Retired Technical Sgt. Matt McCollor, US Air Force
I was diagnosed with MS in the year 2000, in my 14th year of service in the Air Force. I was medically retired in 2004, after 18 years, 2 months and 17 days of military service. When I was diagnosed, I wasn’t sure what that meant to me. I was aware of MS; I had been doing the National MS Society MS Walk since the late 1980s. I wasn’t sure if I should be mad, scared, worried. . . I honestly didn’t know what I needed to be. MS affects everyone so differently, how was it going to affect me?
I do know that in the first three months, I didn’t want to bring anybody down. I withheld the diagnosis from my wife and kids for 3 months. I did this because I knew that they would be sad and worried, all those emotions and there was nothing I or they could do about curing MS. I found myself worrying about my future a lot, not concerned with what may happen to me, but what I might miss out on in life. I came to the conclusion that I needed to accomplish some stuff that I’d been dreaming about my whole life.
In 2002, I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology and in 2011 I got my Master’s Degree in Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology. I worked in the federal service as an archaeologist until 2017, when short-term memory troubles, attention deficits, and not being able to walk long enough to do field work caused me to retire.
Following my retirement, I again started to think about what was important to me, focusing on what I needed to accomplish before I was physically and/or mentally unable to. Travel was a big interest and concern for me, as I needed to see my son and daughter on opposite sides of the country on a regular basis. They are an important part of my life, and I was missing watching my grandchildren grow up. Traveling to see family turned into a way for me to accomplish some of my dreams.
Traveling to different cities, checking out museums, touring Civil War sites and other historic features of the country became a big part of my life. Since I no longer work, I have traveled extensively. I have driven from one side of the country to the other, watching baseball games, visiting grave sites of US presidents, touring historical sites and attending archaeological conferences. While I travel, I need to constantly keep aware of handicap accessible rooms in hotels, access to museums and baseball fields, pretty much everywhere I want to visit. I use a wheelchair, so this became just one of the many steps I need to take when planning a trip.
Throughout my life and travels, I’ve learned that I need to enjoy life and I want to make a difference in the lives of others. I’m not important enough to have a big statue made of me, so I’m trying to leave my legacy in the hope that I brought a smile to everyone I come across, making their day a little better. I try to break large goals into smaller goals, making them more manageable. I take advantage of what has been given to me and find joy in the daily tasks of living. If I see something interesting in my travels, I don’t pass it up thinking I’ll get another chance. I take advantage of every opportunity that crosses my path. I recently starting working on my certification as an adaptive scuba diver, with DiVentures in Omaha, NE. not wanting to miss out on what mysteries lay below the waves.
Having a good attitude helps my mental state stay pretty even, relaxed, and fun. We should all look on the bright side. I may have MS, but it hasn’t stopped me from doing so many of the things that are important to me. I’ve toured dinosaurs with my grandsons and seen waterfalls with my granddaughter. Life is good.