[Spotlight] Walking to help end Multiple Sclerosis
By: Heather Dukes
Think walking 500 miles is hard? Try walking 500 miles with a backpack full of rocks. Next year, a Winston-Salem woman is doing just that. Dr. Nichole Taylor has Multiple Sclerosis, and when she was diagnosed eight years ago, it changed her life. She was a busy mom with two young daughters, and she was an anesthesiologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (she has since become the assistant dean of student affairs at Wake Forest School of Medicine). The areas that had sclerosis or “scarring” in her brain were areas that control fine motor and coordination on the left side of her body. As an anesthesiologist, she said she relied on her coordination heavily.
“I lacked the precision, reliability, and predictability to safely care for patients in the operating room,” she wrote in an email. “It took me a while to accept this, but slowly I have built a very rewarding and fulfilling career.”
Taylor is going to walk the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage from France to Spain.
“I was compelled in 2017 to not put this journey off and start planning my own pilgrimage for 2019,” she wrote. “My main motivations for hiking the Camino are to raise awareness/money for MS. I will start my pilgrimage May 5, 2019, and walk for 35 days total.”
She is determined to turn what can be devastating into something positive, and for her, the Camino is symbolic. Her journey begins at St. Jean in the French Pyrenees Mountains, and she will travel 500 miles to Santiago with stones in her backpack.
“The stones represent the baggage we all hold onto throughout our lives,” Taylor wrote in an email.
Toward the end of the pilgrimage, there is the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross), where she will leave her own stone, as well as a beaded necklace that she made representing others with MS that couldn’t make the walk.
“It will not change the fact that I have MS,” she wrote, “but I feel it can change the disease for those in the future by raising awareness, promoting research for new medications and eventually a cure.”
Inspired by the theme of stones, her daughters wanted to participate too.They created “Finish MS” movement on Facebook, where they paint rocks with inspirational messages, art and spread them throughout the community. Taylor also brings stones with her on all her training hikes all around North Carolina to prepare for the Camino. The movement has grown significantly in just two months with painted rocks being distributed in 12 states and two countries.
“A coworker brought a stone to Windsor Castle in England,” Taylor wrote. “One of the stones went on a cruise and was left at St. Maarten.”
Taylor loves that this activity is bringing people together, spreading awareness and inspiring others.
“Right now I will reflect on the adventure and hope to get us closer to finishing MS forever.”
Individuals who want to donate to her campaign will receive a box of uniquely painted rocks to spread in their communities.