Cami Walker, who will be the keynote speaker at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Women on the Move Luncheon on May 27, had everything a woman in her early thirties dreams of.
Newly married, she held a fulfilling job as a creative director with an ad agency.
Then, one morning in 2006, she awoke and couldn’t see out of one eye. Her vision returned, but then she couldn’t use her hands. Hundreds of medical tests later, a doctor diagnosed her with Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic neurological disease that may cause a person to lose the ability to walk or speak.
“I first thought of my aunt, who has a very progressive form of MS and was completely paralyzed within 10 years,” she says. “I was scared to death.”
Over the next two years, Cami’s insomnia, tremors, numbness, and bouts of paralysis worsened. She went on full-time disability, and developed an addiction to prescription drugs. One night, she called a holistic healer to ask for alternative treatments. The woman, Mbali Creazzo, offered this prescription: give away 29 gifts in 29 days.
At first, Cami was skeptical. But when a new round of treatments didn’t alleviate her symptoms, Cami decided to give Mbali’s advice a try. Every day, she gave a friend, family member or stranger a gift of some sort. Some of the gifts involved money, like giving a big tip to a street performer. Others cost nothing.
As the month progressed, Cami found herself feeling better, physically and emotionally. By day 14, she could walk without the help of a cane.
“I noticed an instant change in my attitude and I could cope better,” she says. “To this day, my MRIs show no progression of my disease.”
In 2008, Cami launched 29gifts.org to tell people about her experiences and invite others to start their own giving cycles. Over 7,000 people have signed up. At the end of 29 days, they submit a story, piece of art, song or video chronicling their feelings.
And the gifts need not cost a penny. “Read a story to a child. Or just go out of your way to help someone,” she says.
Since the launch of the site, Cami, now 37 and living in Nebraska, has found that the more she gives, the better she feels. And there’s scientific proof she’s right. A 1991 study of more than 3,000 people found that acts of kindness diminish the effect of physical and psychological diseases and disorders.
She’s also found that the more she gives, the more success she has. She wrote a memoir titled 29 Gifts : How a Month of Giving Will Change Your Life, which was published last year. She also created a product line for her site that includes handmade journals, pillows and magnets, and 25% of profits go to charitable causes such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
She says, “Giving helps you focus on the positive things every day.”
Want to meet Cami? She will speak at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Women on the Move Luncheon, sponsored in part by Make It Better. The event will take place on May 27th beginning at 11:30 a.m. at the Marriot Chicago Downtown. Tickets cost $150-$1,500 and can be ordered here or by calling 312-423-1182.