GLEN ELLYN – Theresa Meyer knew there was something wrong with her husband, Wendell. She was worried about his rapid weight loss – a whopping 65 pounds in just a few short months during spring 2016 – and with his history of heart disease, she immediately turned to his cardiologist for answers.
Even after the cardiologist told Theresa he “wasn’t too concerned,” she felt uneasy. Wendell, 69, continued to lose weight, and so began what seemed like a never-ending process of elimination.
The Glen Ellyn couple started reaching out to other doctors in an effort to understand and figure out Wendell’s physical changes, but when cancer was crossed off the list, they were at a loss.
Wendell, too, was getting tired of going to and from doctor’s appointments.
“That part was really frustrating because I could see him losing weight, but he just wouldn’t go back,” said Theresa, 63. “It was really frustrating.”
What landed Wendell back at the hospital later that same year was what Theresa believed to be a minor stroke, and from there, they finally found closure. After being referred to a neurologist and conducting a few more tests, Wendell was diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neuron disease most commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
While it has been two years since the diagnosis, Theresa and Wendell shared that their journey to discovering ALS is the reason why they have chosen to join the Les Turner ALS Foundation’s Walk for Life, which will be Sept. 29 at Soldier Field in Chicago. For the second year in a row, Theresa and Wendell, along with their three daughters, family and friends, will walk alongside thousands who share the mission of raising awareness for ALS and funds for research to find a cure.
“To be there with that many people with ALS and to have the support of other people with ALS, it’s very uplifting,” Theresa said.
Wendell, who shared his wife’s sentiments, shared further that the foundation’s support group has helped them learn more about the incurable disease. They have met other area families who are facing the same challenges as they are, and the group has offered them some comfort, strength and positivity.
“The support group is a huge opportunity to hear what other people are doing and what works, where the struggles are,” Wendell said. “People are pretty open.”
Beyond that, both Wendell and Theresa are grateful for their relatives and community of fellow churchmates who have rallied behind them and stepped in to tackle their “daily grind,” like cleaning out the garage or the gutters, mowing the lawn, cooking meals and more.
“That’s probably been the hardest, and that’s where the support comes in,” Theresa said.
Theresa still works full time as a pediatric nurse at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. While her hours are flexible and she does some work from home, her sister and brother-in-law, Susan and Phil Slagle, come in and care for Wendell when she is away.
These days have grown to be much harder for Wendell, Theresa said. Wendell has lost almost all function in his right hand, meaning he needs assistance when eating or writing.
While ALS has not affected his speech or swallowing, it has impacted his breathing, where he has become dependent on receiving respiratory support, including a BIPAP machine when sleeping.
“It’s starting to affect his legs,” Theresa said. “He’s weak in the legs. It’s hard for him to walk a long distance.”
As challenges do arise, Theresa and Wendell keep on working through and managing them together without letting their spirits down. The two know ALS ultimately is a terminal disease, but they are not afraid to keep living, enjoying life and cherishing every moment.
“With a strategy, you just turn, and you face it,” Wendell said. “Much as people do with other diseases, you just take it on.”