San Antonio is filled with unsung heroes. Each and every day they go about their business making this city a better place. They do it with no expectation of praise, but act simply out of love.
Currently, a native San Antonian and local unsung hero, Candice Valenta, is in the running for a “Fearless Caregiver” award. Her motivation is not money or recognition, but awareness for Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), the disease her mother has been fighting since 2009.
In March, KENS5 “Great Day SA” profiled another local suffering from MSA. The interview with Sharon and Eric Sutton provided just a small introduction to MSA, but it allowed viewers to see the devastating effects this disease can have in just a few years. Sadly, Eric Sutton passed away as a result of MSA in November.
Candice’s mother, Margie Valenta, was diagnosed in 2009 and it still fighting MSA today. As they fight together to batter her disease, they also fight for MSA awareness. On MSA Day, Oct. 3, 2013, Candice organized with her family a one-mile walk around Wonderland of the Americas. All dressed in purple, family and friends walked united in their fight against MSA. The hope is to make this an annual event. To learn more about MSA, visit www.multiple-system-atrophy.org or www.MSAawareness.org.
Below is her entry essay. Her words speak for themselves as she relates her story. If you would like to support Candice, please click here to vote by Friday Dec. 13.
Don’t Mess With Us – We’re Fighting MSA
By Candice Valenta
Suddenly my world changed – my mom was diagnosed with a terminal disease that was unknown to many physicians. Fearlessly, I stood with her, not only as daughter, but as advocate, cheerleader, and caregiver. While my mom fights her disease, I fight by her side making sure she has the care she needs.
Six months ago, my father and I sought advice from my mother’s neurologist. She had already been diagnosed with Multiple Systems Atrophy (MSA) in 2009, but her symptoms were getting worse. She began passing out regularly and took more than 20 minutes to regain consciousness. He immediately suggested having her assessed for hospice to help support our family.
When hospice arrived and explained their services, we learned there was no assessment; the referral was all that was needed. In addition, with this service, the hospice neurologist (who had no prior experience with MSA or anything similar) would manage my mother’s condition. Immediately, we knew this wasn’t right. It wasn’t time for palliative care. It was time for action. Her doctor might have been ready to give up. We weren’t.
That day I went from caregiver to fearless caregiver. I called everywhere until we found a neurologist who was experienced in MSA and willing to fight for my mother. This new physician confirmed our own convictions: My mom was NOT in need of hospice, and there were new medications and treatments to try! Best of all, his bedside manner was uplifting and motivational. He became my mother’s cheerleader and support.
Despite his efforts, my mother’s motor coordination continued to degrade and I had to admit to desperately needing help. We called on our family. Eagerly, they stepped up and learned how to move her safely, administer her medication regime, and more. Having had the courage to ask for help means I now have the time to mentally recharge my batteries. We support each other and share beautiful moments with her. And most importantly, my mother enjoys spending time with her family.
My mother is my hero. Every day she fights MSA: a rare neurological disorder with no cure. I watch as it slowly, but surely, impairs her body’s autonomic functions, including blood pressure and digestion. She also suffers from Parkinsonian symptoms, such as muscle rigidity and poor balance. As I watch her fight, I am driven to stay strong and healthy. I know that caring for my own physical and mental strength is what allows me to be an effective caregiver.
Some days are hard. Other days are even harder. I want to cry because my best friend, my mother, is suffering greatly. I want to explode because there is nothing I can do to make this go away. When I am physically and mentally exhausted I count my blessings: my Dad, my rock; my Mom, with her contagious smile; and my family, that always provides a much needed dose of laughter. They give me strength.
My Mom’s a fearless fighter. I am a fearless caregiver. Don’t mess with us.
Erica Salinas is a native San Antonian who recently moved back to the AWESOME city of San Antonio. Erica’s passion for financial inclusion and its role in reducing poverty has driven her to wander far and wide, visiting 6 of 7 continents. Locally, she is an Awesome SA trustee and enjoys investing in the San Antonio community to see it grow and prosper.
Candice Valenta is a personal trainer who works at Mind Body Soul in Alamo Heights.