Diagnosed with MS, volunteer helps others with peer support
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This article was published 23/11/2020 (804 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kadesha Ross remembers feeling overwhelmed with questions when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis nine years ago.
“I was able to find answers about the physical consequences of my disease from the health care system, but it is difficult to really understand the challenges and barriers involved from a psychological standpoint,” the St. Boniface resident says.
“There were very few people around me who had actually experienced the disease who could shed light on some of the emotional and real-world problems I would come across.”
Now 21, Ross helps others as a volunteer with the MS Society of Canada’s 1:1 Peer Support Program.
It’s a telephone- and internet-based service where individuals living with MS and loved ones of people with MS can receive assistance and encouragement from trained volunteers who have had similar experiences.
In the two years since she started volunteering with the program, Ross has been matched with five people.
“I hope to be the person or outlet I was looking for as a little girl,” she says, adding that MS has impacted her life in many painful ways.
She was blind in her left eye for two months, experienced paralysis on the left side of her body for a month, and experiences daily symptoms such as chronic headaches and fatigue.
“I try to use some of that pain and adversity for positivity by giving support to those within the community in hopes of helping them find comfort, love and happiness,” she says. “It is not a disease that needs to be confronted alone.”
Gerrie Taylor agrees.
The 64-year-old Brandon resident was diagnosed with MS seven years ago and is currently in the midst of applying to become a peer support volunteer.
Taylor knows the benefits of volunteering and staying connected to other people from observing patients during her 40-year career as a nurse.
“When people feel connected, they do better,” Taylor says. “It’s important to feel that connectedness and to know that you’re not alone.”
Taylor is looking forward to offering friendship and a listening ear once she’s volunteering.
“I believe nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful conversation with a person,” she says. “I think it will work both ways really, for me and the person that I’m calling.”
That sort of give and take usually develops between volunteers and participants, says Jessica Faulds, the program’s Toronto-based co-ordinator.
“The volunteers get just as much out of it as the people they’re helping,” she says.
The MS Society of Canada relies on more than 160 peer support volunteers nationwide, and Faulds is looking for more people to get involved.
People living with MS and people with loved ones who have MS can apply to volunteer at mssociety.ca.
There are two streams within the program. The first matches volunteers and participants for six months, during which they talk by phone, text, email or Zoom as often as needed.
The second stream, OneCall, matches individuals who have a specific question or issue related to MS with a volunteer for one phone call that lasts no longer than an hour.
Ross encourages people to apply.
“I can’t tell you when the cure will arrive or if it ever will,” she says, “but what I do know is that each volunteer goes a very long way in supporting those living with MS.”
If you know a special volunteer, please contact email@example.com.