The Cycle (and Walk!) 4 CMT event at the Old Lantern in Charlotte, VT on Sunday, August 26 will be upon us before you know it! Please act now to reserve your spot to cycle, walk and/or attend the unforgettable after-party!
Whether you are attending the event in person or participating virtually, here are your top 4 action items for you to complete right now:
The Cycle (and Walk or Roll!) 4 CMT event is so much more than a bike ride or walk around Charlotte, VT. It is a way to give hope to families and their children all around the world for a medicinal treatment to stop the progression of CMT.
I asked our friend Riley Ashe from Vermont, who never misses the event, to talk about what this event means to him. Here is what he said (get Kleenex out before pressing play):
My brother George’s heartfelt thoughts (grab yet another kleenex):
Rumor has it that we throw the best after-party of any non-profit event for miles around! Riders, walkers and party attendees are going to have a blast again this year.
After the morning activities, plan to relax in the beautiful setting at the Old Lantern in Charlotte, VT.
Quench your thirst with VT brewed beer, enjoy delicious food, including appetizers and a fully catered menu and bid on epic silent auction items provided by our supporters.
Rock out to the lively tunes of our favorite band, Leno, Cheney and Young, mingle with family, friends and hear about exciting CMT research updates from our internationally acclaimed CMT experts, Drs. Michael Shy and Steven Scherer.
If you cannot make it this year – you can still participate by doing a VIRTUAL CYCLE or WALK or ROLL. It’s easy! Register: http://www.cycle4cmt.com. Here is some of the cool swag you’ll receive after you’ve reached your fundraising goal.
If you do a virtual event, send me pictures of your adventure! I need to brag about you! xoxo
Help us break the silence…get the word out about CMT!
“My high school years?” she shuddered. “After the doctors diagnosed me with polio at 13-years-old, they wanted to straighten my misshapen feet. So, for the next 5 summers in a row, my school vacations were spent either in the hospital or at home, immobilized, with heavy plaster casts weighing me down.” With raspy, uneven breath, Flora described those dreadful Mississippi summers as muggy, sticky and hot – really hot. “Neither the hospital nor my home had air conditioning in those days, so I was pretty uncomfortable – but I got through!” she added with her usual determination.
I first spoke with Flora in 2003, when I was getting to know the CMTA group leaders throughout the country. She told me that after her orthopedic surgeon “straightened her out”, she had left her polio diagnosis behind and moved forward with her life. She went to college, married her husband of 52 years – Billy Joe Jones in 1960 and had three children. After the birth of her youngest child, Cindy, she decided to stay at home to be a mother, wife, and homemaker.
Over the years, her legs weakened and her hands slowly lost function. In 1982, at the age of 45, she was finally diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease or CMT at an MDA clinic. Okay. There was a name for her progressive symptoms, but she wondered what she was supposed to do with the name. She couldn’t just “Google It” because home computers had not made their debut in society.
Luckily, by word of mouth, she heard about a CMT conference in Toronto, hosted by CMT International. No way was she going to miss this opportunity to learn and gather more information about CMT. Upon arrival, she was stunned to meet others with similarly-looking feet and hands – 200 other individuals with “the walk” including 30 people who admitted to breathing difficulties, like herself. One of her favorite parts of the conference was educating CMT clinicians about her own CMT.
In 1993, she was elated to discover a CMTA support group in her area. With her passion for spreading awareness and teaching others about CMT, it was not long before Flora stepped up as the leader of the Brandon, Mississippi CMTA support group. In fact, she involved the entire family in her mission and many weekends were devoted to mailing educational information, calling new members and organizing CMTA meetings.
Due to severely atrophied leg muscles, she lost her ability to walk at the age of 58, but that did not make one bit of difference. She continued to lead her group enthusiastically, informing the members about the CMTA, its research, and resources. Over the course of her lifetime, she touched innumerable lives, informed countless medical professionals and supported others who had a CMT diagnosis.
Toward the end of her life, she could barely use her hands, and her violent tremors made holding or sipping from a cup virtually impossible. Her paralyzed diaphragm made breathing harder and harder with each passing day and her weakened vocal cords affected her ability to talk. Yet, Flora did not let any of those worsening symptoms stop her from fulfilling her mission in a positive, cheerful and comforting way.
