Little Victories - a Column by Matthew Lafleur

Main graphic for column titled "Little Victories," Friedreich's Ataxia News, by Matthew Lafleur

Matthew’s life doesn’t look like what he imagined when he was an active Cajun boy. Once diagnosed at age 11 with Friedreich’s ataxia, he threw himself into books, writing, and studies, achieving a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in mental health counseling. Writing a column at Friedreich’s Ataxia News and serving as the associate director of columns for its parent company BioNews is a perfect combination of his two degrees. He notes life’s small, often overlooked successes in his column. In progressive disability, Matt tries to notice his little victories, hoping that others notice their own … or something like that.

Coyotes, Roadrunners, and a Cure for My Rare Disease

Sometimes holding on to hope looks a lot like desperation. I’ve been dealing with the unstoppable progression of my disorder, Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), for most of my life. Since there is no treatment or cure for FA yet, nothing stops it from ravaging me and sapping my abilities little…

How I Hiked Down the Grand Canyon in a Wheelchair

“Are you sure you’ll be OK?” my three friends asked after they sat me on a picnic table, pen in hand and journal before me. It was 2006, and we were on spring break. The late afternoon sunlight wasn’t getting any brighter, and I knew they wouldn’t want me to…

Sometimes I Just Want to Be Average

Everyone could see me grimacing uncomfortably. “Here we go again,” I think as I feel an uneasy lump in my stomach. I find myself back in 1999 in a recurring, unpleasant dream I have every few months. In the dream, I’m at my desk near the back of a seventh-grade…

Do People Want to Hang Out With Progressive Disease Patients?

I’m no stranger to this question, but I wasn’t the one who posed it recently. Ever since I was diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) in childhood, I’ve dealt with its progressively disabling symptoms, including the transition from awkwardness to quitting sports to using a wheelchair — all during puberty.

Keeping Hope Alive With New Treatment Research

Research into my rare disorder, Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), seems to me to be on the rise. Though no specific treatments for FA exist, a wide range of ongoing studies is exploring different ways of treating this debilitating disease. It seems that scientists increasingly are taking an interest in FA.

I’ve Found a Place I Belong at Unique Fitness

“You ready to get crazy?” Damon Vincent, both the founder of this gym and my personal trainer, greeted me the same way he normally does before my workouts. Sometimes he uses both cheesy statements and bad puns to motivate his clients, like when he says…

Laughter Is Essential for Rare Disease Patients

As many people living with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) can tell you, our diminishing handwriting, balancing, speaking, and walking abilities are no laughing matter. Or are they? My sense of humor is a way of escaping my stark reality as a Friedreich’s…

Betting on Dark Horses

I always try to bet on dark horses. On quiet summer nights near my house, I can hear the buzzer of the nearby racetrack signaling the start and finish of horse races. I swear sometimes I can even hear the gates clanging open, and the rapid-fire…

I’m Learning to See Myself as an Ataxia Warrior

I’ve never thought of myself as especially strong, or as someone who could identify with a warrior’s personality. Because I face the progressively debilitating disorder Friedreich’s ataxia, I sadly realized that my physical strength, like the rest of my capabilities, will dwindle over time much more quickly than…

How Thinking Differently Saves My Life

One and one always equals two, at least that’s how most people see it. Sometimes simple, concrete facts are comforting, especially for people diagnosed with progressive diseases, where we can’t trust our own abilities day-to-day. But I believe my ability to thrive depends on being able to see the world…

Finding Comfort in a New Normal

“You need to go easier on yourself,” my friend told me. I was busy berating myself for having a bad week when my symptoms of Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) seemed to spike all at once. I did stop blaming myself, as my friend suggested. Instead, I thought…

Crawling Toward Fitness as My Abilities Change

My arms couldn’t hold my body up in a crawling position any longer, so I face-planted on the matted floor in defeat, yet with a small, self-satisfied smile. As I lay collapsed on my stomach, my physical therapist towered above me and yelled triumphantly, “You just crawled across…

COVID-19 Vaccines Bring Relief for Many, Envy for Some

Despite whatever successes we saw in 2020, the year mostly will be remembered for a pandemic that affected almost everyone on the planet. Though the death, financial hardships, joblessness, and isolation due to COVID-19 are devastating, humanity may find an end to this horror soon.

