There she was, trying on her gorgeous white evening gown covered in green and fuchsia sequins, ready for a black tie event. And then there was her ugly aluminum cane, sticking out like a sore thumb between the dazzling beadwork that danced across her dress, and certainly not accenting her perfectly matching shoes.
“This is not going to cut it with my gown,” Cathy Kerns said.
But she had an idea. If the cane didn’t match her dress, she’d just have to make one that did. So Kerns got to work, taking a Lucite cane, one made of a clear, tough plastic material, and decorated it herself. She took a long, white stem and glued lovely little pink and green flowers to it, which matched her dress, and inserted the strand of flowers right into the cane.
She hit the party with confidence, knowing that if anyone noticed her cane, it would be because it was beautiful, not because it was a cane. And that was her first Style Stick.
“It lifted me up,” Kerns said.
Living with MS
Kerns was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic, disabling disease that affects the central nervous system, when she was 39 years old. Eight months later, the disease caused her to have to use a cane. It was a tough decision to make — using a cane, especially that young, means wearing your disability out there for everyone to see.
“You almost kind of tend to hang your head in shame,” she said. “You tend to try to hide your disease.”
To browse styles and buy your own Style Stick cane, visit stylestick.com or call 1-888-70-STICK. The annual Walk MS will be held at Harbor Park in Baldwin Park on April 7 at 8 a.m. If you’re interested in participating, and catching Cathy Kerns and her Style Stick, learn more at tinyurl.com/WalkMSOrlando
With a cane, you can’t hide it. There are questions, people wonder what’s wrong, and many ask. So instead of feeling badly about herself, Kerns decided to take control of the situation, and created canes that she’d want to be seen using. When others took interest, the Orlando resident decided she would form her own cane company called Style Stick.
Many of her customers express similar feelings about the start of using a cane. Some put it off for a long time, disregarding the possibility of falling for their pride.
“It’s very hard to make the next step in life,” said Kerns’ friend and Style Stick owner D.J. Towle. “We fight the change … I’ve never been more glad that I got over that.”
The Style Sticks
All the canes are made out of that same clear plastic, and there are more than 85 different combinations of designs buyers can choose. There are stems covered in little hand-applied flowers in any color you can think of; the very popular confetti cane with tiny snippets of multicolored satin fabric suspended inside, and plenty of metallic canes appropriate for evening wear. Kerns makes them all herself.
Lifting people up
She said that having a disease or condition that takes away your mobility not only has physical effects, but mental, too. A Style Stick is something that, as she knows from personal experience, can make a person feel more confident.
“They’re brighter, they lift their head higher; they walk a lot more assuredly,” she said. “A Style Stick really helps that person maintain that self-esteem.”
Wendy Zehngebot, a Winter Park resident who has a few Style Sticks, said that it makes her feel better to feel put together. It also opens up conversations with people, and lets her talk about having MS and using a cane in a positive way. Their first remark isn’t a question about what’s wrong with her, it’s about how pretty her cane is. And with a cane, she’s not sitting in a wheelchair with people looking down at her. She said it has changed how others treat her.
“It also allows me to interact from a standing position, to see eye to eye,” Zehngebot.
Kerns said she loves that her Style Stick can also give her the opportunity to talk to others about MS. Not only will she talk to anyone just wanting to learn from her out of curiosity, but she has also dedicated her life to supporting and advising those newly diagnosed with MS.
“It’s not a blessing that I got it, but it’s a blessing to know what I want to do,” she said. “It made me realize that part of the reason I got this disease is to teach others.”
She’ll be proudly sporting her Style Stick at the Walk MS fundraiser in Baldwin Park in April, sharing her love of educating about MS. Just ask her.
“This was a calling,” she said.