I just spoke to Flora a few months ago. She called to check in, to see how Yohan was doing after his foot surgeries. She told me he was always in her prayers. She admitted that her CMT was wreaking havoc on her body, but it would never, ever dampen her inner spirit. Even in her final months, she would not leave home without her brochures. She wanted to be ready to educate everyone and anyone who would listen to her about CMT. In a recent letter from Flora’s daughter, Cindy, she confided, “Even up to her last doctor’s appointment, she educated her doctors about CMT.” In February, Flora was given a new doctor, “a cute one!” she said with a wink. Super impressed that he really was interested in CMT, he even explained how he could help her live a productive life despite her limitations.
Following in Flora’s footsteps, I try to spread CMT awareness wherever I go, even if Yohan rolls his eyes out of his head like he’s screaming loudly. If we all speak about this progressive disease to our doctors, nurses, family, and friends think how many people would recognize the name, the symptoms, and the signs. “It’s CMT.” I say. “Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.” And when the person looks puzzled, which they usually do, I remind them of the acronym – CMT. To make it stick, I joke that CMT does NOT stand for Country Music Television. And I might add, “ It’s the other CMT-the one that destroys nerves, causes muscles to weaken, and disables the young and old. It’s Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and we desperately need a cure.” And a cure starts with awareness.
In memory of my friend Flora, who passed on April 1, 2018, at the age of 81 from CMT-related breathing complications, please help raise awareness of CMT. Think about it – even the most worthy causes won’t receive a dollar in donations if no one knows about them. Putting a face and a personal story on CMT may spur people into action, especially if they know their support will lead to a cure.
Flora, you are my inspiration to wake up every day and fight for a world without CMT. And now, I imagine you moving freely among the stars and dancing with angels. And I smile. I may not have told you during our phone conversations, but I admire you and love you deeply. Your memory will never be forgotten.
“Who is that girl?” she asked, squinting warily while jerking her chin forward like a rooster, not so discreetly pointing out the slim, well-dressed woman in question. “She doesn’t have CMT! Look at those heels!! Pfft! Forget about it. She’s a fraud!” It’s true, Jeana did not appear to have CMT on the outside, but her past revealed a different reality. Surgeries on both feet when she was only 16 helped her gait immensely, enabling her to walk brace free today.
However, if you look real close, her pinky toes look funky, betraying a harrowing brush
with a surgeon’s scalpel. “No need to worry about the little toes on each foot.” the surgeon grinned. “I simply removed all the bones! All fixed!” So, instead of hammer toes, sticking up and out, she ended up with cute, floppy, puppy dog ear toes, which prove to be quite the challenge when wearing sandals.
People’s CMT vary dramatically from one person to another, and telltale symptoms of foot drop, muscle wasting, fatigue, pain are not always super obvious. So, to my embarrassment, I often forget she has CMT.
But, I forgot you have CMT!!
How many times has CMT gotten me into trouble? When Jeana and I organize CMTA conferences together, we always do our best to make sure that everything is handicapped accessible; tongs are not used, tables are separated, leaving enough room for scooters and wheelchairs to pass, boxed lunches are chosen over buffets. Inevitably, no matter how much we prep the hotel staff, someone always seems to make a mistake, and we have to think fast on our feet to rectify the situation.
At the Patient and Family conference we held in Los Angeles a few years back, I remember the room being stuffy and hot. After 90 minutes of sweating and fanning ourselves with the paper programs, we took our first 15-minute break. “A big round of applause for Dr. So and So…what an informative presentation!” I exclaimed into the microphone. “Now, let’s take a few minutes to stretch and quench your thirst with some nice, refreshing beverages. We’ll see you back here in 15 minutes.” I walked out into the hall, and what do I see? Big, heavy pitchers of water and lemonade. Merde!
We quickly asked family and friends without CMT or hand weakness to serve the drinks during the break. After about 5 minutes, I look over at the drink station and our beverage volunteer happened to have wandered off and just disappeared into thin air. People were thirsty….parched even and getting more and more impatient while shifting their weight from left to right, left to right just to stop from teetering over (keeping your balance while standing is difficult with CMT).
