Mary Stoll lived and worked on Whidbey Island, Washington before she passed in the fall of 2009. She shared her story with us for our MS Veteran newsletter, Spring 2009 edition.
I joined the Army right after I graduated from high school in 1965. Everyone in Basic Training called me “Sport” and I made friends who I continue to keep in touch with. I learned skydiving with the Special Forces and trained as an x-ray technician. After leaving the Army, I pursued my license as an x-ray technician and worked in the field as a civilian.
In 1988, I was diagnosed with MS. For years I knew something was wrong, but it was too difficult to think about and much easier to ignore. It started with severe headaches that knocked me off my feet and progressed to a clumsiness that I couldn’t quite explain. I could barely hit the button on an elevator and it became a challenge to throw a ball for my dogs. Even as more medical issues surfaced, I continued on with my life as if all was well.
I guess you could say I was in denial that I had a serious, chronic problem. I probably would have stayed in denial if it hadn’t been for one of the physicians I worked with. He noticed there was something “off” with my coordination and was concerned. He recommended I get an MRI which helped diagnose the MS. I began treatment and found a physician at the Seattle VA who listened to my MS needs. She helped me better understand the disease and how it was affecting me.
In 2007, I faced another serious health problem. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I ended up having a bilateral mastectomy, where both breasts were removed, and received chemotherapy once a week for six months. Ironically, the chemotherapy for the cancer improved my MS symptoms. When the chemotherapy ended, all of my MS symptoms returned.
Like others, I’ve faced hardships in my life. I’ve had days with my MS where the pain was intense or it was difficult to get around. I’ve had severe headaches, double vision, and even broke my back skydiving in the Army. Yet, I continue to live my life to the fullest. When times feel bleak, I remind myself that there is another day and that things will get better. I may have MS, but it doesn’t define who I am or what I can do.
In 2005, my husband and I started our own ice cream business, The Whidbey Island Ice Cream Company. We make ice cream in our certified facility year round - four times a week in the summer and once a week in the winter. The ice cream is sold throughout Whidbey Island and neighboring communities.
I teach knitting to female inmates at the Whidbey Island county jail once a week and I’m a member of the North Puget Sound Dragon Boat Team. The Team is made up of cancer survivors and their support network. We get together from spring to late fall for camaraderie and fun competition. Last summer, we won the 2008 Gold Medal and Cancer Cup in a race held on Lake Washington in Seattle. I am also the caregiver for my mother who is 93 years old. When I’m not together with friends and family, I enjoy riding my horse and taking walks in the country.
I’ve had MS for over 20 years and if there is anything that MS has taught me, it’s this, “Enjoy life, don’t let your disease set limitations for you, and make sure you surround yourself with wonderful, supportive people.” I’m 61 years old. I’ve been married for over 25 years to a man who always makes life interesting. My family and friends are amazing. I’ve accomplished so many things in my life and there is still so much more that I want to accomplish. I truly count my blessings for all that I have.
Posted: May 2010