The following was in the “letter to the editor”section of the Marion Chronicle-Tribune today, March 12. They changed a little bit of my wording and punctuation, so here you can see what I wrote. 🙂
Until thirteen or so years ago, I knew very little about the disease called multiple sclerosis. Referred to as MS, I confused it with muscular dystrophy, the debilitating illness with research funded in part by the annual Jerry Lewis telethon. But this was before May 1997, when eye problems led me to a doctor who led me to an MRI machine… and scars were visible in my brain. When I was given the diagnosis of MS, I quickly became aware of what that meant, and what it could come to mean.
MS has its name because of what it is, though not immediately visible. “Multiple” = more than one, while “sclerosis” = scars or lesions. Where? Here is the tricky part… on myelin, the coating of the nerves, most predominantly in the brain. And what causes this? Good question. The immune system, which is supposed to attack nasty things, attacks parts of this nerve coating instead. When? Well, MS most commonly has an onset starting when individuals are in the 20’s, 30’s or even 40’s, but on occasion it can strike earlier or later.
What in the world does MS do? I like to answer this with an analogy, one that can be best understood by those of us who live in Grant County. Upland is widely recognized as the home of Ivanhoe’s, known for its 100+ types of shakes and sundaes. Just looking at the menu is overwhelming – no two shakes are alike. One has all types of nuts, candy and cookie pieces inside, while the “vanilla acappella” is a nice, smooth vanilla shake. And that’s it. So it is for a person with MS. Many scars, at different points in the brain, can affect such things as energy, mobility, heat sensitivity, speech, memory, mood… or the brain is so vast that it may not have any noticeable affects at all. Ivanhoe’s doesn’t do this, but MS is more like a shake you didn’t order, where the size can be changed and ingredients can be added. They likely won’t be ingredients you like, either. “Predictable” is not a word that is ever used to describe MS, as unexpected symptoms can strike at unexpected times.
March 8-14, 2010 is MS Awareness Week, and though not a day goes by that I’m not aware of this chronic illness, this week allows me to put on my “teacher” hat and let readers know about this also. More than 250,000 people deal with MS in our country, more than 50 in the greater Marion area, and more medications and therapies are being found… but there isn’t a cure. Yet. In the meantime, know that your neighbors, struggling with MS, are facing daily challenges, ones you may not be able to see. And next time you visit Ivanhoe’s, imagine life with the struggles and unpredictability of MS – but enjoy whatever you *choose* to order.
Angie Knight lives with her family in Upland and is the leader of the Marion MS Support Group