One Plymouth mom won’t let her disease define her
By Kristen Miller
Living with a debilitating disease certainly has its challenges, however, Beth Kantor of Plymouth is proving she won’t let it define her.
In 2007, Kantor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.
Kantor has been dealing with symptoms of the disease since 2004, visiting a variety of specialty doctors, all of whom couldn’t find the cause.
One of the major symptoms was fatigue.
“Every mother of four is fatigued,” she said.
But this was different.
“There were no words for how I felt,” Kantor said. “I had no energy to even roll over in bed to get a sip of water.”
Along with the overwhelming fatigue, Kantor began to have pain she compared to “stepping on a LEGO in the middle of the night times 100.” And, as a mother of four children ages 10-19, Kantor knows what stepping on a LEGO feels like.
Fatigue and memory problems are also common, as well as trouble with movement.
“Tremors or falling isn’t uncommon,” she said.
Three neurologists later, “I was lucky enough to find one of the best doctors,” Dr. Jonathan Calkwood at the Shapiro Center for Multiple Sclerosis in Golden Valley.
Not only was Calkwood the first to find the lesions on Kantor’s MRI scans, “he found my recipe for MS,” she said.
Every diagnosis is different, Kantor said, therefore, the medication to treat it also differs.
She has been on her current medication since 2013 and hasn’t had a relapse, meaning she hasn’t had any new or active lesions. While the medication has side effects, she is carefully monitored by her doctor.
Although she is doing much better with the mediation, Kantor still faces daily challenges, comparing her normal day to the worst flu she ever had before MS.
“I just had to change the way I think of things,” she said, noting after the interview she would need to go home and sleep for a couple of hours. “And that’s OK, because you just have to live life,” she said.
Formerly a nurse clinician at the University of Minnesota Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Center, Kantor is still unable to work full time.
“I couldn’t physically keep up with the job,” Kantor said, and had to leave in 2004.
“Talk about perspective,” Kantor said, describing it as “hell on earth” as children and families go through the transplant process. “My kids are healthy, and MS is not that bad,” she said.
She does volunteer as much as her body allows, specifically at Can Do Canines in New Hope (she also has a service dog), the MS Society, and at Robbinsdale Area Schools, where her four children attend school.
“It’s be an optimist or die, because you’re not going to live an actual life if you don’t change your perspective on what a productive life is,” Kantor said. “I can give back to this community. I can give to my children. Basically, I can be influential in this world, but like a lot of people, my dreams needed to shift, so I needed to shift with it.”
“No one plans on becoming disabled,” she said. “We’re the biggest minority population, and we take everyone,” regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.”
Having a medical disability also comes with a level of discrimination from those who don’t know she has MS.
For example, if Kantor parks in a designated handicapped spot, she gets looks from other people.
“I may look able-bodied … but the small amount of energy I have, I need to be able to grocery shop with and not have to walk from the back of the parking lot,” she said.
“Don’t judge,” Kantor offered. “You don’t know what someone’s physical capabilities.”
There are other obstacles, such as not having accessible parking or a sidewalk/entrance ramp if she needs to use her scooter.
Handicapped bathroom stalls can be also be problem. “That’s not the ‘I need extra room’ stall,” she said.
Despite the challenges that arise, Kantor appreciates the support she has received.
“I love this community,” she said, noting how kind and generous people can be.
As a volunteer with the MS Society, Kantor had wanted to participate in MuckFest MS, an annual mud run that raises money and awareness for multiple sclerosis, but never thought she could due to her fatigue.
With her daughter motivating her, along with “sheer optimism and blind willpower,” Kantor crossed the finish line Aug. 19, with some help along the way. “In every picture, I’m grinning ear to ear,” she said. “I loved it.”
For her, “MS is not a death sentence,” she said.
“It doesn’t have me. It’s just my thing,” she said. “Everyone has something in their life that they work around, and this is just my thing that I work around. It’s not my existence.”
fw31nwMSMuckFest2: Beth Kantor grins “from ear to ear” after accomplishing the MuckFest MS mud run Aug. 19. (Submitted photo)