The ALS Association: A Love Letter

I was recently asked if I would be willing to speak to a group of people about the good work that the ALS Association does. My answer was an immediate and fervent HELL YES I WILL. I’ve expounded on their virtues before, and they will certainly will do again, it occurs to me that I have never devoted a post solely to that purpose. It’s long overdue. So here it is.

I was introduced to the ALS Association the day I was diagnosed. I was immediately given a phone number and a contact name, with promises they’d be able to help me along my newfound journey with a terminal disease. I waited a couple of days to call them, of course, because I needed time to let things settle. But once I did call them, within only a few short days I was sitting with a social worker in my living room. I liked her immediately, as I’ve come to like every single person I’ve ever met who works for the organization. The social worker was kind, patient, and definitely knew her stuff. She offered her sincere condolences for my diagnosis, and introduced me to the ALS Association and everything it could do for me.

So, as she introduced me, I introduce to you – what the ALS Association does for me.

INFORMATION: They had a wealth of information for me right out of the gate. She came with a stack of booklets on what to expect from various aspects of the disease; feeding tubes, ventilators, dietary needs. Even as she was handing the booklets to me, she was quick to point out that I absolutely did not have to look at any of this information or even think about it until I was ready. If I didn’t even feel up to taking the booklets, I did not have to. They had information about coordinating the care I was going to need, with solid advice on how to arrange it, or more appropriately – how NOT to arrange it, how to designate a primary person to manage all of that for me. I was given a book for that, too. I was given information about biweekly support groups. I was given information about hiring an elder care attorney to get my affairs and estate in order. In the space of one afternoon, I had every question answered, including questions I hadn’t even thought to ask yet.

SUPPORT: the biweekly support meetings are not only a place to support and commiserate, there is usually some kind of a presentation. How to select a caregiver, and how to know when to start that process. How to use a Hoyer lift with demonstrations. That sort of thing. I’ve only been to a couple, but in every single one of them I have felt heard and cared for. It introduced me to the ALS community at large, which is a subject for another blog post soon to come. In addition to the support groups, during my quarterly clinic days one of my appointments is with my social worker and a check in to see if there’s anything else they can do for me. They put me in contact with other people in the community who had resources I need, and set me up to be a penpal with other people in need of support themselves. They joined me on my house hunt. They helped me look for a van. They found me a lawyer. The annual Walk to Defeat ALS is a huge event that raises a lot of money, and is the single greatest ALS community event, hands-down. I cannot begin to describe to you how it feels to have such a horrible disease, and to show up to one of these events and see the LITERALLY THOUSANDS of people who have showed up to support me and those similarly afflicted. It awes me every time.

RESEARCH: the money raised by the ALS Association goes to fund research, along with everything else. Very important research. The ice bucket challenge raised literally millions of dollars for this endeavor. Research is the only way we are ever going to find a cure for this disease. The ALS Association funds research that leads to clinical trials, like the clinical trial I’m currently participating in. This research WILL ultimately save lives. Until then, it is helping make lives less miserable day by day.

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE: twice a year, I am eligible for a $500 grant from the ALS Association to help me cover my expenses. Last year that grant paid for my medicine. And raised toilet seat. And wrist braces. I don’t even need to tell you how expensive it is to have ALS; I’ve said it before, and I’m sure you can imagine. One of my meds (for which I received a separate grant thankfully) costs $19,000 out-of-pocket. A month. Anytime you tack the word medical on top of something, it’s price goes up three times over. The cupholder on my wheelchair costs $60. The $500 could never hope to cover all of my expenses, but it is such a tremendous relief to have. A break. And all I have to do is ask for it.

EDUCATION: the ALS Association has a class in mindfulness that I was able to take. In times to come, I am very much going to need that skill, to get out of my own head when things get horrible. It was a good class. The ALS Association also hosts a research symposium, which features speakers on all of the latest research and medical trials happening. There’s always a QA session after the presentations, and I have never failed to learn something new and exciting.

PURPOSE: through the ALS Association, I’ve been able to participate in a number of extremely fulfilling projects. I’ve been interviewed for newsletters, I loaned my picture to fundraising efforts, I’ve been connected to people I can hopefully help. The moment I was diagnosed I knew I wanted to help in some way. I have been dealt a poor hand, but I can do something with it. I can help other people. Through research I can contribute to science and help find a cure. My life and death will mean something on a grander scale. The ALS Association has helped facilitate this. I cannot possibly be more grateful for that.

EQUIPMENT: the ALS Association has a wealth of equipment that they are happy and eager to share. Every single time my doctor has suggested some new piece of equipment, the ALS Association was quick to offer to loan me one. I mentioned in clinic that it was getting hard to stand up in the shower; they loaned me a shower chair. Then a shower bench when I could no longer step into the tub. They loaned me a cane. I had trepidations about graduating to a wheelchair when the time came, they loaned me one so that I could get used to being in it and try it out with no pressure. They offered to loan me a power chair to get used to it and see what kind of features I wanted. When I begin participating in clinical research in San Francisco, I was extremely nervous about having the airlines handle my wheelchair; the thing costs $47,000 and is my freedom. I was super paranoid about it getting damaged. The ALS Association loaned me a power chair for the express purpose of traveling in it so that my own chair was not at risk. The airline has managed to damage wheelchairs I was using four times in the last year and a half – I cannot even imagine what I would’ve done if that damage had been done to my personal wheelchair. I would be completely…well, screwed. They knew that damage was a risk and still very happily loaned me the chair. Because that’s what the ALS Association does. They help.

Let me be perfectly clear here: NONE OF THIS HAS COST ME A DAMN THING.

NADA.

Life with ALS often feels insurmountable. With the help of the ALS Association, I feel less alone in this struggle. I feel less lost. I feel like maybe there’s a little hope for us.

They’re good people, is what I’m saying.

One thought on “The ALS Association: A Love Letter

  1. I think the ALS Org has done a lot of good things. When the Ice Bucket Challenge happened, however, they’ve neglected to spend most of it on research funding, even 6 years later. That’s an unconscionable waste of time.
    Better to provide less pamphlets (99.9% of the information exists online through excellent sources already and an aggregated list would suffice) and have drowned single-focused research labs, like ALS-TDI, with funding, where a hundred million dollars could’ve yielded results that may have eliminated the need for a loner wheelchair, and for the ALS org as well.
    There appears to be a conflict of interest and I’m not convinced they’ve not lost their way.

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