Managing Multiple Sclerosis: One Canadian Boxing Champ's Story
Education and Advocacy When Lara was first crowned Canadian boxing champion in 2002, she had no way of knowing that her life’s toughest battle would take place out of the ring and that her opponent would be multiple sclerosis.
Growing up, Lara had always been an athlete, always searching for the next competitive sport to conquer. First, she wanted to be a bodybuilder, then it was kickboxing. But it didn’t take long for Lara to discover her true sporting passion: boxing. “I boxed from when I was 18 to 24 and I loved it,” says Lara, now 35. “I trained all the time, was always in the gym, and ran six times a week.”
An unexpected diagnosis
Although only diagnosed with MS in June 2009, Lara first experienced serious symptoms back in 2002, the year that she had her first MRI scan — the results of which were abnormal. But her MS wasn’t picked up, and over the intervening eight years Lara experienced sporadic yet intense symptoms.
In 2003, Lara wasn’t able to train for most of the year because of her symptoms. She went to the Canadian Boxing Championships anyway, feeling sick, and won, also receiving the award of Best Female Boxer of the Tournament. Lara had, effectively, become the Canadian boxing champion while suffering with MS.
“In those years, I would go through periods of a couple of months when I experienced numbness of my whole body,” says Lara. “I went down the road of it being an iron deficiency, and was getting iron injections at one point, but nothing was working.”
Lara went back to the neurologist where she had her first MRI and explained what was happening, expecting to hear that nothing was seriously wrong. It was then that she heard the life changing words, ‘I think you have multiple sclerosis.’ “I tried to continue my job in corporate communications but I was sleeping under my desk, crying all the time and sometimes I couldn’t move for a few days,” Lara says. “I had to leave work, I just couldn’t focus.”
"I was not able to type or hold things in my hands and I was having trouble thinking and remembering things.”
Finding the right treatment
After diagnosis, Lara’s symptoms worsened and her doctors prescribed a series of powerful medications. She took her first MS medication for about a year, but it had a lot of nasty, flu-like side effects and also caused Lara severe depression. She was prescribed something different but again, the new treatment was not successful.
“I got very bad anxiety and had a really bad relapse, which included the numbness again,” says Lara. "I was not able to type or hold things in my hands and I was having trouble thinking and remembering things.” A new MRI scan confirmed what Lara was feeling, the medications weren’t working.
The right to choose
It was then that Lara’s doctor gave her some treatment options and the freedom to choose her own medication. She decided to go on a clinical trial for a new drug (which has been studied in multiple sclerosis since 1999) with a unique approach to dosing. It was a tough decision but one that Lara thought she should take. Lara researched her treatment options and decided that the benefits of the new medication outweighed the risks or side effects, and that this treatment had the strongest potential to alter her MS prognosis.
In the first year of the trial for the new drug, Lara had one daily infusion over a period of five consecutive days and, in the second year, one daily infusion over three consecutive days. Since having the second year’s dose, Lara has not needed any further treatment to stop the progression of MS, although she does still need to treat some of the symptoms.
Lara’s condition is currently much better than she ever thought it could be. Her life has changed dramatically since being diagnosed with MS. “I can run again now, which is fantastic; however, if I ran every day I would trigger huge amounts of tension as well as fatigue and would do nothing else,” says Lara.
One thing’s for sure, though: Lara will continue to find the courage to fight her condition. “The way I fight is by taking opportunities when I get them,” she says, “like going into a clinical trial for a drug that sounds the most promising of my big-gun options, and by constantly adapting, trying different angles and accepting things I’d rather not.”