Multiple Sclerosis gave me purpose…
In November of 2009 I, Audrey Fisher Killen, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Deeply feeling the need to do something about it, I tried to find something positive to focus on. After a few more months of tests, the beginning of a new medicine, and a lot of time spent on the web researching, I found an outlet. The National MS Society Maryland Chapter was doing an annual walk on the Ocean City, Maryland boardwalk in April, only blocks from my office door. Springing into action, I sent out a mass email to close friends and family asking for their help and donations. Friends at work also jumped on the band wagon and before long our ‘team’ had raised the fourth highest amount out of all the teams registered in 2010. With my husband, Jamie, my brother Cory, and my good friend, Michelle joining me, we walked the boards with hope.
As the summer neared, I stayed active in my pursuit against MS. Noticing my ambition and determination, a representative from a local organization approached me asking for my help with a potentially large fundraising project for Multiple Sclerosis. I immediately put into action my best efforts and resources to make this fundraiser a success. After weeks of organizing information, pulling together donations from local businesses, and making fundraising packets, I was approached with an ultimatum from a ‘higher-up’ in the organization for whom I had volunteered all my time and hard work. I was given a deadline and a minimum amount of money that HAD to be raised, in addition to being told that everything I had done needed to be revised to their standards but still had to have my name as the sole person liable. THAT’S HOW IT ALL BEGAN.
Fed up, I realized I had significantly different goals than this organization. Quite frankly the ONLY reason I was doing all this was to help find a cure for MS…period. I had practically done all the work myself on this particular project so why couldn’t I do it for myself?! I understood that if I truly wanted to make a difference then I had to take my efforts elsewhere. But where to? I was soon discovering that most of the organizations were only distributing a small percentage of monies collected to research programs. My aspirations were simple – to help find a cure. My belief was that research was the most effective way to achieve that wish. So much of our money and hopes were just being filtered through administrative costs and getting lost in the shuffle.
I do understand and respect that the bigger groups are essential. A good portion of the money they bring in is used to help people maintain a stable and tolerable life with the disease and that is extremely important until a cure is found. However, that was not my focus. I believe while other people and organizations are helping people cope, I want to help researchers cure the disease so people, me included, don’t have to just settle for a manageable lifestyle. THE NEXT STEP DEVELOPS.
Some time around all this happening I remember eating dinner in my father’s kitchen and watching him struggle to get around. I knew he was feeling tired and beat-up yet again. (By the time of my diagnosis, my father had already been afflicted with Rheumatoid Arthritis for a few years.) He informed me that on top of everything else now his thyroid was a problem, forcing him to add more medication to his daily routine. I felt helpless. Here was my strong, invincible super-dad with physical problems he couldn’t fix, making his already hectic life even more challenging. Knowing he did not have the time and energy as I still did, I had to do something that would make a difference for us both and there was only one way to do that. I had to focus on the common link between his RA and my MS which was Autoimmunity. I had to focus all my efforts on the root of our diseases and coincidently so many others. Then, I thought ‘So, if they can CURE ONE disease by fixing the initial problem then they should be able to CURE THEM ALL.’
Meanwhile, August was approaching and it was time for my six month check-up with the MS specialist who just so happened to be the Director of the University of Maryland Multiple Sclerosis Center and the Director of Research. During my appointment, I casually asked ‘If I wanted to start to raise and send money to this research center would you be able to put me in touch with the right people and help make sure it was going directly to the research itself?’ His answer of course was yes. So, I made the decision right then and there to cut out all the middlemen, get rid of all the nonsense in between good hearts and a cure and try to make things happen for me, my dad and all the people that couldn’t do it for themselves. I was going to do this for more than just Multiple Sclerosis though. I had developed a motto I believed in: “Wish, Believe, Achieve…Cure One to Cure All.” I was going to go straight to the cause of our problems and focus on the autoimmunity, just like I wanted to send money straight to the researchers who were looking for a solution…Introducing Operation Shooting Star.