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Fighting back with fundraising

Leslie Bruns of Minneapolis, behind, uses her daughter’s baby stroller to push her friend Jeanne Lassard of Poplar during the May 5, 2013, MS Walk in Duluth. Lassard raised nearly $12,000 through the walk and other events with the help of her sisters and friends. (Submitted photo)

Three sisters are fighting back against multiple sclerosis, one step and one song at a time.

For the second year, the FUMS team is rallying around Jeanne Lassard to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Last year, more than 70 people walked beside the Poplar woman during the Duluth MS Walk. With her sisters, Lassard raised nearly $12,000 for the cause.

“All this is outside my comfort zone,” Lassard said. “Asking people for help makes me nauseous.” But it gives her a sense of purpose as she deals with an unpredictable disease. With no way to know how MS will progress, or even how she’ll feel each morning, the fundraising combats a feeling of helplessness.

“There’s so much you can’t do anything about,” she said. “This is something tangible I can do that I know will help in some way.”

Setting up a fundraising team last year was Lassard’s first public acknowledgement of her disease. She was, said her sister Kimberly Adams, “coming out of the MS closet.”

The response was overwhelming with friends she hadn’t seen for years reaching out to help. Seeing them team up to walk in the freezing cold was heart-warming to the family.

“It brings out the best in people — empathy, love,” Lassard said.

“Warm fuzzies,” said her older sister, Leah Bangs of Saginaw.

This year, they’re adding another event to their fundraising efforts. The three sisters will host a “Karaoke for a Cure” event beginning at 8 p.m. April 12 at Keyport Lounge.

“Every time we go out singing karaoke, it’s fun,” Lassard said.

“I can’t remember a time with Kimberly and Jeanne when we didn’t end up laughing,” Bangs said.

With a handful of change, anyone can join the fun. It costs $2 to sing, $3 to make someone else sing a song and $5 to pass if you’re picked to sing.

“Leave your self-consciousness at the door,” Bangs said.

Two and a half years ago, Lassard was diagnosed with MS. Her right leg started tingling. Within two days, numbness spread to her arm and torso.

“I really, honestly thought it was a pinched nerve,” she said. She was diagnosed with MS in the emergency room after a lumbar puncture showed lesions on her spine. With no history of the disease in the family, it was a shock. At age 34, Lassard’s entire life changed.

MS occurs when the immune system attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms vary and disease progression is unpredictable. There is no cure. Lassard has one lesion in her brain that causes her to vomit spontaneously. Another causes muscles in her torso to constrict in a painful “hug.” It affects her short-term memory, and she had to give up a job she loved. Stress, like heat, exacerbates MS. With three teens and two dogs at home, she decided to concentrate her efforts there.

“Someone else can do my job,” Lassard said. “No one else can be Noah’s mom; no one else can be Lance’s partner.”

In February, she lost feeling in her limbs and was hospitalized. When she got home, Lassard couldn’t do a single push-up. She fought to regain her strength, becoming a master at sneaking exercises into daily routines.

Lassard faces MS with laughter. Every Monday on Facebook, she posts a humorous look at weekend. She can point out which foods taste best on their way back up (ice cream) and which are the worst (coleslaw).

“I really, truly believe you have to be able to laugh, make jokes about brain lesions,” Lassard said. The things she shares also encourage awareness about MS, her sisters said.

Seeing a family member in misery, struggling with a disease is awful, Adams said. In 2004, the sisters lost their mother to cancer.

“Something like that gives you a perspective and awareness of how dear the people close to you are,” said Adams, of Duluth.

And it gives meaning to those cliché, cheesy sayings like “Live your life like there’s no tomorrow,” Lassard said.

Bangs said her protective instincts kicked in the moment she heard her sister had MS. She wanted to make it better, to take it away, but she couldn’t. Instead, the sisters hope to raise awareness of MS and fund research into the disease.

For more information on the Duluth MS Walk, which begins at 10 a.m. May 4 at the Hampton Inn in Canal Park, go to www.myMSwalkorg. Everyone is welcome to stop by the “Karaoke for a Cure” April 12, as well. People can also send donations to Jeanne Lassard, c/o General Delivery, Poplar WI 54864