Diana Matheson to travel to Poland for experimental MS treatment
When a storm destroyed the lattice in Diana Matheson's East Vancouver garden, the art therapist went to a home renovation box store to buy a replacement As she walked down the aisle, a ladder fell and hit her on the head. The impact knocked her out cold. Her life would never be the same. Her story illuminates the fragility of the human body, the strength of the human spirit, and how even in a world-class health care system, money can sometimes make the difference between getting, or not getting, a desired treatment.
"It was one of those freak accidents that just happen," Matheson said in an interview this week, nearly 12 years after the accident first caused brain damage, and perhaps catalyzed the chain of reactions in her system that have left her unable to walk. The MS diagnosis was 6 months after she sustained brain injuries in the accident. Some neurologists said brain injuries can cause MS; others disagreed. Whatever the case, at after 6 months, the doctors had bad news. Through a CAT-scan they had discovered that Matheson had multiple sclerosis. "It was a complete shock," she said. "I was 42-years-old."
Her son and daughter were nine and 17 respectively when they learned their mother had a degenerative disease and Matheson, who has lived in her home near Commercial Drive for eighteen years, was working with young abuse victims helping them make sense of their lives by making art.
"I found it fairly interesting that I was able to have rapport with kids and that they would entrust me with their stories. We could talk about these really difficult things, and then through that look at what they could do in their lives," she said.
Matheson loved her work, but now difficult things were happening to her. This work was one of many things she was going to have to let go of as her condition deteriorated. "My vision was changed. I went to an optomologist and a neuro-optomologist and went back to the neurologist. 'Our goal is to keep you as independent as long as possible,' he said. I was devastated."
Matheson went through all the available drug therapies available to treat the symptoms of MS. As of yet, there is no known cure for the disease.
"There are four options, all self-injecting drugs, and I made the decision to go on one, an interferon-based drug. They're disease modifying drugs. They slow down the progression of your MS and are effective in 30 to 33 percent of people. Some have grave side effects."
A longtime community activist known for her generosity and artistic talents, Matheson tried to help others with the disease. "I got active for a few years in the MS world because of my background in doing groups. I set up a support group in the West End and then I set one up in East Vancouver and I got involved in writing for the Lower Mainland newsletter," she said.
She knew first-hand exactly how people with MS felt.
"With people with MS, you're constantly dealing with loss or potential loss within your own body. You would be doing something and it would strike you that you might not be able to do this in a year or two. I would go to bed and the last thing on my mind would be, my God, I hope I'm going to wake up okay. It's a really difficult way to live.
"You're not really involved in the world. You're always listening to and worried about what's happening. I have a good imagination and it was an insane way to try and to live. The best I could do was to get distracted by doing things that were useful."
Kris Klaasen, principal and founder of Working Design, and a friend of Matheson for 35 years, admired her ability to navigate the illness without being defeated by it.
"Her natural inclinations, combined with her training as an art therapist for children who witness abuse, have informed a frequently tender and tenacious reply to a most unreasonable demand," Klassen said.