keep running…
I originally started this blog in August 2012 to document my training for the Marathon des Sables (MdS), a 156 mile, six day, self sufficiency stage race across the Sahara Desert, while raising money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. In April 2013 I completed the grueling MdS (check out my RACE DIARY) and to date I have raised over $16,000 for the National MS Society, thanks to so many amazing individuals who have helped me surpass my goal.
When I crossed the finish line of the MdS and later watched Morocco disappear out of view as my plane jetted toward Paris, I thought there was no way I would ever go back. Bruised, beat up, swollen, hurt and exhausted, I had left behind every bit of my gear in the Sahara, along with all of the skin off my feet and 12 inches of my hair. But there is something magical about the beauty and freedom of the Sahara and within weeks of returning to the US, I was feeling the allure of the MdS pulling me back. Lucky for me, a last minute spot had opened up within the US/Canada contingent and I will be returning to the MdS this coming April 2014. So to all of my tent mates and friends from the MdS 2013 who laughed and protested when I swore I would never return, I give you all permission to say “I told you so.”
Over the next few months I will track my training for the MdS and my experimentation with a ketogenic diet to improve both neurological health and athletic performance. If you are at all interested you can follow my progress…