Cassandra Hamilton went from barely able to walk, to driving force behind the 100 Strong team in the upcoming 2008 Travelers Walk MS
By Marcy Jarzabek, Intern, National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter
Cassandra Hamilton has always loved horses and has fond memories of owning her own up until she was 18. When Hamilton was 36, her mother purchased 110 acres in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, where they planned to open their own stable.
But fate seemed to be taking the reins. A few years earlier, Hamilton was driving home after a long day of work as a graphic director, the traffic seemed to her to be going at break-neck speed and she was being left in the dust. She strained to try to read her speedometer. “It seemed like everyone else was going so fast, and then I realized how dangerously slow I was going,” says Hamilton, who grew up in Glastonbury. “Everyone else was going 65 and I was going 45 mph.” Hamilton’s vision seemed to be deteriorating — now to the point her life was at risk.
It was less than a week later, on her birthday, that she learned she had a rare eye disease requiring immediate laser surgery. She underwent a second surgery before it was discovered that the disease had spread to her other eye. Her surgeon told her later that fall to go home and enjoy the holidays. It would be the last she would experience with full vision.
This would be devastating for anyone, but Hamilton, a graphic artist, could not imagine living without her vision. Her doctor offered one last attempt to possibly salvage her vision using high-dose steroids. The steroids helped her vision for several years, but not without a cost. Although she regained her vision, Hamilton gained more than 100 pounds in the first three months. A variety of health problems led her to a point where she needed assistance to move around. Her health deteriorated further and in 2003 she was told she was going to die. Hamilton, with her mother’s support, refused to accept this prognosis. “The constant opposition I met made me angry,” she explains. “The anger, however, kept me in touch with what’s important; it gave me the drive to keep going.”
Eventually, however, Hamilton rebounded, regaining her health. Hope was renewed. Hamilton looked forward to moving to the farm her mother had recently purchased. She was eager to open a stable. But it was not to be.
She had overcome the odds salvaged her vision and health only to now go on to experience new, baffling symptoms which included strange sensations numbness and tingling in her hands and feet. In 2006, after many tests, Hamilton was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a potentially debilitating disease for which there is no cure. It took her months to come to terms with the devastating news. “At least I now knew what I was facing,” she says. “Still, this was a very hard blow. I had been going downhill, fighting for my life for years, and now this. I knew I had even bigger challenges ahead.”
More than 6,000 Connecticut residents live with multiple sclerosis, a chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms can include, among other things, numbness and tingling in the limbs, difficulties with vision and speech, stiffness and, in some more severe cases, total paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted.
Hamilton was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. Those with relapsing-remitting MS suffer from exacerbations where a function is temporarily lost and may or may not be regained to some degree. For Hamilton these exacerbations have included short-term memory loss, numbness in her limbs and other neurological issues.
Multiple sclerosis has greatly affected Hamilton’s lifestyle and made it difficult for her to enjoy many of her favorite hobbies, in particular horseback riding. The farm has been put on the market.
However, due to her personal battle with the disease and desire to help others, Hamilton has become very interested in raising awareness for multiple sclerosis. Last year she set a goal to complete the Travelers Walk MS in Woodstock, Conn. She reached her goal, completing the short course and raising $400. “To lose my mobility, and then to be able to participate in the walk, was such a sweet experience,” Hamilton says, as her eyes well up with tears. “It’s up to people with MS to raise awareness and encourage others to join us in the quest to find a cure.”
Based on her positive experience at last year’s walk and her desire to raise awareness, Hamilton has decided to create her own team, named 100 Strong, for the 2008 Travelers Walk MS. “It starts with me,” says Hamilton. “From one seed comes many. Those of us battling MS need to take a stand; we are responsible to bring about a change.”
Hamilton’s team, 100 Strong, hopes to gain the support of 100 people who will raise a minimum of $100 each to participate in the walk at the ManchesterCommunity College site. Funds raised at events, such as the Travelers Walk MS, ensure ongoing scientific research to find a cure and provide for the continuation of vital programs and services offered by the chapter to Connecticut residents affected by MS. “Due to my battle with multiple sclerosis, I appreciate what it is like to lose certain things; it has defined what is sacred in my life,” says Hamilton. “Yet, at the same time through tenacity and curiosity, I am able to do things I didn’t think I could.”
Her lifestyle has changed drastically, but her motivation to live each day to its fullest has not. Hamilton hopes it might only be a matter of time before she gets back into the saddle, and has applied for the horseback-riding program at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding in Old Lyme.
In 2007 the walk event raised more than $1.1 million. The chapter hopes to raise more than $1.5 million this year. The 2008 Travelers Walk MS will take place at 11 sites statewide on Sunday, May 4: Cheshire, Clinton, Enfield, Litchfield, Manchester, New London, Norwalk, Simsbury, West Hartford, West Haven and Woodstock.
The Travelers Walk MS will also take place at the University of Connecticut, Storrs Campus Sunday, April 13. Lunch at all sites is provided compliments of Subway and Coca-Cola. Registration begins at , and participants step out at Participants can choose to walk either a 2.5-mile route or a 5-mile route.
To learn more about the Travelers Walk MS or to pre-register, please visit www.ctfightsMS.org.