Community Spotlight: Building Relationships While Walking for MS - NYCM Insurance Blog

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May 14, 2021

Community Spotlight: Building Relationships While Walking for MS

Advocating for charitable causes is something NYCM employees are hugely passionate about. Every May, employees come forward to walk together in recognition of Multiple Sclerosis. NYCM Insurance has sponsored Walk MS of Utica, NY for many years, championed by the participation and passion of our employee base. Continue reading below to learn more about this initiative and our advocates for Walk MS.

What is Walk MS?

Walk MS is a national campaign led by the National MS Society to raise funds for research and celebrate the resiliency of the nearly 1 million people living with MS in the United States. While finding a cure and conducting research for MS is the ultimate goal, Walk MS also provides an outlet for people living with MS and advocates to come together to walk in solidarity against the disease. Walk MS also provides an opportunity to learn about the National MS Society’s services and provides ways to connect with others living with MS.

What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

MS is a lifelong, incurable disease that can affect people in many different ways. The National MS Society explains MS as "an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body."

Finding Community While Walking for MS

Charlotte Plows of our Customer Service Team recalls a desire to prove to herself and others that an MS diagnosis did not have to mean an end to  freedom. “Honestly, I wanted to prove a couple of things, one, that I could actually complete the walk, and two, that this diagnosis was not going to define me.” Charlotte said. “At first I was apprehensive to share this diagnosis with my work community. What if I was unsuccessful?” Charlotte goes on to say that when she was ready to share her diagnosis, her team was more than supportive. “Sharing my diagnosis has allowed me to provide information about the process and treatment with those who were in the same position, and that has helped me to foster some pretty amazing relationships.”
When asked what the Walk MS means to her, Charlotte explains that for her, Walk MS means hope for a cure and for advancements in research. Charlotte has participated in Walk MS for over 24 years and says she is grateful to have received ongoing support and encouragement in her personal life as well as from her NYCM community. “One year I was asked to speak at the kick-off ceremony. Having had no public speaking experience, I was a little nervous of course. However, the input and support I received from my friend Lisa and from NYCM’s own Albert Pylinski, it made a huge difference. Albert even promised to be at the walk for my speech and of course he was there in the front row!”
Sue Barrett of our Property/Commercial Claims Team remembers how difficult her initial diagnosis of MS was.  She shares that while her husband Jeff was and is incredibly supportive, his job required long hours and travel. At the time, they had young children at home. “After receiving my MS diagnosis, my main goals were just to watch my children grow up and get married and then to meet my grandchildren. All of which I have accomplished!”  
Sue was diagnosed with MS about 21 years ago and says that prior to her diagnosis, she had never really heard much about it. That same year, Sue and Jeff decided to get involved in Walk MS. She goes on to share how strongly supported she felt by her family and by the friends she had made in the process. “Typically, the whole family goes to Walk MS together, then we'd have a little cookout celebration afterwards at our house. My family has gotten very involved. Jeff helps set up the routes for the walk each year. My niece has sung the national anthem during a kick-off ceremony, my son has even given a speech at the event one year.” Sue says, “Each year we walk because at the end of the day, we still need a cure. That’s not to say that medicine hasn’t come a long way, it has. I’ve had more shots, more infusions, more medications and pills than I can count. Now I am able to take just one pill a day, but there is still progress to be made. Everyone’s situation with MS is different, if we are able to find a cure, others may be saved.”
Sue is not one to shy away from others in need. She has graciously offered her advice and knowledge around MS to those who have called her after finding out about their own diagnosis. She says that while everyone’s situation is unique to them, there is one thing she would say to anyone in this position, and that is staying off the internet. “One thing my doctors told me early on was to avoid using the internet to research this. Talk with your doctors, ask them your questions, and be persistent about your care.  Oftentimes, the internet is only going to fill your head with worst-case scenarios which can be damaging to your recovery and to your spirit.”
Jeff Barrett, Vice President of Underwriting, and husband of Sue Barrett had this to share when asked what led him to get involved with Walk MS. “My wife inspired me. After her diagnosis, we knew we needed to learn more, so Sue got involved with a support group and we started the Walk shortly after. We’ve been grateful for the sense of support and community that it’s created in our lives.”  For those who have been recently affected by an MS diagnosis, Jeff says that he would highly encourage community building. Whether it be friends, family, or a support group, it’s so important to have that sense of support.
Jeff has helped design the routes for Walk MS for the past 8 years or so. Due to the circumstances around COVID-19, the last two years’ events have looked a little different. This year the Barrett family will be having a safe and socially distanced walk together. “For us, Walk MS is about the community coming together and rallying against this disease. There has been great progress and curving the effects with the medicine that has been developed so far, so I think Walk MS is a great time to celebrate through successes while pushing towards a cure. When we go each year and get to see a friend who has made progress, that’s the best. Maybe they started Walk MS when they needed a wheelchair and are now able to walk with a cane or even without one - it’s an opportunity to celebrate.

Belinda Hoagland of our Underwriting Team and her family have been volunteering with Walk MS for the last 10 years. “I learned about MS when my great uncle was diagnosed and at first, I didn’t really understand it. I researched it and learned a little more. Then in 2007 I was diagnosed with MS myself and shortly thereafter diagnosed with cancer.” Belinda shares. She goes on to say that without the treatment for her MS, they might not have found her cancer in time and that now she is in a better place health wise.
For Belinda, Walk MS means connection. “I get to meet people and hear their stories. I’ve made some of my greatest friends through Walk MS. It means so much to be able to connect with others who are going through the same things we are,” Belinda shares.  “One year, they had a few high school girls come in and volunteer. They were the sweetest, I so enjoyed getting to know them. My family volunteers at the Walk but we usually participate in the walk as well and that year, the girls from the volunteer program were waiting there at the finish line cheering us on! That was very touching.”
For anyone that is struggling with their diagnosis, Belinda has this to share, “When you first find out, it can be scary. The unknown can be that way. The worst things can come to your mind - it’s so important to focus on the positive and enjoy life whenever you can.” Belinda says that staying positive has had an immeasurable impact on her life and that while she won’t sugar coat it, MS is something that you can fight through. 
To learn more about Walk MS and how you can register or donate, check out this link.