There’s one thing Multiple Sclerosis can’t take from John Driggers – his sense of humor.
For 17 years, Driggers has battled MS and has become the face of the disease in Culpeper County. Usually, that face has a smug grin and a quick quip to go along with it.
While the disease might be no laughing matter, it’s the only way that John knows how to take it on, even if others might not find it so funny.
Just ask him what the worst part of the disease is, and his wry sense of humor still shines through.
“The fatigue is the worst part for me,” John said. “There are a few symptoms that are too personal, I’m not going to let you put them in the paper. But the fatigue is the worst. You go to bed at night and the MS fairy comes in the middle of the night and there’s been progression. That little MS fairy only visits at night.”
The MS fairy. His wife Janet, raises an eyebrow at the phrase, but she knows. She knows that’s her husband’s way of coping with a disease that has taken much of his independence.
“I’m the only one who doesn’t get it, because I guess I’m the caregiver and I see it as serious,” Janet said.
John is quick with a crack about his disease and his children follow suit.
His daughter Jennifer and her two daughters live with him, and after a recent fall, her father’s sense of humor helped the two of them laugh after what could have been a serious situation.
“The last time he fell, his chair was on and he was getting up and he went toward the fireplace,” Janet said. “Jennifer came up and she has his wit, and said ‘it’s too early for you to be cremated, don’t get any ideas.’”
John smiles at the story, enjoying the fact his sick sense of humor will be carried on.
“That gets me through,” John said. “The wit is what gets me through. If I didn’t have it, life would be miserable for a lot of people.”
“His body is deteriorating, but his brain is sharp as a tack,” Janet said.
Diagnosed in August of 2000, John has battled with MS ever since. He has lost his ability to cook, to go out for a drive every day and the ability to play his beloved guitar.
“That was taken pretty quickly,” he said.
Now, he enjoys listening to his son Aubrey, a well-respected local musician, play with his multiple projects.
However, MS continues to take from him. Those dang fairies.
Fatigue is a real issue, one that he deals with on a daily basis.
“We’ll plan something for Friday, but by 8 in the morning he’ll be just ‘no,’” Janet said. “Morning used to be his better time. It’s not anymore.”
“I no longer wake up with a full tank of gas, I wake up with my low fuel light on,” John said.
One thing on his agenda that he’s always sure to make, however, is the annual MS Walk in Culpeper County, scheduled this year for April 1 with registration beginning at 9 a.m. at Culpeper Baptist Church. The walk is set for 10 a.m.
The irony that it’s on April Fool’s Day is not lost on John.
“My kind of day,” he said with a smirk.
Last year, the MS Walk raised more than $14,000 for research. This year, Janet’s team – the Carefree Cruisers – has raised almost $11,000 themselves and the walk is at just a little over $13,000. The couple has seen awareness raised in recent years, as more people have battled brain diseases.
“What I believe more and more people are finding people with brain illnesses,” John said. “I think people are becoming more aware that the brain is the least studied. If you get some of these studies going, you may find something that’s triggered in Alzheimer’s and it could help people that have MS.”
“A lot of these diseases mirror each other,” Janet said. “You might be looking for one thing and find something else because a lot of the symptoms are so similar.”
John hopes that research will help others that have secondary progressive MS like himself, as the medication has been more geared toward those with relapsing and remitting.
“They don’t know, the brain is a mystery,” John said. “With cancer, in some cases they know what has caused it. In some cases there are treatments for the cancer. You go back 20 years ago and if someone was given the bad news that they had breast cancer, that was it. But now with the advances they’ve made, it’s not a death sentence. In my opinion, I’m sure they’ve made advances with MS, but not near enough for those of us that have it.”
To help with research or to donate to the Driggers’ team, visit walkms.org, click on Culpeper County and then Carefree Cruisers.