I ran over and filled the empty spot for a couple of minutes before my little eye spied Jeana, who was talking, and talking and talking (no surprise there, right?), to a conference attendee.
“Jeana,” I blurted out frantically and a bit too harshly, “if you can’t find someone to stay at the water station, just stand here and serve the beverages to these poor people with CMT who are struggling.” She looked at me in disbelief. Her face expressed what she was thinking. “Really? You are asking me to fill glasses, dumb ass? I too have CMT!” But being the mature and respectful person we’ve all grown to admire and love, she nodded her head and made her way to the water station and tried her best to serve our conference clientele. When I realized what I had asked of her, I regretted it….immediately. Not because I made her suffer, but because she would never let me live this situation down….EVER! As much as she did not say in the moment, she let her thoughts be known loud and clear after the conference. In fact, she won’t hesitate to bring this up when she needs a little extra material to tease me with. I hear her voice now, “Oh, really? I’ve got a better one. Elizabeth, remember that day when…. “
People with CMT are fighters with motivation, determination, strength, and willpower. Some are a bit sassy, too! One day, wearing my very concerned and sad face, I said something like, “Bethany, I don’t know how you do it every day. Just putting on socks, braces, and shoes takes so long. It all seems so limiting.” I was attempting, albeit poorly, to relate to her emotionally in some small way. Thankfully, I have a Master degree in Counseling Psychology, which makes communication with people from all walks of life so much easier (Like Judge Judy below, I’m inflicting some heavy duty eye rolling on myself right now).
If you know Bethany, she usually thinks through her answers before responding. Not that day! That fine afternoon she was quick and sharp, replying without missing a beat, “Yeah, it’s not the best, but I feel fortunate that I’m walking. From wheelchair to walking is a pretty huge deal.” There was a short hesitation before she emphatically reminded me that she was able to walk much further and longer than I can…a LOT further and a LOT longer. “You are limited by your foot pain. My braces have set me free!” she replied without flinching.
IN YOUR FACE! OUCH! Insert knife and rotate slowly 3 times. I mean, what do you say to that? ……..Exactly. I said nothing and followed her progress as she trained to walk a 5-day 40 Mile Trek of Peddars Way in Norfolk, England! She succeeded and came through with flying colors!
I had spoken over the phone to Bethany quite a few times before she moved to the Bay Area in 2012. We had some great conversations, talked about volunteer opportunities and CMTA-related projects. When she moved here, we made a lunch date. I drove. On the way to the restaurant, I asked 100 million questions to which she sequentially answered, “Yes. No, I don’t know” over and over again until I got really bad cotton mouth from talking too much. So, I stopped blabbering and lived painfully through seconds upon seconds of dreadful silence (The longest ten seconds I’d ever experienced – it felt more like 10 hours- can you tell I’m an extrovert and hyperactive?) Bethany started to loosen up by the end of lunch, and I caught a few glimpses of the witty and sardonic person living and breathing underneath that cloak of quiet reservation.
Heading back to the car, we crossed the road and I saw that she was struggling a bit to walk, but I did not know if she needed or wanted help. What to do? So, I did absolutely nothing. I pretended she wasn’t struggling and that everything was A-Okay. Walking a step or 2 in front of her, I heard a faint whisper, “Elizabeth?” I turned around to an outreached hand. “Can you give me your arm to cross the road?” she asked politely (her mother did a hell of a job teaching this girl manners). My elbow jutted out in a microsecond and off we went, arm in arm across the road. Walking harmoniously side by side, she interjected, with a mischievous grin,” Jeesh. You of all people did not think of lending a helping hand? I’m so disappointed.” WHOA! The girl is a live wire….a comedian! This snarky comment was proof that her dad was also very involved in her upbringing. From that moment on, we became forever friends.
Laughter Really is the best Medicine!
