Tuesday January 02, 2018

What's it like to re-learn how to run, walk, pee, and have sex? 'Degrassi' actor tells her story

Actor Ruth Marshall found a way to laugh about a condition that left her completely divorced from her body.

Actor Ruth Marshall found a way to laugh about a condition that left her completely divorced from her body. (Simon & Schuster Canada)

Listen 24:05

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In 2012, Ruth Marshall's feet started acting oddly.

"Sort of a low-grade pins and needles that would not go away [...] as time went on the tingling started moving up my legs. It was causing me to trip, I was stumbling about a little bit, I couldn't quite master moving my legs as well as I used to," Marshall explains to The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Ruth Marshall is an actor and played a mother to one of the teen characters on the television show Degrassi: The Next Generation. She has also acted in Hollywood films including Casino Jack and Dolores Claiborne.

When her symptoms started, Marshall was living a charmed life. Her acting career was thriving and she was happily married with two boys.

'I had to re-learn where my body was and how to use it.' - Ruth Marshall

At first she thought she had multiple sclerosis but eventually Marshall was diagnosed with a spinal meningioma, a non-cancerous tumour on her spine.

Marshall was told it had been growing on her spine for at least ten years. It was sitting on her proprioceptive nerve, the nerve which tells your body where it is in space.

She tells her story in a new book Walk It Off: The True and Hilarious Story of How I Learned to Stand, Walk, Pee, Run, and Have Sex Again After a Nightmarish Diagnosis Turned My Awesome Life Upside Down.

Ruth in wheelchair

Ruth and her family. (Ruth Marshall)

Surgeons successfully removed the tumour but she says when she woke up she had no sense of where her legs were in space and she'd completely forgotten how to walk.

"It was as if I had no idea where they were. I really didn't. I would look at them [...] part of my brain understood that they were there and attached to me but I could not figure out how they were supposed to move, what they were doing […] it was almost like having vertigo, I felt very disoriented, I really had no sense of where my legs or feet had gone," Marshall tells Tremonti.

The prognosis was not clear, and while Marshall says her doctor was "hopeful" she'd walk again, the uncertainty frightened her.

"I had to re-learn where my body was and how to use it. It was as if the whole lower half of my body was lost in space."

She had to go to rehab to relearn how to do everything from walk to use the washroom.

"It was as if all my nerves had been rewired, completely rewired, so my brain wasn't getting the message when I had to go to the washroom or it would get the message but I couldn't figure out how to do it."

Marshall tells Tremonti that her thinking was "I'll get to walking later I just need how to learn to pee."

Simon & Schuster Canada

Ruth Marshall tells her story in her new book. (Simon & Schuster Canada)

Walking and peeing were not the only things she had to re-learn; she and her husband had to figure out how to have sex again.

"It took, well, a lot of practice to figure out what was going to work again, what might not work again, and how to change that and adjust."

Today, Marshall says she has a few lingering effects on her nerves, but they are manageable. She says that this whole experience has made her grateful.

"I look forward to the time when I can walk down the street and not think about walking down the street and what my legs are doing. But I am incredibly grateful for what my body is able to do [...] even with the continuing nerve issues I can handle all of that, as long as I can walk out of this studio, I'm very happy."


Listen to the full story at the top of this post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith.