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My Journey with MS: Nancy Greenwood

What started out as a typical day back in early 1999 for NVTRP client Nancy Greenwood would soon prove to be only the beginning of a life-changing journey.

Nancy, a producer for PBS, had just returned from a shoot in Alaska where she was working on a documentary called “A Hot Dog Program.” After spending two days in zero-degree temperatures, she wasn’t too alarmed when her feet went numb during an aerobics class.

“I thought that maybe I had damaged something due to the exposure to the cold. I did some quick research on frostbite, but no,” said Nancy. “Then I thought I just needed some new fitness shoes. No, still numbness. Work shoes? Three new pairs. No. Hiking shoes? No. Twelve pairs of new shoes later, I was the same.”

In fact, she seemed to be getting worse.

Fast forward to one spring day, Nancy and her husband, Jim, decided to go for a hike. Halfway through she could barely walk and had to stop to rest. With extreme fatigue and weakness becoming her new norm, Nancy knew something was wrong.

“I went to seven different doctors in 10 months before I received my diagnosis. I was persistent. I am lucky,” said Nancy. “Many people go years and years being misdiagnosed. That summer, a chiropractor was the first person to say that it could be MS (Multiple Sclerosis)."

“I was hoping it was a pinched nerve. I remember being at the library and just browsing at books. A book with a red spine with big black letters just literally jumped out at me. Multiple Sclerosis. I glanced at it and thought, ‘Wow, this kind of sounds like me.’ A few days later (TV host) Montel Williams was on a morning show telling the world that he has MS. He described his symptoms and with fear I thought, ‘Wow, this DOES sound like me,’” recalls Nancy.

Nancy finally received her MS diagnosis on December 21, 1999.

“By the time I reached the neurologist, I was pretty sure that I had MS. Everything pointed that way. The fatigue and weakness were so bad that I had to hold my morning cup of coffee with two hands. It felt like that cup weighed 30 pounds,” said Nancy. “Dr. Richard must have known immediately, despite the fact that it is a really complex disease. I am classic MS. But still, we had to go through all of the tests, several weeks' worth, before I received my official diagnosis.”

MS is a chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms may be mild such as numbness in the limbs or severe -- paralysis or loss of vision. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 but the unpredictable physical and emotional effects can be lifelong.

Early on, Nancy realized in order to combat this disease, she would need to stay active and that’s how she discovered NVTRP and therapeutic riding.

“I've always wanted to ride horses,” Nancy remembers. “In third grade my best friend and I LOVED horses and collected little horse statues and took riding lessons. I remember my mom telling me, ‘Nancy, we live in Oakmont (a small town outside of Pittsburgh). You are never going to have a horse.’”

Research has shown that therapeutic horseback riding can improve symptoms of MS that include pain, balance and fatigue. The energy and movement of the horse can help participants achieve functional outcomes.

“I put my name on the waiting list (at NVTRP) and I was overwhelmed and in disbelief when I got the call from Olivia (Taylor, Program Director) offering me a spot,” said Nancy. “The fact that I was going to be able to ride was unbelievable and something I'd wanted my entire life. It just took having MS to get me there.”

Nancy started riding at NVTRP over two years ago and has seen improvements in both her physical and mental well-being.

“I can certainly feel the muscles in my legs stretching and strengthening. It's also really fun and something to look forward to every week. Plus it's pretty cool to say, ‘I’m on my way to a horseback riding lesson.’”

Assisted by her team of volunteers (a horse leader and two sidewalkers for support), Nancy comes to O’Shaughnessy Farm for her weekly riding lesson on Rain, her trusted equine partner.

“I love to ride Rain. Her trot is really smooth and graceful. I always feel like she is giving me her best. I wish I could ride her every day,” she explains.

While there is currently no cure for MS, the advances in research and treatment are giving hope to those affected by the disease. And in the meantime, Nancy, along with her husband and two daughters, continues to live her best life.

“This is a progressive, chronic, unpredictable disease. There are no guarantees, but I will lead a long, normal life. In many ways, I have never been healthier. I take really good care of myself. I have eliminated stress from my life. I eat right, sleep right, rest and exercise. I'm an upbeat person. I am lucky. I will beat MS. I already am.”


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