The CMTA held its first-ever leader conference in Las Vegas many years ago. Leaders from all over the US attended, forming bonds of friendship and caring. The first evening, after dinner, we all made our way to our rooms, preparing for a very long day ahead. Breakfast was at 8am sharp the following day. At 7 am, Pat D. our Director of Community Services at the time called me with an urgent request, “ One of our leaders needs help buttoning and zipping his pants.” Apparently, he lived with family and on his own, buttoning and zipping were practically impossible. “Why do I have to go?” I groaned. “Can’t we get Dana to go help him…man-to-man? Now, on the verge of yelling, Pat reminded me that, “Dana can’t button or zip his own pants, how is he going to button someone else’s pants?” Good point.
So, off I go to room 3016. When he opened the door, I could tell by his red cheeks that he was quite embarrassed. I felt a bit awkward, but what were our alternatives? I could have insisted that he attend the conference in his boxers, but I’m not usually that mean. So, I simply knelt down in front of him, (please do not visualize this scene!) zipped and buttoned him up and made a joke about the entire scenario. It was a true bonding experience. The rest of the conference was a no-brainer compared to that experience.
To all my friends with CMT, thank you for trusting me with your struggles, accomplishments, thoughts, and anxieties. And thank you for your patience. I’ve learned so much from every single one of you and continue to learn more every day. And, when I mess up, let me know – my closest friends don’t let me off the hook, why should you?
One day about 7-8 years ago, I get this random call from a young woman from Michigan. She wanted to volunteer with the CMTA. “Sure!”, I said enthusiastically. “We are always looking for volunteers-ALWAYS!” Now, compared to my loud, overly animated voice and my quick speaking conversational style, my new friend, Bethany, spoke slowly, methodically and in whispered tones. She actually takes a moment to think before she spoke – a new concept for me.
She wanted to volunteer for CMTA but she was about to have foot surgery, and she assured me that she’d get back to me during or after recovery. I had no expectations, but she did indeed get back. From this day forward, our friendship blossomed. I crept into her life like mold, and now, she’s never getting rid of me. We are stuck together like velcro. She moved to London last year, probably hoping the distance would give her some space-WRONG. We talk frequently, Facebook tons, and I’ll be seeing her next week in Miami.
Following her then boyfriend, Josh, to the Bay Area, California (a joke you’ll understand once you’ve read Bethany’s book), we got to know each other well. She really is not as quiet as you think when you first meet her. In fact, she’s quite chatty and holds her own in debates. From a shy, soft-spoken teen, to a master in digital communications, a successful fundraiser and a moving motivational speaker, Bethany has become a well known and loved figure in the world of CMT.
At 25, Bethany has published her first book, How Should a Body Be? which gives an intimate, honest and heartfelt portrayal of what it is like growing up with different abilities. She’s a wonderful writer and I am in awe of her strength and “determination” (I prefer the word stubbornness, but Bethany’s not thrilled with that word). Here are my thoughts on Bethany’s memoir:
Bethany Meloche’s thoughtful memoir—“How Should a Body Be?”— recounts the life story of a strong-willed young woman with a never-give-up, never-look-back stance to being alive in this world. In a culture that places so much emphasis on physical perfection, many are dissatisfied with their appearance and obsess over achieving unrealistic standards of beauty and fitness. Compound these everyday societal pressures with a progressive neuromuscular disease like Charcot-Marie-Tooth—which causes foot deformities, muscle weakness, tremor and breathing difficulties—and growing up with confidence and assurance becomes that much more arduous.
With wit and humor, Bethany relates the challenges of living in a world where people’s well-intentioned, but short-sighted commentary and feedback inadvertently amplify her feelings of self-doubt, uncertainty, and isolation.
Driven by a lust for knowledge and unquenchable curiosity, Bethany lives each day to the fullest, making her story both unique and inspirational. It would have been easy for Bethany to surrender, to lose hope, to fall into the depths of despair and depression, but by turning her anger outward she discovers strength, willpower, connection and success. “How Should a Body Be?” is a personal journey toward self-acceptance, healing and living life to its fullest, despite apparent limitations. Mature beyond her years, Bethany offers nuggets of wisdom to be shared, pondered and cherished. Honest, truthful and profoundly insightful, this book is for people with CMT, their families, their friends and anyone who struggles with self-image, confidence and the fear of being seen. This is the best book to date on growing up with physical differences, obvious or not.