My Diagnosis Isn’t the Entirety of Who I Am

An old tree once stood beside a creek far behind my childhood home. It wasn’t on my family’s property, but because wild blackberries grew there, I was willing to trespass to get to the ripe berries. After eating a handful of them, I’d rest my back against the old tree…

Disability, Independence, and Egrets

I was thinking of egrets as I landed uncomfortably on the floor after my wheelchair brake betrayed me. Well, it wasn’t really a betrayal, but rather my own fault for kicking the brake as I turned over while I slept. A few hours later, as I was making the always…

Strengthening Our Wings

Knowing when to accept help and when not to is a regular challenge for those of us with progressive diseases. “Do you want me to push you down the hall to the kitchen?” my personal care attendant, a family member, or a friend might ask. This…

Fearless Hearts and a Phoenix Tattoo

A large, old oak tree used to grow outside my bedroom window. A few weeks ago, it fell during the bluster of Hurricane Delta. The tree crashed down while I was less than 20 feet away, yet I slept through the fall, none the wiser. (If a tree falls outside…

How Progress Is Measured

I intentionally fell off the treatment table. A metallic taste filled my mouth as I thudded onto the matted floor with a crash, looking less like a superhero and more like a marionette whose strings were cut. My fall was neither steady nor…

The Half-life of a Bradford Pear Tree

Many trees stand stoically on my family’s property, one of which I pass each time I ride my recumbent trike. I take notice of its bark and branches more than I have with any other tree in my life. I only recently found out the name…

A Heart Like a Rabbit

Moist, squelching sounds filled the otherwise silent room as the sonogram of my heart was being conducted. I was lying on my left side on the slim hospital bed, at my yearly cardiovascular checkup. One of the most important tasks to ensure the wellness of…

A Functioning Mind in a Malfunctioning Body

I have a confession to make: The part of my Friedreich’s ataxia diagnosis I used to be most grateful for has now become something I question. Is it a good thing that while the rest of my body breaks down, my cognitive function remains the same?…

Moving Past Unrequited Love

“It’s just hard to be around you,” she told me. She looked down. She hated these harsh words, too. Over time, I’d learn to accept them and even be grateful for her. One day, I’d appreciate how she didn’t sugarcoat her message.

Growing Into Life With a Disability

I opened the door to my closet yesterday morning to pick out my shirt for the day. Most of my shirts are solid earth tones, showcasing how boring I am. As I scanned the hanging T-shirts, my eyes lingered on one. This particular shirt always seems…

Hurricane Laura Barely Missed Me

I don’t believe I’m a lucky person. But I’m relieved that the area where I live escaped massive devastation from Hurricane Laura, which made landfall in the southern U.S. last week.  Videos like this show the destruction Laura caused in Lake Charles, Louisiana, just…

What ‘Hamilton’ Taught Me About Waiting

I’m not patient. Not at all.  I think it’s funny that people with debilitating health conditions often are seen as being patient and tolerant. We seem to be superhuman, persistent, and serene in our daily activities, no matter how long they take or how much we…

First I Swim, Then I Drown, Now I Float

I remember getting to the pool early one summer morning before swimming lessons began. I wasn’t a swim teacher per se; I was more of a teacher’s assistant. The head instructor had me and the instructors my age do a lifeguard training exercise.

Why I Choose to Use a Wheelchair

My alarm goes off at 6 a.m. I open my eyes to my service dog, Zeego, who still has his eyes closed. He is definitely not ready to get up yet, but I am. With a hand on my SuperPole for balance, I…

Rolling Toward Empathy

About a decade ago, I read a local news report about a pizzeria being taken to court because it was inaccessible to people with disabilities. Opened in 1990, this house-turned-business sat directly across the street from my college campus. I read about the…