Central Michigan University alumna Jennifer Digmann and her husband, Dan, currently a CMU graduate student, are putting their stamp on the world as advocates for themselves and others fighting multiple sclerosis. They were recently asked to be one of 12 couples nationwide featured in "A Dose of Devotion: How Couples Living with Multiple Sclerosis Keep Their Love Strong," by Ronda Giangreco and Jeanne Lassard, two women who suffer from MS themselves.
Jennifer and Dan each have MS and have taken on the disease for more than 30 combined years. They are the only couple featured in the book where both spouses have the disease.
"Jeanne and I wrote the book with the goal of making an impact on the sobering statistic that 70 percent of marriages end after a diagnosis of MS," Ronda said. "It serves as a blueprint for how all relationships can thrive in the face of adversity."
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, more than 500,000 people nationwide — including 19,000 in Michigan — have been diagnosed with MS, a chronic, unpredictable disease of the central nervous system, in which the immune system incorrectly attacks healthy tissue that surrounds nerve fibers. There is currently no known cure.
Dan was diagnosed with MS in 2000; Jennifer was diagnosed in 1997. He has the relapsing-remitting form of the disease. Hers is a more advanced form called secondary-progressive, and she can no longer walk.
Jennifer has a master's degree in humanities from CMU; Dan will receive his in May.
"Jennifer and I started our programs together, and she got her degree before I did," Dan said. "We went out with some friends before Jennifer graduated, and someone asked me when I was going to finish my degree. Jennifer turned to me and said 'you've been supportive of me all this time, but now it's your turn.' I didn't want to be a quitter."
Jennifer specialized in studying disability theory as part of her graduate program and didn't let MS interfere with her lifelong desire to earn a graduate degree.
"I'm not very strong with my left hand, and I'm only able to type with my right hand so I had to learn how to use voice-to-text technology, which was a challenge, when I needed to write a paper," said Jennifer, M.A. '13. "I also would have flare-ups as part of my MS symptoms, but the staff and the student disability services office at CMU were very accommodating."
MS causes a variety of symptoms including blurred vision, extreme fatigue, difficulty remembering and concentrating, numbness, paralysis, slurred speech, tremors, and more.
"I was diagnosed with the disease six months after receiving my bachelor's degree and I lost my ability to walk five years later," Jennifer said. "I thought graduate school was never going to happen, but Central made it possible. With MS as awful as it is, I was still able to achieve my goal."
While pursuing graduate school, Dan and Jennifer wrote a book, "Despite MS, to Spite MS." The collection of short essays showcases their strength, humor and love and provides inspiration and hope to others faced with the challenges of living with MS.
"People need to be aware that this is not a life sentence, and MS is not a terminal illness," Dan said. "Life goes on; you can make it happen, and you can make it work. The disease is unpredictable but you still can live an incredible life if you find a way to make it your own."
The Digmanns will speak at CMU as part of MS Awareness Month at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 17, in the Bovee University Center Rotunda. Their talk, "Achieving in Spite of Adversity," is free and open to the public.
Joined each year by family and friends to form Team MonsterS, Dan and Jennifer have raised more than $65,000 in the past 12 years through one of Michigan's
Walk MS events and are consistently among the chapter's top 100 fundraising teams. They lead an MS support group in mid-Michigan and are active in promoting MS awareness events and campaigns through their
Twitter feed and
Each year, the Digmanns also participate in the
Stomp Out MS 5K Run and Walk with Color in Mount Pleasant hosted by CMU's physical therapy student organization. This year's race will take place April 11, and all proceeds will benefit the NMSS Michigan chapter.
To inquire about booking the Digmanns for a speaking engagement,
send them an email.