After experiencing some slurred speech and muscle weakness in the summer of 2012, Roxanne Green knew she needed to get checked out. The weakness, especially in her legs and hands got progressively worse. By the next summer, Roxanne was diagnosed with ALS. Everything changed. She was only 38 years old.
ALS, or amyotrophic laterals sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to the neurons’ downfall. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost, which results in people losing the ability to speak, eat, move, and breathe. As a mother and a minister’s wife, Roxanne didn’t know how her life would work once these abilities began to deteriorate.
Roxanne and her husband, Johnny, were leading active lives centered around Healing Place Church, where Johnny is a pastor, when they learned the shocking news. Thankfully, they have had a faithful and strong support system by their side throughout the last four years. What began as muscle weakness has progressed into near paralysis. Johnny explains, “Roxanne cannot move her arms, legs, or neck very much. She cannot walk. Her speech is very hard to understand, and she is connected to a machine to help her breathe.” Though ALS is a merciless disease that affects the body at a rapid pace, it has not stolen Roxanne’s hope and love, especially when it comes to her family and faith.
Roxanne wakes every morning with a song in her heart. She continues to have an amazing outlook despite her restrictions. She views ALS as a catalyst, “It has brought me closer to my family and friends. It has brought me closer to Jesus.”
Her methods of mothering may have changed, but Roxanne still finds a way to be involved in her sons’ everyday lives. She shares, “I tell them I love them and that they look good when they are dressed up. We watch TV and videos of their ballgames together and have family devotions sometimes in my room. I am so proud of each of them. They are great boys. They treat me with so much love and care. They come in and tell me about their days a lot–school, ballgames, silliness in the house, anything I miss out on.” Where Roxanne cannot be physically, she is there with the boys and Johnny in everything they do. She stays engaged in the ways she can, “I’m sad that I miss so much. I am still their Mom, and I pray for them a lot. I can still do that, and they can still bring me joy.”
When a beast like ALS comes into your life, roles change and support becomes necessary. Johnny now takes care of school stuff, clothes, Roxanne’s physical needs, and meeting with doctors as well as things around the house. Their parents are over at the house frequently helping with whatever is needed. Roxanne’s best moments involve visiting with people, spending time with her family and listening to worship music. Though she cannot physically speak, Roxanne communicates with an eye-gaze device that allows her to type with her eyes and then speaks what she types. The family also uses cards with frequently used phrases and an alphabet card so she can spell what she wants.
When you meet Roxanne or anyone else with ALS, she wants you to know, “We are brave. Our limitations do not limit the impact we can have on others.” The ALS community supports one another and lifts each other’s spirits. The disease debilitates the muscles, but does not affect the intellect or compassion. Johnny is astounded daily at his wife’s resilience and agrees, “We have met many people going through the same thing. Roxanne is a great example of how strong and positive they are. They continue to fight against unbelievable odds. She has joy about each day.” ■