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Kamloops family impacted by ALS diagnosis keeping humour and positivity at the forefront

Published in CFJC Today June 18, 2021, written by Dylana Kneeshaw

KAMLOOPS — Last spring, Ross Duncan was playing a round of golf when he noticed his right arm was feeling off. Over the summer the weakness in his right arm grew, and after testing in the fall with neurologists, an ALS diagnosis was confirmed in January of 2021.

“We just try to approach each day and do as much as we can, and try to live a normal life.” Duncan tells CFJC Today. “(My wife) Joanne and I both have a pretty good sense of humour so we try to keep each other on our toes with humour.”

Ross no longer golfs or rides his cherished Ducati motorcycle, and walking isn’t as easy as it once was. But humour is one thing that hasn’t been impacted by ALS symptoms.

“Joanne is a much more eloquent speaker,” he starts, before Joanne interjects, “It’s because I talk all the time!”

Since Ross was diagnosed, Joanne says their friends and family have been there from Day One. Meals are regularly dropped off, the lawn gets mowed, and help is offered for any other tasks around the house. While some friends may not know how to handle the news or how to act as comfortably as before, Joanne says no one has shied away.

“It’s frightening for us. It’s hard for people to see us in this situation, but we are becoming okay with it,” she says. “I want people to know it’s okay. It’s okay to say, ‘Oh walking a little you know… you’re struggling today!” It’s okay to say that because it’s all in humour. We know it and we appreciate humour. Just treat us normally like you would anybody.”

Since the diagnosis, the Duncans have connected with other families through the local ALS support group, and spent more time with friends and family. Through the experience, Ross says he’s been shown how much people care.

“Learn to accept it if people offer you help with different things,” he says. “Whether it’s emotional support or whether it’s physical help. Don’t be afraid to take it, don’t be too proud to accept people’s offers of help.”

Ross and Joanne have spent nearly 40 years together and are well aware of what challenges lie ahead in the months to come. But the pair say they’re choosing to fill those days with positive moments.

“We just go with it,” says Joanne. “It’s our reality now, and the world is just a little more special to us now than it used to be.”

Saturday (June 19), walkers will take to the streets for a virtual version of the 2021 Walk to End ALS. Proceeds will go towards the ALS Society of BC for programs, services and equipment at no cost for ALS patients and their families.

Ross will need a cane for this year’s walk but is particularly eager to raise money for the ALS Society. Recently, the province pledged $2 million for the Society’s latest undertaking, Project Hope. This will establish a permanent ALS research professorship at UBC with the goal of increasing patient access to clinical trials.

“I’d love to participate in things like that if it’s going to help somebody else,” says Ross, though he acknowledges by the time treatments are curated it may be years from now. “In this case it’s not about me. It’s about people in the future.”

The Duncans say any caring act is appreciated when it comes to ALS — whether it’s financial support for research, emotional support for a loved one or simply maintaining a friendship.

To donate to this year’s walk, or learn more about the ALS Society of BC, click here.

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