Edmonton

Documentary goes behind woman's 'fighter face' to capture struggle of living with MS

When her disease is most debilitating, Patrycia Rzechowka struggles to brush her hair or get out bed.

'It's going to be hard, but I think it's going to be something that's so valuable ... because MS is invisible'

When Patrycia Rzechowka was diagnosed with MS six years ago and threw herself into charity work. (Patrycia Rzechowka)

When her fatigue is most debilitating, Patrycia Rzechowka struggles to brush her hair or get out bed but she never lets herself feel tired. 

Rzechowka, 29, lives with multiple sclerosis and is the subject of a new made-in-Edmonton documentary, ​MS'd with the Wrong Girl, a Fighter's Story.

The documentary will chronicle Rzechowka's daily struggles with the disease, which can trigger a myriad of symptoms including depression, vision and mobility issues. 

"I'm scared, because my hard days — I show people glimpses of them but nobody really sees them," said Rzechowka.

"I don't like to worry people and I've always put on that fighter face."

'MS is invisible'

Rzechowka said she was initially wary of taking part in the documentary, but hopes her story will raise awareness.

"It's going to be hard, but I think it's going to be something that's so valuable for people to see because MS is invisible," Rzechowka said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"To be able to show that struggle, I think it's going to be valuable."

A documentary crew will follow Rzechowka as she cycles 700 kilometres from Smith River, Cal., to San Francisco to participate in the Tour of Champions, a 230-km fun race hosted by MS Bike.

 I hesitate to say that I'm lucky but I am.- Patrycia  R zechowka

Cycling is not just her passion as Rzechowka believes regular time on her bike has kept her symptoms under control. 

"It's had its up and downs," she said. "I hesitate to say that I'm lucky, but I am in the sense that everything has been fairly manageable." 

Rzechowka was diagnosed six years ago after partially losing the sight in her left eye.

She wasn't an athlete then but dreamed of becoming a police officer. With her health failing and her career hopes dashed, she found new strength in cycling. 

Even though her chronic fatigue makes it difficult to move, she signed up for the MS Bike tour.

"When I was trying to get a diagnosis of what was going on when I lost my vision, they were mentioning MS as a possible cause and the only thing I knew about MS was the MS Bike tour," she said.

"I thought, 'OK, I'm going to ride in this bike tour whether I get diagnosed or not.'"

Since then, Rzechowka has become a regular at races and has thrown herself into charity work, helping the organization with fundraising, event planning and promotional speaking.

As a board member for the MS Society of Canada, she's helped raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for MS research and been recognized with a National Philanthropy Day award.

The documentary crew will begin filming Rzechowka next week as she prepares for her trip to the United States.

The film was just awarded a $50,000 grant through Telus' Storyhive initiative.

We want to see the hard days, we want to see the good days.- Kelly  Wolfert

Kelly Wolfert, creative director of Leven Creative, the production company behind the documentary, said after meeting Rzechowka, he knew there there is something special about her story.

"You don't get hear great fundraising stories from Edmonton all that often that are specific to somebody that is actively living with the disease," Wolfert said.

"We want to see the hard days, we want to see the good days."

Rzechowka's resiliency and charm in the face of a devastating diagnosis is inspiring, Wolf said. He's hoping his crew can capture it.

"It's her openness and honesty that caught our attention," he said. "Her charisma comes across in any room that she's in."