Life with MS

If You’re Going to Use a Cane, Use a Cane!

By Ann Pietrangelo

You don’t think much about walking. You just do it. You put one foot in front of the other and go from here to there without a thought – until you can no longer do that without a great deal of effort.

I was in my early forties when walking suddenly became a problem. That whole “one foot in front of the other” thing wasn’t so easy anymore. About six months later, I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.

A lot of things contributed to my inability to get across the room. I couldn’t feel my legs very well, except feeling they were so heavy. My feet felt as though I was walking barefoot over broken glass. And balance was definitely a problem.

But I knew how fortunate I was to be able to walk at all, and I didn’t want to squander that good fortune. My husband, Jim, bought me a metal cane to see if that would help, and it did. But I wasn’t too keen on taking it public. So began my online search for a practical and suitable cane. Being the fade-into-the-wallpaper type, I frantically searched for a fade-into-the-wallpaper cane. Something inconspicuous. Something no one would notice. Preferably, something invisible.

Jim caught me in the act and looked at me as though I’d lost my mind. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “If you’re going to use a cane, then use a cane!” He wasn’t the least bit embarrassed that his wife needed a cane, so why should I be?

The result was a bright red cane with a multicolored paisley pattern. That cane saw me through some very trying times. It also got me a lot of attention, some funny looks, some welcome compliments, and some not-so-welcome lecturing. I got a lot of unsolicited advice about why I shouldn't use a cane at all:

“It’ll make you dependent.”

“You won't be able to get along without it ever again! Learn to walk without it!”

“You’re too young!”

Well, that turned out to be bogus advice. The cane didn’t make me dependent. In fact, it helps me retain my independence during relapses. It gives me the confidence to run my own errands and walk without bumping into walls, or other people. When my relapses subside, I’m thrilled to put the cane away and strike out on my own again.

I have quite the cane collection these days, even though my MS has been fairly tame for the last several years. My point is this: If you need to use a cane, or any other assistive device, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, no matter what your age. It’s not about giving in to MS. It’s about taking charge of MS!
Ann Pietrangelo is an MSF Ambassador. She’s also a freelance writer and the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis” and “Catch That Look: Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.” She and her husband, Jim, live in Williamsburg, Virginia. Visit and follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo.