Thirteen years ago, country music superstar Clay Walker had just finished his last show of a tour. His career was going really well and he was about to take two months off to relax a bit. It was perfect timing, because he wasn’t feeling so well. Although he was in good shape, he was experiencing double vision, had cramps in his right hand and his right leg felt like it was asleep. The scariest symptom – a facial spasm – hit him after the show and lasted for eight weeks all day, every day.
Clay didn’t think about his skyrocketing career – he only thought about his health and seeing his children grow up. He went to the doctor and after testing was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, known as MS. MS is a chronic, neurological disease that is thought to attack the healthy areas of the body. In MS, these attacks are aimed at the central nervous system. There’s no cure for MS. Clay talked to me about how he felt when he was diagnosed and how he used his diagnosis to create awareness.
At first I had thought that I had Muscular Dystrophy and I thought I was going to die. After the diagnosis, I was put on a heavy dose of steroids. My symptoms subsided and I prayed a lot during that time.
What did you think about during this time?
Going through this was a great lesson. It really made me think and become introspective. I was raised a Christian and I read the Book of Job every day for eight weeks. You’re taught something your whole life and then you go through something drastic and your faith is tested.
But you didn’t think about what this was going to do to your career?
When you get a diagnosis like this, you can care less about your job. When someone’s on their deathbed, they don’t say, ‘Well, I wish I spent more time at work,’ but it did make me appreciate my career so much more.
How did your fans handle it all?
I found out that fans really do care about the artist. My relationship with the fans was a lot different after that. They said prayers, sent notes – this was real.
Why go public with your condition?
Because hiding something would put too much pressure on me and I didn’t know what it was going to do to me or how it would affect me physically, so if symptoms showed up, I wanted to be able to explain it.
You’ve had MS for 13 years?
Yeah, and you wouldn’t know it right now. It’s been a combination of therapies – therapy does work and folks should know that. I still see people affected by the disease and I admit it does scare me sometimes. But I won’t let myself be there.
What changed you?
For a few months, I was in a cave because I didn’t know if I was going to die or be crippled, but I met this guy at Texas Stadium. He was the building manager, Bruce Hardy. He was walking up to me while I was on a golf cart getting ready to perform in front of 50,000 people in a giant concert. He says, “Man, you’re smiling in all your pics, but now you have a half-hearted smile. What’s wrong?” I told him he wouldn’t understand. He says, “What wouldn’t I understand, I have MS too. I don’t let it get me down, and you can’t let it get to you.” I went out there and performed.
How do you feel now?
I’ve been on therapy for eleven years without one exacerbation. I feel great. I have good and bad days and some days are better than others. Every success is about connecting the dots – connecting dots until we find a cure for this disease. We don’t even know what causes it, so we’re looking for doctors to become part of our team, Band Against MS. I’m hoping people read this article and get involved and help to give us insight. We want to find the code to crack it.
What can my readers do?
We want to hear good news. We want to hear from people who are coping with the disease and nominate someone for our “heros” page. We want to hear from people who are an inspiration in having MS and not letting it beat them. It’s mind body and soul and if someone conquered one of those parts, we want to hear about it.
Clay Walker established BAMS in February 2003, because he wanted to help others. More information about BAMS is available at www.bandagainstms.org
The five goals of BAMS currently include:
- To help provide hope for those living with MS;
- To educate those living with MS about the importance of working with a doctor to help manage MS;
- To encourage individuals living with MS to seek appropriate treatment;
- To fund research seeking a cure for the disease; and
- To fund programs providing assistance to people living with MS.
Anyone wishing to get involved with BAMS' goal to raise money for MS research can make a donation by logging on to the BAMS Web site noted above or by mailing a check or money order to Band Against MS, Inc., 54 Music Square East, Ste. 350, Nashville, TN 37203. Donations will be used to provide funding for programs that impact people living with Multiple Sclerosis, to fund research towards a cure or treatment, and/or to further our goals as stated above.