Anne and Robert’s home is bright and welcoming, even on a chilly Monday morning. What is most striking about them is their openness and resilience. Their honesty is both refreshing and humbling.
Robert very clearly recalls the phone call he shared with his best friend in 1999. “He called me up, and he was like ‘I got a girl for you, she's got MS like you, it could be interesting. My best friend had a girlfriend, and her sister was Anne's neighbour.”
Robert phoned Anne, and the two of them immediately began comparing notes. They shared their experiences with MS, their backgrounds, and what they had been through. It was cathartic.
Anne and Robert were diagnosed with MS in 1986, when they were both in their early 20s. MS is a disease that manifests itself differently depending on the type and person, and as Robert explains, his progressed much slower than Anne’s.
“She was remitting-relapsing, and is now secondary-progressive. I’ve always been primary-progressive,” he says. (See sidebar, "Different types of Multiple Sclerosis", on page 4.)
The couple recall their first date at a restaurant, where they met face-to-face. The connection between the two of them was instantaneous.
“There was no hiding of our problem, which is a reflex when you meet someone for the first time. It's not something you want to talk about. But for both of us, it was easy to relate,” Robert explains.
“We just understood each other,” Anne adds.
While Anne and Robert had a lot in common, they still had their own respective lives. Anne had a child from a previous marriage and a dedication to her career at the time as a chartered accountant. Her clientele was based in her area as she worked from home. The two spoke frequently, keeping each other company.
“It was a bit complicated because she was living in Terrebonne. She lived there for 15 years, and she was scared of the city,” Robert explains.
“Oh yes, Montreal was so scary!” Anne laughs.
With time, the connection drew them closer together, and in 2000 they were ready to make the next step and move in together in Montreal. Robert says that they were synchronised from the start.
“He's very patient!” Anne adds.
“And she’s not,” he jokes. “But really, we’re just always in a good mood together. There’s nothing that she does that drives me up the wall,” Robert says.
A “heavenly” match
“Anne shakes a lot; she has minimal use of her hands. But she's very strong in the lower torso. I don't shake, but I am weak in the legs. So this is where the balance kicks in,” Robert explains.
Anne agrees that their relationship is a very balanced when it comes to helping each other with everyday tasks. Anne no longer works, and Robert works part-time. They are both very appreciative of their helper, Martine, who is very much a part of their family.
The couple, who are both followed by Montreal Neurological Hospital — The Neuro— Neurologist Dr. Jack Antel, take their appointments together. Robert calls himself Anne’s “walker,”
because she uses Robert’s wheelchair for support when the two of them go in for check-ups. They say that it’s quite the sight.
“Many times when we go to the Neuro either a nurse or a doctor will say, ‘Wow! You really complement each other, a match made in heaven,’” Robert says, laughing at how cliché it sounds.
During their free time, the couple enjoy watching television and spending time in each other’s company. Weather conditions and mobility make it an issue to go out on date nights, but Anne and Robert take advantage of the opportunities they have, occasionally going to dinner with family.
“We’re very easy going. It’s calm, it’s smooth, and it’s just perfect for me,” Anne says of their day-to-day life.
“I've told myself a long time ago, the worst was behind us. It might sound weird for somebody who doesn’t have MS, but the quality of life is great. It’s all relative,” Robert explains.
Both Robert and Anne agree that a major contributing factor to their happiness is the companionship and unconditional love they are enveloped by each day. It’s the feeling of always having someone to talk to, openly and unfiltered, especially when living with a disease like MS. It can be emotionally, mentally, and physically draining, and being partners allows them to take on a different perspective when combatting the disease.
“If I’m being honest, when you live with a handicap, finding someone is like a casino shot. When you find someone I think you appreciate it even more,” Robert says. “The major thing we have in common is we truly and deeply understand each other.”
“And that's big,” Anne adds.