One Step at a Time
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago, the owner of a Kentlands ballet studio won't let the disease rule her life
She continues to weather the twists and turns of her disease’s insidious course. The waves of fatigue, which she describes as “a killer.” The recurring numbness in her hands and legs. The intermittent spells of double vision. Even without active lesions, symptoms can occur. But she will not halt a lesson even as her legs begin to tingle with an oncoming bout of numbness. “Muscle memory,” she says. “I still do my turns. I still do it all.”
There are days, though, when she has to summon the strength just to get out of bed.
“Like today,” MacDonald says over an iced tea at the Panera one spring afternoon. “I woke up feeling like I had been hit by a truck. How do I get through the day? I power through.”
Her double vision hasn’t completely disappeared. It intrudes from time to time like an unwanted guest, usually after a long day of dance classes and recitals. She finds ice baths to be therapeutic.
She also drinks a lot of caffeinated beverages and water, takes nutrients and follows a diet developed by a physician who used it to treat her own MS. Like a paleo diet, it eliminates processed food and emphasizes green leafy vegetables, fish and berries—also chicken livers, which MacDonald despises but often eats for breakfast. “They really are an awesome brain food,” she says.
Bingham, who works in social media marketing, is her cook, and “my saving grace, my cheerleader,” she says. Bingham says he and MacDonald, who married as planned in 2017, have adjusted to the ways MS has affected their lives, from the simple things they can control, like diet and making sure she stays out of the sun because of the heat, to its more unpredictable and taxing consequences. “Hands down the most resilient, mentally tough person I’ve ever come across in my life,” Bingham, 31, says of his wife.
Danielle Wateridge, an older sister, says MacDonald’s resilience comes from their mother. Joyce MacDonald was pregnant while attending law school. Later, running a household with four children, she also took care of her aging parents.
Hope MacDonald describes herself as “not a woe-is-me kind of girl,” but that’s not to say she doesn’t ever get low and wonder about her fate.
“She breaks down from time to time when she just can’t brave the battle any longer,” Bingham says. “It will be a few hours, at most, often at the end of a really hard day, where she’ll let out all the bottled emotion and frustration, and then she’ll pick herself up and we’ll keep waging war.”
At Panera, between dance classes, MacDonald is wearing jeans over her long-sleeved black leotard. Her blond hair is tied in a ponytail that falls to the middle of her back. On the table is a bottle of water and a notebook containing her calendar, chock full of meetings, dance lessons, doctor’s appointments and an upcoming “Tutu Walk” to raise money for MS. “Tons of tutus!” MacDonald says with a laugh.
Now 30, she has started doing motivational speaking and engaging in charity work for MS and other causes. Her dance studio has become a springboard for books, dolls and a clothing line, all centered around empowering young girls.
She has no intention of letting MS stop her from starting a family; pregnancy can actually reduce the number of relapses, experts say. She looks forward to spending Saturdays on the sidelines with other parents, cheering on her kids and serving orange slices to the players at halftime.
“I want to have a year without being in the hospital before I even think about taking that on,” MacDonald says. “…I am such a soccer mom in my soul.”
David Goldstein is a former political and investigative reporter in Washington, D.C., for McClatchy Newspapers and The Kansas City Star.