Tammy Duke-Feltz is not a woman to sidestep a challenge, whether by choice or by fate.
An Edmonton, Ky., native and graduate of Western Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky, Tammy is a therapist specializing in mental health and substance abuse, who now lives in Lexington with her police officer husband and two young children.
But wait, there’s more …
“I was always kind of the person people went to to plan events and things like that, so in 2009 I decided I’m going to try to do something event planning-wise—and get paid for it, you know?” she laughed.
Founded in 2009, Tammy Duke-Feltz Event Planning and Design plans and coordinates a broad spectrum of events, including parties, showers, weddings and larger local events Kentucky Bridal Fest and Kentucky Maternity, Baby & Kids Expo.
But the business has never been just about earning money.
“I still wanted some kind of component of raising money and awareness for some things I was passionate about,” Tammy said.
The Bridal Fest expo has each year supported and raised awareness for two causes, which have included cystic fibrosis, the Barren River Animal Welfare Association and Belles of the Ball.
Since 2013, one of the two charity components has remained the same—the one that has affected Tammy’s life the most: multiple sclerosis.
“This isn’t going away.”
Nearly five years ago, before Christmas, Tammy sat busy with paperwork during a lunch break in her office.
“My hands and arms just had this really weird feeling like of being asleep. It was a Friday, and I remember I went all through the weekend thinking, ‘you know, this isn’t going away,’ so I did the worst thing you could do, which is Google my symptoms.”
Tammy also said she was having vision problems she had never experienced, so she made a doctor’s appointment.
“I remember sitting in the (doctor’s) office just thinking, ‘OK, it’s probably nothing,’ and then you hear the worst: ‘You have MS.’ ”
Tammy had to undergo extensive testing before that final multiple sclerosis diagnosis. First was testing in the doctor’s office, then an MRI, a spinal tap and a few other tests. Symptoms of MS can mimic those of other serious conditions, including Lyme disease and lupus.
Simply put according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (nationalmssociety.org), “Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.”
But MS really cannot be simply put. Often referred to as the “snowflake disease,” symptoms manifest differently with each diagnosis. Some of the most common symptoms include pain, numbness and tingling, difficulty walking, weakness, fatigue, vision problems, cognitive and emotional changes and depression. Beyond that is a list of less common symptoms, and then subdivisions of secondary and tertiary symptoms, which are complications arising from the primary symptoms.
“What someone else is battling could be totally different than what you’re going through,” Tammy said. “At the time, I just felt like my life was over. … Prior to this happening, I’ve always been a very positive person. I was also diagnosed with a heart condition in 2005, so I also went through that—did the whole heart surgery thing, so I’ve always kind of dealt with some kind of a hurdle, but adding this on top … for the most part, the cardiologist was able to fix what was wrong with my heart, but there is no cure for MS.”
“I still have faith.”
Despite the challenges of MS, Tammy is still a therapist; her event planning business is going strong, with Bowling Green’s Kentucky Bridal Fest on Feb. 25 at Sloan Convention Center, among a yearlong slate of other events; and she’s still busy with the ultimate full-time job: being a mom to her 7-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. Educating them about MS has just added another layer to parenting.
“My daughter was about 2 when I was diagnosed, so I’ve done my best on educating her. … She’s so sweet with being almost motherly sometimes. I call her ‘little mama’ sometimes because she’s so good with her brother.”
MS causes Tammy pain and fatigue, which means as much as she wants to tackle everything, sometimes she needs to slow down and rest or ask for help.
“I think that’s probably been the hardest thing for me, is being able to learn that if I have to ask for help sometimes, I can’t do everything myself. … Some days it’s a hard pill to swallow, but to me—I know it sounds crazy when I tell people this—but to me it’s been somewhat of a blessing, just because I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way that I never would’ve had a chance to meet. I was getting support, and over the years I’ve been able to be that person to support (others).”
And it isn’t just Tammy’s optimism that guides her.
“I am a devoted Christian,” she said. “I would say MS has proven to be a test of faith at times. … I realized about two years into my diagnosis that things could be worse, but certainly without faith, there is nothing at all. Life, thanks to faith, goes on. I pray that someday those like me wake up from this terrible disease and there will be a cure for us. Until then, I make the best of each day as I know it could be worse, but after all I’ve been through and continue to go through, I still have faith.”
To learn more about multiple sclerosis and make a donation to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, visit nationalmssociety.org.
For more information on Tammy Duke-Feltz Event Planning and Design and upcoming events, visit tdpeventplanninganddesign.com or facebook.com/tammydukefeltzevents.