The month of May is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness month. What this means, of course, differs from person to person. It depends on how, if at all, MS touches your life.

If it doesn’t, count your blessings, but don’t count out the chance to become more aware of the estimated 50,000 Canadians, whose lives, not to mention their loved ones, are affected by this illness.

Multiple Sclerosis is a complex, neurological disease, hence the difficulty in finding cause and cure. In the simplest of terms, it is a disease that attacks the central nervous system causing an array of symptoms, ranging from mildly disabling to severely so. While there are a number of common symptoms, MS can offer a host of unusual problems, individually unique. Since one of the most unsettling characteristics of this illness is the unpredictability of its progression, a “one day at a time” approach is the best option. Always easier said than done, when it’s your life you’re talking about. Once you learn to live with the illness, and you do, life becomes a challenge of managing symptoms, which can differ from day to day. Then, in the best case scenario, at some point in time, you decide its going to take a lot more than MS to take the wind out of your sails. You move forward, living life to the fullest, although at times this seems to be an impossible feat.

There is no shortage of information on Multiple Sclerosis. As with most chronic illnesses, statistics and information can be gathered from a variety of sources. But the most valuable knowledge is not that which is compiled into pamphlets or other reading material. What I believe to be the most valuable, is the insight, awareness can lead us to. Not so much awareness of the disease itself, but awareness of the lives the disease affects. What is it like to be someone with MS? How does one go about living daily with such limitations acquired simply by the luck of the draw? Yes, if there is one thing essential to understand, it is that illness and misfortune are not choosy predators. Of course, we can stave off many hardships by taking care in the way we live, but never think for one moment, that anyone is immune to the illness and just plain bad luck that shows no favouritism to any race, gender or class of people. The hand of misfortune taps shoulders at random.

While “awareness” months, days, walks, events, etc. are important to bring focus to specific issues, what about the rest of the year? People don’t only have MS in May, cancer in April, heart problems in February (just to name a few). These are all a 365-day reality to many, and that is why awareness is so important. That is why it is so important to learn about the person with MS, CP, MD, or cancer, and not only of their illness. Learn of whom they are, their place in the community and how their life relates to yours, because, in the big picture, they do.

Don’t be afraid to understand. Sometimes, perhaps, we worry that if we look too long or take too much notice, we might somehow tempt the cruel hand of fate to turn in our direction. I believe the opposite is true. The more we know, the less we need to fear.

Please bask in the knowledge that everyday you can make a difference by simply being aware. Let the desire for awareness become a challenge to attain a better understanding of life around you, and not just within your circle. Look to the left and the right, and really take notice of some of the less pleasant, but very real possibilities of life. Once you begin to really see these possibilities, you will also begin to recognize and understand the opportunities you have to make a difference, and that is when real awareness begins. That is when awareness becomes a gift.