One day, Bruce Stoddard started to notice his right ankle acting strange, as if it was asleep all the time. He spent a year and a half trying to find answers, but doctors and physical therapists couldn’t provide any explanations. Eventually, Bruce’s doctor referred him to OHSU.
Finally, in August of 2021, a neurologist told Bruce he had ALS. When Bruce thinks back on that moment now, he remembers telling the doctor, “I don’t think I like that answer.”
Bruce was no stranger to disease, as he and his sister had spent seven years caring for their mother who had dementia. This experience had a profound impact on Bruce, shaping his own wishes for his life and goals of care.
He is one of six children, and family is an important source of support. His siblings, nieces and nephews, and cousins continue to stay in touch, visit when they can, and keep him involved in family activities. Another central pillar of support for Bruce has been AA. He is five years sober and attends two AA meetings every week. AA has grounded him and connected him with a community that looks after each other. He frequently speaks with his sponsor and other group members and regularly reads his “Big Book”. One of the most valuable lessons AA has taught Bruce is how to ask for help. After his initial diagnosis, Bruce was in shock, but as the shock wore off and reality set in, he realized he had to seek out the help he needed. There was no way around it.
His ALS started in his legs, and when it became clear he was going to need a power wheelchair, he reached out to the Chapter. Care Services Director Cassy Adams put him in touch with someone from Permobil, who promptly came out and measured him for a custom power chair. In a few weeks, Bruce had received his personalized chair and training on how to use it. The Chapter also provided him with a lift for transferring out of his chair, which he uses regularly. Bruce attends the ALS OHSU clinic, and he shares that it provides a sense of community. It’s not only for ALS patients, but also for those with other degenerative diseases too, and he enjoys being there and “rooting for everybody”. Bruce also goes to monthly support group meetings, where he met his friend Brian Epp.
Bruce is a realist. When asked how he came to the decision to move into assisted living, Bruce said “I knew I had to do something. I knew this would not be a positive experience if I didn’t change my thinking.” This is not to say that he doesn’t have bad days or human moments of anxiety and anger. But the changes of ALS were inevitable, whether he accepted them or not. He acknowledges that it’s okay to take some time to feel sorry for yourself, but there is still life to be lived.
Facing a diagnosis like ALS requires the resolve to make hard decisions. Bruce’s story exemplifies the power of meeting your challenges head on.