After Diagnosis, Still Enjoying the Ride

After Diagnosis, Still Enjoying the Ride

A North Carolina Panera Bread® associate and her family cycle for multiple sclerosis, a cause close to their hearts—and lives.

When Amy Perrigo, now 45, opened the White Oak Bakery in Jacksonville, North Carolina, more than a decade ago, she was specifically modeling her business after Panera, wanting to run a welcoming spot at which locals could gather for freshly baked bread and pastries, sandwiches, and coffee. “I’d been baking all my life, and I loved Panera, but there wasn’t one nearby then,” she explains. Running a business—at the time her husband was in the military, stationed at Camp Lejeune—was hard work but rewarding.

Then Amy began feeling weakness on one side that eventually led to her being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). While the cause of MS is unknown, it’s thought to be an auto-immune disease, in which the immune system attacks one’s body. In the case of MS, the immune system attacks myelin, the protective sheath around nerves. When active, MS leads to muscle weakness or numbness. That was in 2010, and Amy’s bakery was humming. Much as she loved it, she knew that to maintain her health and keep the disease from progressing, she had to improve her quality of life—by getting regular sleep, eating healthfully, and exercising. These things all felt harder to do when she was so busy running her business—not to mention raising her children, who are now 24, 21, and 9. What would be perfect, she thought, was to sell her place and find a job at her original favorite spot: Panera Bread.

“I’d found out through some local connections that Panera was planning to open a store in town,” Amy explains. So she set a plan in motion, putting out feelers and eventually finding a buyer for White Oak (it’s still in business) and sending a résumé to Panera. The bakery-cafe called—and offered her a job. She is now an assistant manager. Not exactly a calm job, but one with enough regularity of hours that she can spend time caring for her health without a heaping side effect of worry. Plus, she loves the work she does.

End of story? Not quite. All the time she was a bakery owner, her husband, an avid cyclist, frequently took part in charity races to raise money for… multiple sclerosis. “My husband had been a cyclist all his life,” Amy says. “He never knew anyone with MS; he just liked the idea of riding for charity.” But when his wife was affected by the disease he’d already helped raise hundreds of dollars for, surely this had to be serendipity—not unlike the experience of that Panera opening up just when Amy needed to shift her priorities. Now his riding would have a personal purpose. “It meant a lot for our family,” she says.

Before long, Amy began riding with her husband, and they joined a team called the MS Chiefs (yes, you can read that as “mischiefs”), sponsored by Onslow Memorial Hospital. “Last year, we rode 75 miles, which was quite a challenge—one I hope to repeat this year. I love that because of my Panera job, I can use my days off to ride and train,” says Amy.

As for her health, she’s doing great. “I haven’t had any setbacks, and as long as I take care of myself and go for monthly treatments, I’m fine,” Amy says. And still riding. “I want to enjoy the life I have and work for a great company,” she says. What could be better than that?