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Pascagoula woman's remarkable battle rewarded by national program

Cassandra Lawson (right) and her daughters Verniah (left) and Elizabeth with some of the gifts brought to them by volunteers from Ingalls Shipbuilding through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's "MS Santa" project. (MS Society photo)

It is impossible to have a conversation with Cassandra Lawson and not come away uplifted.

Lawson, 41, suffers from no less than 16 chronic illnesses, including multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes and hypertension. She has suffered a heart attack and two strokes, including one in August from which she is still recovering. She suffers from grand mal seizures daily. She takes 36 different medications each day.

Four times, she has "coded" -- meaning she was clinically dead, only to have been revived. Doctors tell her she is an "anomaly," that she shouldn't be here.

"I tell them there must be a reason God keeps me here," Lawson says.

But here's what else you need to know about Cassandra Lawson: she is a magna cum laude college graduate with an undergraduate degree in liberal arts and a masters in psychology. Prior to her first heart attack and stroke, she was a certified nursing assistant at Singing River Hospital.

An avid reader, she also paints, sketches, enjoys photography and has written journals of poetry -- 16 thus far.

A native of Magnolia, Miss., Lawson came to Pascagoula nearly 15 years ago, after the death of her mother in 2001. She has two daughters -- Verniah, 16, and Elizabeth, 13. She gets up every morning at 5:45 to see her daughters board the bus for school.

"I tell people not to feel sorry for me," Lawson said of her health struggles. "I don't focus on the diagnoses, I focus on living. I tell people and my children to live for each day, appreciate each day."

As a multiple sclerosis patient, Lawson receives the monthly newsletter from the Multiple Sclerosis Society. In reading the newsletter, she was aware of the "MS Santa" program in which the society matches a local MS patient with a local donor to help brighten the family's holiday season.

What Lawson was not aware of, however, is that her daughter, Verniah, had submitted a letter to the society nominating her mother to be an MS Santa recipient.

"This year has been very difficult for my mother and our family," Verniah wrote in her letter. "I am writing this letter for my mother because she has difficulty writing and seeing because of (multiple sclerosis).

"She can do some things, but has difficulty with things she feels she needs to do, like cook, go to outings, shopping, and walking, but she always manages to stay positive and smile."

A month or so ago, Lawson received a call.

"The young lady wanted to know the ages and sizes of the children, plus my sizes and items I needed," Lawson said. "She told me I had been selected for the MS Santa. I had to get myself around it. I cried a little, because I couldn't believe it. We were so shocked to have been selected."

The local donor, Ingalls Shipbuilding, provided Lawson and her family with an array of items, including gifts, Christmas decorations, clothing and vital household essentials. The Lawson family was one of 22 selected for the MS Santa program this year.

"The average cost of living with MS can be upwards of $70,000 per year," said Andrew Bell, president of the local chapter of the MS Society. "The National MS Society's mission is to help all those affected address the challenges of living with MS.

"Along with physical and emotional challenges, MS can cause financial challenges around the holidays. We are so privileged to be able to help offset this stress. Thanks to the generosity of our amazing volunteers, this program continues to grow year after year. We hope the MS Santa Project brings some joy to this time of year for these families."

For the Lawson family, it did just that.

"I am honored," Cassandra said. "I know there are people out there who needed it more than me. I told them I wanted to meet each and every person who was involved -- from the people at Ingalls to the people involved in the selection, everyone, just to say thank you.

"This is a lifetime gift," she continued. "It goes beyond Christmas. Christmas has become so commericalized. But this gift will be with us always. God bless every one of them who was involved."

Lawson continued to read as much as her failing eyesight allows, as well as write poetry and sketch. She has a dream of one day taking her first vacation and "sitting on a boat somewhere."

"I live for each moment," she said. "I live for my children. They are why I get out of bed each morning. God keeps me here for a reason and I'm thankful for every day He gives me."

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by GULFLIVE
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length


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