By Keri DeTore
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
“Imagine the worst flu you’ve ever had — aches, fever, stomach illness, and feeling like you want to die. Now imagine that lasting for a year.”
This is how Val Mallinson, author of “The Dog Lover’s Companion…” books for the Pacific Northwest, describes the effects of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), which she has been struggling with since 1987. Val’s particular type of CFS comes in waves of relapse and remission, and it was during times of remission that she and the “Wonder Wieners” (Cooper and Isis, her rescued miniature Dachshunds) did the research for her travel books.
Her most recent relapse began in March of 2009; as of July, she says, her part-time employer, PCC in West Seattle (WSB sponsor), found her an easier job to do while she dealt with the effects of CFS. However, the physical impact of this particular relapse has continued so long and so severely, that she hasn’t been able to work since December.
Unable to continue in her job at PCC — Val and her husband Steve are quick to note that PCC was very supportive of Val and provided her with medical benefits for as long as they could — Val applied for disability benefits through her insurance company. Her application was denied, she says, because many insurance companies don’t recognize CFS as a legitimate disability.
Her disability claim is being appealed with the help of a lawyer through the organization Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness, but in the meantime, the medical bills are accumulating. Friends suggested a fundraising party, which Val initially balked at – but now, it’s on.
She admits, “I feel guilty asking for money for myself, but my friends encouraged it and pointed out ‘the (health care insurance) system failed you.’”
This “Pawty with a Purpose” next Saturday will raise funds to offset medical costs for Val, and will donate 10% of the proceeds to Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness — the group helping Val with her appeal. Live music, raffle prizes, autographed “Dog Lover’s Companion…” books, and food prepared by chef Daniel Joram, “The Sailing Chef,” will be featured during the festivities.
The event takes place Saturday (June 12) from 6-10 pm at the Duwamish Cohousing Common House — 6000 17th Ave SW (map). Parking is available across from nearby South Seattle Community College on 16th Ave SW, and balloons and signs will indicate the pathway from 16th to the Common House. Despite the theme of the “Pawty,” dog owners are asked to leave their canine companions at home and enjoy themselves off-leash.
Along with the “Dog Lover’s Companion…” books that Val co-authored with Cooper and Isis (“They’re the reporters, I’m just their stenographer…”), Val has written for magazines such as Seattle Metropolitan, City Dog, Northwest Travel, and Bark. For someone whose livelihood involves constant travel in order to update her books and write articles, CFS can be particularly debilitating.
She adds that CFS is a very isolating and sometimes-invisible disability. Without personally knowing someone with CFS, you may never see the effects of their illness – the times they have to brace themselves against a wall to walk down the hallway, or sit down just to get through a shower. Despite this, Val says: “I feel so lucky to have periods of remission — there are some people who are wheelchair-bound or bedridden.”
Regarding CFS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note: “CDC studies show that CFS can be as disabling as multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, end-stage renal disease…and similar chronic conditions.” (The CDC website provides further information at www.cdc.gov/cfs)
More information about Val, the fundraiser, and the Wonder Weiners is available at nwdogbook.com.
Photos used with this story are courtesy Val Mallinson; top portrait, with the Wonder Wieners, is by J. Nichole Smith of dane + dane studios