BY KEN BIRON
Born 1965, diagnosed 2000
Pre-diagnosis I was an active youth growing up in Fort St. James, enjoying a very active life.
I had begun tobacco use at five years old before moving to Fort St. James which my family did when I was 10 in 1975. I quit school in 1982, halfway through Grade 10.
I started my first job as a janitor, circa 1979. That ended shortly and I had a number of other jobs from fencing and sweeping to shovelling and working at Kal Tire switching and fixing tires. In the mid 1980s, in my early 20s, I started working for the BC Forest Service and worked in the warehouse for a few seasons under “Protection.” I then went out on a Crash and Burn Mountain Pine Beetle eradication project over three winters and teamed with a provincial fire protection Unit Crew in the summers, which ended in very early 1990 when early multiple sclerosis symptoms arrived.
I then did some contract work for silviculture and private industry before getting out of the bush permanently by 1991. I was diagnosed in 2000 after a decade of odd jobs pumping gas in Vanderhoof and as a computer technician and sales at London Drugs here in Prince George. I still had a very active personal life of outdoor activities year round between Fort St. James and Prince George and with the Canadian Cadet organizations, which I began in September 1980 and continued until April 2002. It included four years as a junior reserve force officer in the Canadian Armed Force Reserves, (CAC) and over a decade as a volunteer civilian instructor for the corps and one Navy League Cadet unit, working in administration and supply.
In 1999 (after my partner left most of my stuff on a Prince George sidewalk in the rain and that relationship came to a very bitter end) I walked into a wall half blind.
I went to the eye doctor who sent me to a specialist who gave me my first MS hardship. The exam cost me almost $300 and a “hurry up and wait” with no answers, although I do remember her saying “optic neuritis” but no explanation. It was then that I found out that after my relationship had ended I had been removed from the family medical plan as well. It began a year of testing and two MRI experiences in the mobile unit we had here, after straightening out my medical.
After a diagnosis in June of 2000 and “retiring” from work as a computer tech at London Drugs in May 2002, my brain underwent changes amplifying a mental condition I had been living with since childhood undiagnosed. I believe that the MS disease modification drugs I was given did damage to both my mental problems and the MS. I dropped them to the dismay of the MS clinic and my primary care doctor who refused to see me after that in late 2002.
I wandered around Northern Health as well as Prince George (homeless a couple of times over that period) for a number of years before I was offered a chance to test tobacco cessation methods. It was shortly after the completion of the testing that doctors in British Columbia were given the authority to prescribe anti cessation tools for patients and the cost was covered for patients. After quitting I realized that I had no idea I was smoking that much!
In late 2005 or early 2006 my personal care physician and the newly-staffed MS clinic invited me back for a checkup. I had become the facilitator of our self help support group by that time and had connected to the Patient Voices Network of BC and a number of other non-profit groups in the city and province, nation including the Handy Circle Resources Society. The biggest positive change in my health was quitting tobacco as of August 15, 2005 with the help of cannabis which also helped my mental health and my MS. My MS Nuro signed the medical cannabis paperwork and my GP continues today, with my renewal on its way to his desk for signature for me to pick up in time to replace this year’s.
I discovered that I need to volunteer to keep my mind as active as my body if I am to keep sane after taking mental health therapy through Northern Health’s Adult Mental Health office, behind UHNBC. Out of there came B.C.’s Bounce Back program which has helped so many though mental health challenges through the nation. This was the beginning of when I developed my position as a “professional volunteer,” connecting with several groups that cater to people with a disability in the areas of housing, public access and volunteerism.
I developed my tech skills with Office software as well as designing several websites over time for non-profits with web authoring software and HTML coding. I sat on the city’s mayoral Advisory Committee on Accessibility for almost a decade and for a couple of those years was the representative for accessibility on the city’s design panel that approves new builds in the city. I took several courses through Selkirk College (distance training) thanks to assistance from Make a Change Canada, from 2006 to completing the final ones in 2018 in both Business Abilities and IBDE, an advanced web design course that includes WordPress blogging and search engine optimization training.
I use no disease modification drugs now other than cannabis.