ON THE RUN - Kamloops Walk for ALS will honour brave people

Sometimes when yet another request for a charitable donation arrives, I feel a little annoyed.

It seems as though everyone is after my money. But when I think about it, I get it. The requests are based on a solid commitment to a cause.

People aren't seeking money to line their own pockets. They are asking me to help them fight a disease or help someone who hasn't the means to help him or herself.

The hardline approach would be to say no to all causes, with the excuse there are just too many to pick and choose. But that's the easy out. That's just a way to keep my dollars in my own pocket.

I understand their plea so I almost always give. My VISA has had a particularly hard workout in May and June.

Despite that, I'm stepping out of my comfort zone this month to join the leagues of volunteers who raise money for a cause close to their hearts.

Although I might sometimes begrudgingly get out my wallet, it's a heck of a lot easier for me to do that than to ask someone to donate to my cause.

I am no saleswoman. The two times I've gone door-to-door to raise money - once was in Grade 11 selling chocolates for band and the second was as a cancer society canvasser - I had heart palpitations from anxiety.

Fortunately, I had a boyfriend who didn't mind that I stood on the street while he sold my chocolates. In the second case, few people say no to a cancer canvasser.

My cause this year, however, does not have that same high profile. It's one of those diseases that strikes terror in your heart if you know anything about it, but a lot of people don't know about it.

ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease, is a fatal neurodegenerative illness, which basically paralyses its victims. They die when they can no longer breathe or swallow. About 2,500 to 3,000 Canadians currently live with ALS. Most die within two to five years of diagnosis.

June is ALS Awareness Month. So here is something you should know.

A lot of people think ALS patients lose their mental capabilities. They do not. That is one place ALS cannot touch. Patients stay mentally sharp as their muscles waste away until they may only be able to blink their eyes and often lose their ability to speak.

My mother lived with ALS for eight years. For the last three years of her life, she was completely immobile. We (most often my dad) lifted her from wheelchair to bathroom to bed. Yet, through it all, she kept her sense of humour and her ability to love us all.

When we talk about our mom now, we marvel at her strength in the way she faced this disease that robbed her of the independence that was so much a part of her.

When we hear about someone else who has just been diagnosed with ALS, silence inevitably is our first reaction and then a deep, sickening feeling about what lies ahead.

When I discover someone else in our community is living with ALS, I want to phone his or her family and say, "What can I do? I know about this."

But that can be viewed as intrusive. That's why, instead, I am going to take up the challenge from Colleen Smailes to participate in the first Kamloops ALS Walk on Saturday, June 26. Colleen's husband, Clayton Smailes, was just a young man with two little boys when he died last year after a long struggle with ALS. He also was very brave. In fact, most ALS patients are.

Our family has put together a website, Remembering Olive Dalin, where we or our supporters can make donations to help other sufferers in their dreadful journey.

There's nothing to be done now for our mother or Clayton, but there is much to do for those people living with ALS or those, as yet, undiagnosed.

Go to the Kamloops Walk for ALS website and check out the individual websites that have been set up. You don't even have to give - not everybody can - but you can learn about ALS.

You could also join us at the Riverside Park bandshell at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 26 as we walk five kilometres together on behalf of our friends and family who cannot.

Susan Duncan is city editor of The Daily News. Her column appears Fridays. Email her at sduncan@kamloopsnews.ca.

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