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Illness gives man Unique Perception

Published Oct. 9, 2005

In November 1975, the world fell apart for Don Spencer. That's when he was diagnosed as suffering from the chronic, disabling disease multiple sclerosis.

"I was completely devastated" upon receiving the diagnosis, he admits.

But Spencer has summoned the strength to persevere against the odds, and today he is active in local government issues, particularly issues relating to people with special needs.

Spencer has told the story of his struggle in a recently published autobiography, A Unique Perception. The book jacket describes it as "a touching and rare glimpse into one man's experiences, will power and determination."

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system. It may result in speech defects, loss of muscular coordination, loss of eyesight and loss of memory.

While focusing mostly on his own life, Spencer also uses illustrations of how others have dealt with chronic, disabling illnesses. He said he hopes the lessons learned from these people will help readers learn to cope with their own ailments and to enjoy each day to its fullest.

Written for patients, families, friends and other caregivers, A Unique Perception stresses the necessity for a strong belief in God and in self while offering suggestions for coping with day-to-day living and helping others accept the disability.

For instance, chapter 15 deals with maintaining dignity in daily situations. Spencer touches on his own embarrassment when, while using crutches, he entered a crowded room, fell spread-eagle on the floor and needed to be helped to his feet.

"My first accident reduced my dignity to shreds," he writes. "I seriously considered staying home, out of sight of the general public."

Instead, Spencer suggests each individual evaluate his disability in terms such as physical functions, body strength and other aspects. Spencer also suggests re-evaluating clothing that is being worn for their safety. For instance, baggy pants, full sleeves and leather soles all can be dangerous.

Having been encouraged by his wife, Lee, to write the book, it came as a shock when she suffered a stroke and heart attack when the book was only half finished. Completing the book has been a mechanism that helped him cope with his wife's illness.

The book is intentionally short, only 55 pages. "Make it like an evening gown," he remembers being told by a college professor, "long enough to cover the subject but short enough to make it interesting."

With that in mind he tackled the project and is working on another book.

Spencer is quick to point out that the patient is the one who must determine what his quality of life will be. For instance, he water walks, swims and does water aerobics at Bicentennial Pool in Crystal River several times a week. Every day that he doesn't spend in the water, he rides 2 miles on a power trainer.

He also exercises his mind by reading four to six books a week on a variety of subjects. "Anything is fair game," he says.

Spencer will talk about his book during a televised appearance on the Janet Lyons Show from noon to 12:30 p.m. June 29. The show will be televised on WESH-TV Ch. 2, Orlando.

A Unique Perception was released by Dorrance Publishing Co. Inc. of Pittsburgh on June 15 in the United States, Canada and Britain. Copies are available at the Top Shelf book store in Inverness for $6.95 plus tax.