When life hands you an ALS diagnosis, the fear of the unknown can often prevent you from embracing the present. This is something Mary-Anne experienced first-hand three years ago, when she was diagnosed with ALS. During a vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2012, on her way to a yoga class, Mary-Anne tripped and fell inexplicably. When her right foot began to show signs of weakness and she was suffering from lower back pain, her doctor sent her to an orthopedic surgeon. It wasn’t until two years later that she underwent neurological testing, which indicated symptoms of ALS.

The ALS diagnosis came as a complete shock to Mary-Anne and her family. She was active, regularly participating in yoga and Zumba, and was physically fit at the age of 70. At the time, Mary-Anne’s first thought was, “What is ALS?” When she discovered that it was a progressive illness with no cure, she fell into a state of disbelief and depression.

It took time, psychotherapy and the right medication to help Mary-Anne accept her diagnosis. After reading several books written by people living with ALS, she was inspired to start writing down her own thoughts and feelings about the disease. The writing came naturally – Mary-Anne had been a college instructor for 30 years, teaching courses in creative writing and computer design. Little did she know at the time that her journal writing would turn into a self-published memoir dedicated to helping those living with ALS make the most of their remaining days.

In her memoir, Falling Down & Waking Up, Mary-Anne shares the personal feelings she has experienced throughout her ALS journey, offers tips on travelling with equipment such as a wheelchair and recommendations on improving day-to-day life with ALS. All proceeds from book sales are being donated to ALS Canada.

Writing has been a therapeutic way for Mary-Anne to flex her creative muscles, so to speak. While her muscles are degenerating progressively, her mind is sharp as ever and she continues to do things everyone else does, but in her own way. She spoke at her local WALK for ALS, inspiring those living with ALS and their families to live in the moment and make every second count.

“So many people focus on the fact that they’re dying…but forget that they’re still living,” she emphasizes. “I look at today and it’s a beautiful day. I have my friends and family. I appreciate my wonderful husband who helps keep me going. Sometimes people ask me to do things that I’m afraid I won’t be able to do. But then I wake up in the morning, and I just do it. So far everything I’ve attempted, has worked out well.”

Since her ALS diagnosis, Mary-Anne has travelled to Puerto Vallarta three times, as well as Texas and San Diego to visit her daughter. She believes that anything can be done with careful preparation and planning.

“Things that people think are impossible aren’t,” she encourages. “If you have a bucket list, go for it. And be grateful for your good fortune.”

Through the ALS Canada equipment program, Mary-Anne was able to access a wheelchair and a lift, and her Regional Manager was able to refer her to service for a handicap-accessible van. This was the first year that Mary-Anne participated in the WALK for ALS in Kingston, Ontario.

During the month of June for ALS Awareness Month, we will be sharing the stories of people living with and affected by ALS who have chosen to seize each day in whatever way they can. You can also share your own stories and reflections on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and hashtag #SeizeTodayALS.

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