Jessica Shipman (left) and Marilyn Hinnant (right) worked to raise MS awareness at an event in Roanoke last year.

By Chelsea Gilman

Susan Cross and Marilyn Hinnant are planning two local events to raise money for — and change misconceptions about — multiple sclerosis, a neurological disorder that both women have.

The first Walk MS event in Lexington will be held April 6. Cross said that walks like these began in the 1980s and they’re a common way to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Usually, though, walks are held in bigger cities such as  Roanoke and Charlottesville.

Recent fundraising success caused the development coordinator of the Walk MS Blue Ridge Chapter Anna Marie Bonanno to add Lexington as a walk site.

“It was really a dream come true for the team,” said Hinnant.

Cross and Hinnant will host a benefit concert March 8 to raise money for the  team that will be participating in the Blue Ridge Chapter MS walk.

The concert will begin at 7 p.m. at Washington and Lee University’s Pavilion, with food provided by Hogback Mountain BBQ. Local band Fatty Lumpkin and the Love Hogs will perform from 8 to 11 p.m.

The Mar's Miles MS benefit concert will be held next week at the W&L Pavilion.

Cross said there are a lot of people in Lexington, including herself, who live with MS. She said she felt isolated when she moved to the Rockbridge area in 2005, though, because she didn’t know anyone else.

Her isolation changed when she attended a fitness and nutritional event for people living with MS that was held at the local YMCA.

“It was really very comforting to see that I was not alone living with MS, even though everyone experiences the disease differently, said Cross. “Just knowing that others were going through it was comforting.”

Although the YMCA event helped Cross, Hinnant thinks there are still a large number of people in Lexington who aren’t aware of local resources.

Cross and Hinnant have already seen a great amount of support from community members. Hinnant attributes this to the strong relationships that are built within Lexington.

Both women hope that these two events will help people feel more comfortable speaking out about MS. Their ultimate goal is to establish support groups in Lexington and Rockbridge County.

Still, Cross and Hinnant think that there is a common misunderstanding about multiple sclerosis and how taxing the disease is – both physically and mentally.

Hinnant says that it’s common for people to not know that she has MS. Though she appreciates the compliment, she hopes that people understand that MS doesn’t have a common “look.”

According to the National MS Society, MS is two to three times more likely in women than men. Women are usually diagnosed with the disease between the ages of 20 and 50.

Cross remembers how difficult it was to raise her children in the months after her diagnosis.

“You feel so bad because you want to be a good mother, but you are just so tired some days,” said Cross.

Hinnant was forced to give up her career as an interior designer because of the cognitive and muscular problems caused by MS.

Hinnant explained the importance of having a strong support system.

“It’s a release that people need,” said Hinnant.

Cross agrees that the support is important, but also believes that coping with MS begins with a change in mindset.

“I’m lucky that I’m doing well and I need to show other people that you can do well. It takes some discipline,” said Cross. “You have to exercise, you have to stretch, and you have to have a good attitude.”

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