If you need a reminder on how to maintain perspective in life, or if you want to know how to face adversity with a mentality of unchecked strength, or if you simply want to soak up the positive vibes of a person for whom optimism and enthusiasm are the only paths to take, talk to Chesapeake senior Kara Blanchard for even just a moment or two.
“I’m just going to stay playing sports and chasing my dreams,” said Blanchard, a senior on the Chesapeake girls basketball team, her cheeks still flushed moments after a home win by the Lady Cougars on December 29. “I am committed right now to play lacrosse at LaSalle University, so I plan on playing all four years there, and then after that seeing where it goes.”
This was Blanchard’s response to a question about how she was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She smiled for every word of the conversation, standing tall and looking her company straight in the eye, meaning every word she said.
“I’m not going to let it stop me.”
Staying positive and determined is now Blanchard’s decided course of action after an initial period of uncertainty that led to her diagnosis.
“It started last season in lacrosse season, in my feet, it was numbness,” she said. “I couldn’t run, but I didn’t miss a game or practice—lacrosse is my number-one sport. I just played through it and ended up being MVP for our varsity team.”
Shortly before Christmas, she again experienced some health concerns.
“Recently, I had blurriness in my left eye. I went to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.”
Multiple sclerosis is a genetic disease that causes the slow deterioration of nervous system cells and can inhibit motor function and other abilities by disrupting the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body. MS affects 400,000 Americans and over 2 million people worldwide, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
There is no known cure for MS, but advances in treatment options in recent years have shown the ability to slow the disease’s progress and improve a patient’s long-term prognosis.
Based on the information she has received from her doctors, Blanchard believes a combination of medication and a healthy, active lifestyle will help her lead a normal life indefinitely.
“The doctors just said that it should be mild based on what they’re seeing right now,” she said.
That she is already an athlete is important; an active lifestyle is advised to help keep the disease’s symptoms and progress at bay.
“He said that my activity level is high, and that’s good, me staying active and playing sports. I just have to watch the foods I’m eating. I have to eat all organics, gluten-free, stay active and keep my feet moving, and I should be good.”
She said having the support of teammates, a comfort she has long known, was huge in the initial days of receiving the diagnosis.
“Being on the team has been awesome,” she said. “All the girls have been supporting me. I’ve come to practice early some days to lift weights and run the halls just to keep my legs moving. When I’m bored at home I’m running around the house just to keep moving, because I’m not going to let it stop me.”
Michelle Blanchard, Kara’s mom, said receiving the news was initially very terrifying and of course a blow to the family, but learning more about the disease has helped. Meanwhile, Kara has demonstrated a level of positive thinking about her diagnosis that the family could not have imagined.
“When you first hear the news, you really don’t know what is going to happen, and you have to stand up and learn everything you can about it,” said Michelle Blanchard. “Before this happened, I would have told you about what an amazing person Kara is, because she is truly a remarkable young lady. But I kind of thought of her as a young lady, and now I see her doing this, and she’s a fierce, powerful young woman. She’s amazingly strong and positive.”
Kara wasted little time taking action. She came to coach Maria Gray and asked to organize an event to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis, and the team quickly arranged to host an MS awareness night for their home game against Glen Burnie on January 17; attendees are encouraged to wear orange to promote learning about multiple sclerosis.
Coach Gray said Blanchard’s response to her diagnosis quickly became one of action, progress and positivity.
“She was understandably upset to begin with, but she has been amazing,” said Gray. “Her positive approach to everything. She wants to be a spokesperson for athletes affected by MS. So we’re proud of her, and we’ll support her in any way we can. She wanted to do this game on January 17 against Glen Burnie. Glen Burnie is all-in, so we hope to have a good night.”
As for Kara, she’s adamant nothing will deter her from living life as fully as she always has.
“Whatever God throws at me, I’m good,” she said, still smiling. “I’m just going to fight through it.”