Stories to Inspire: Living My Best Life
By Jim Birberick
Life is good. I believe it and try to live it every day. It’s not always easy. In the summer of 1989, when diagnosed with secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS), I feared that life would never be good again.
I was wrong.
I’m now 71 years old. I’m a husband, father, grandfather, and friend… and I have had MS for 30 years.
As a young man growing up in Michigan, I was an extremely active athlete. I played baseball in high school, semi-pro baseball for two years, and slow-pitch softball for many years after that. My career was going well selling clinical lab services for a well-known pharmaceutical company. They moved me to Tampa, Florida and I became the district sales manager, overseeing employees across Central and Southwest Florida. I met my wonderful wife, Jan, on a blind date and she became my world. Life was pretty darn good!
We had two beautiful sons and settled into Florida living. The boys were strong, healthy, and smart. We had a lovely home on a street full of neighbors who soon became like family – and remain so, even today. We were active in our church and spent our time playing soccer and baseball with the boys, cheering them on in all they did. We were a typical suburban family. Life was great!
After the initial diagnosis, I went through a period of depression, not knowing the impact it would have on me, my job, or my family. At that time, there were no medications for the condition other than steroids. I entered a three-year, double-blind clinical trial, and after the drug was approved, I was injected every other day for 26 years. By this time however, I already had mobility issues and had gone from a cane to a walker to a scooter. I have been in a mobility chair full time now for the last 28 years.
I had to go on full-time disability in 1991. It was all life-changing and a constant challenge for me, my wife, and the boys as well. The doctors had me on numerous different medications and therapies, including intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) therapy, chemotherapy, and anything else they could think of to stop the progression. After taking my first oral medication, I ended up in the hospital for two weeks with a lumber spine infection. All of a sudden, life wasn’t so good.
My family experienced things I wish they never would have had to go through. My wife went back to work and kept the family together. She says it made us all stronger and brought us closer together.
My life hasn’t been easy. I have a lot of pain and sometimes it gets overwhelming. My speech is slow and my brain doesn’t function as well any more. It’s frustrating and embarrassing. I know that I must reach outside of myself and my own feelings. I fight every day to change from being someone who is self-absorbed into someone who leans on God for strength and understanding. I try to look at others and see their needs rather than my own.
I have adjusted to my new outlook on life and I wake up every day thinking that today will be a good day. I stretch and work out the best I can every day because I know I need to keep as much strength as I can. I focus on knowing that no matter how unfortunate having MS might be, there are people who have more difficult challenges to face. I am very fortunate to have the support of my wife, my sons, my five beautiful grandchildren, and my many friends.
I don’t know what the future holds for me. None of us do, but there are so many things I can do. I choose to stay positive and focus on the things I can do versus those I cannot.
Life is truly remarkable and I’m living it the best way I can!