That’s the approach Glenn Harwood chose when he was told he had ALS in 1994, and it continues to serve him well today, more than 10 years after he first experienced ALS symptoms. And it’s the approach he shares at every opportunity with people who have ALS, their caregivers and health care providers.
Harwood’s upbeat, resilient attitude toward life represents the feelings of many people with ALS, which is why he was chosen to write the introduction to MDA’s newly revised and expanded booklet, "Facts About Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis."
The booklet is one of 15 introductory "Facts About…" MDA booklets about the individual neuromuscular diseases in the Association’s program. It’s available free online or at MDA offices.
Given "three to five years to live" eight years ago, Harwood, 62, of Crofton, Md., today leads "a full and rewarding life" with the help of modern technology and a loving family. A power wheelchair, voice synthesizer and e-mail enable him to continue working at the U.S. Small Business Administration, traveling and giving speeches to help educate others about life with his disease.
Harwood has "spoken" on local segments of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, and was featured on the national broadcast in 1999.
He recently was asked to address second-year neurology students at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and composed a speech describing his grueling year-and-a-half journey through medical tests before his ALS finally was diagnosed. Harwood hopes his speeches help doctors become more attuned to their patients as people.
"So you want to be neurologists, huh?" he electronically queried the doctors-in-training.
"You will need all your smarts and a lot of compassion and understanding of the human side of the diseases you treat. You, as future doctors, must be willing and able to assess a patient’s coping skills and map out a strategy for helping and dealing with them. …
"You doctors need to get out of your laboratories and offices and get to know the other side of your patients’ lives, the human side."
Harwood also informed the doctors that, "ALS is a community and family disease! My wife (Fran) carries the brunt of the load ... burnout and frustration are inevitable. I am knowledgeable of and thankful for all Fran does for me. Otherwise I would not be able to do what I do. I’m truly blessed."
Buoyed by his strong faith, Harwood believes part of his mission is to keep trying to bring a little laughter into the world. Renowned for his weekly e-mail joke dispatches, he says his motto is "Can’t Walk or Talk but Can Always Laugh."
"I prefer to be thankful for what I have, and go about being all that I can be," he told the Johns Hopkins students. "I’m frequently asked how I cope so well with a death sentence. The answer is in medicine, theology, philosophy and support mechanisms."