On the surface, 19-year old Lauren Knell appears to be like every other young college student. The Stanislaus State sophomore student juggles a full load of college courses, two part-time jobs and still manages to shine a bright smile at all who cross her path.
One distinguishing difference between Lauren and the mass majority of her peers, however, is her zest for knowledge relating to the topic of multiple sclerosis. By her own admission it is the topic of many of her school research papers and speeches. While she recognizes it as a subject that many students, not to mention people in general know very little about, it is one she has lived and learned about first hand.
“It’s just something that I am interested in and when I’m interested in something I like to read about it,” she said. “I am fascinated about it because of our experience.”
Lauren is not majoring in research medicine nor does she have an interest in becoming a doctor. She is currently working on her General studies, with a major in Communication/Public Relations. Her hopes are to graduate and advance on to a career in the field of Marketing or Event Planning. Her experience and interest in regards to MS lies with the love of her mother.
Lauren’s mother, Kim Knell, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 10 years ago this December. Her symptoms had begun in November of 1999. Lauren was nine years old at the time. The family received confirmation of Kim’s condition just days before Christmas.
“I was told on the 23rd of December,” Kim recalled. “I told the doctor, ‘Well at least it’s not cancer.’”
Ironically, now 10 years later this mother of two sits among cancer patients as she under goes chemotherapy treatment at Sutter Gould every three months to attack the progression of her disease. During this 18-month plan prescribed by her doctor, she will have a total of six chemo treatments.
As the two women discuss Kim’s prognosis and the details of her condition, Lauren’s knowledge of this disease becomes more apparent. In a sort of role reversal, it becomes evident that learning about this disease is a mission for Lauren. The words myelin and spinal cord flow as freely from her mouth as the more expected words shopping and studying, which suit her age.
She describes her mother’s condition as Secondary Progressive, explaining that there are four stages with MS and hers is the latter of the four.
Theirs, however, is not a story of doom, gloom and despair. To the contrary, it is a tale of hope, happiness and courage.
Kim Knell spent the first 17 years of her adult life working for Sears Roebuck Department Stores. At the age of 34 she stopped working out of the home to care for her two daughters, Katie and Lauren. Like most moms, she spent much of her time volunteering in her daughters’ classrooms and transporting them to and from their various activities.
In 1999 her journey with MS began, with a numbing feeling in her feet and what she termed a ‘shooting pain’ when she would put her head in the down position. After contacting her doctor she received an MRI and a spinal tap all in the same day. By the time she was given her diagnosis the numbing feeling was felt from the neck down.
After her initial diagnosis, she was quickly put on a shot treatment plan to prevent the progression of the disease. The shots were administered at home weekly and according to Kim the results came quickly.
“After like three months, I was fine,” she said of the early treatment. “Like normal.”
In late 2001, Kim’s husband Steve accepted a job with Oakdale Irrigation District and the family relocated from Southern California to Oakdale. It was during this time that Kim also stopped taking the shots. Kim describes this period two years post diagnosis as a time when she felt everything was okay and her symptoms appeared to have subsided.
“Some people get only one spell in a lifetime,” she said, acknowledging that she felt her condition may have gone dormant, as she continued with life as she always had.
By 2005 Kim began feeling what she described as a sharp pain in her right leg, which prompted her to resume the shot treatment. Over the course of the following two years, this young, active mother and wife began losing control of the muscles in her legs. Slowly she began the transition of walking with difficulty, to assistance with a walker and two years ago she began using a scooter.
In a day and age when one is accustomed to hearing teenage children grovel over the smallest of things, Lauren Knell is a breath of fresh air.
The Oakdale High School graduate admitted that watching her mother transition to the scooter was tough, but not because it impeded her social calendar.
“It was hard because it was such a gradual thing, over a year,” she said. “It happened right when I got my license.”
So at a time when many are still relying on their mother to run them here and there, Lauren and sister Katie, stepped up for their mom instead.
“I just had the normal responsibilities that I should learn anyway,” Lauren said of the transition, noting her household chores are responsibilities any teenager should be expected to do.
“I can get around my house,” Kim said of her mobility with the scooter. “I can get to the mailbox. I can chase Lauren.
“I have to watch myself though, once I almost tipped over,” she said, laughing. “We have fun don’t we Lauren?”
With a smile and a chuckle, Lauren responds positively to her mother. While there may be many things she understands about her mother’s condition, she too, likes to have fun.
Kim acknowledged that there are a number of things she misses about having independence. Cleaning her home, shopping on her own and just being able to get up and go without assistance immediately come to mind.
“I don’t think people understand because every person’s experience is different,” she said of MS.
The variance in the differences the family has been able to learn about first hand, as active members of the local support group The Karen Basi Wave of Hope Foundation-MS (aka Wave of Hope).
In 2007, Karen Basi of Basi Insurance, along with her husband Randy Basi, co-founded The Wave of Hope. Basi, herself, was diagnosed with MS in 2000. Several years after living with the disease, she and her husband began their efforts in establishing the support group.
Community members like Kim and her family are grateful that they did.
“As soon as I saw the article in the paper, I called right away,” Kim said. “It’s fun to go to the meetings and talk to people with the same disease.”
Kim beamed as she recounted stories of hope she has gained from her friendships at the Wave of Hope. Patients who were once told they would never walk again and now they do, with the help of a walker. These are the stories that keep her positive, hopeful and moving forward.
According to Kim she rides two miles everyday on her electric bike, keeping her muscles strong.
“I need to keep my muscles working, so they are ready when I walk again,” she said.
Until that day, the mother and daughter duo enjoy their time together and the memories they continue to create.
“You just learn to live with it,” Kim said of her journey with MS. “I’m a happy girl. I can’t be sad or depressed, I don’t have time for that.”
“I just want to make more people aware,” Lauren said of her own personal mission regarding MS. “Nobody really knows about it and it affects so many people. My friends have always been supportive. They want to understand what is going on with my mom, especially since I’m older.
“It’s just life,” Lauren added regarding her mother’s condition. “You have to count your blessings. I hope that she walks again and that her spirits never get down, because she’s kept them high so far.”
The Wave of Hope support group meets the last Wednesday of each month at 1491 East G St., Oakdale. The group meets from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Due to the Thanksgiving Holiday the group’s November meeting will be held this evening, Wednesday, Nov. 18.
By Lauren Knell
My mom is a soldier
but carries no gun.
She’s in a war for her life
which can not be won.
Her army numbers in thousands
but they’re mostly silent and tame.
It’s not that they’re cowards
it’s because they are ashamed.
Ashamed to stand out
as different and weak.
So they play the hiding game
where they feel safe and meek.
But that is not my mom
for sure it is not she.
She’s strong and funny and
continues to challenge me.
She gives me no rest
as she goes about her day.
Doing as much as possible
with no complaints to say.
My mom’s strength and courage
makes many strive to be like her.
Still wishing and hoping
that someday, someone will find that cure.
There will be no medals
at the end of my mom’s long fight.
Just fond memories and thoughts
which forever, for me, will shine bright.