Yesterday, I submitted an op-ed article to our area newspaper. I thought it would be printed in a few days, but I was quite surprised when T.R. glanced through the newspaper this morning (yes, on his Droid, not paper) and saw it there on today’s Opinions page. (He said it must be a ‘”slow news day” – thank you, Dear.) Because viewing my piece requires a newspaper subscription, I am able to freely share it here… so I shall. Here goes:
Observe MS Awareness Week
March 14-20 marks the 2011 “MS Awareness Week.” I find this interesting, as I experience fifty-two of these each year, but is nice that a bit of time is set aside to share facts with others. Over 400,000 individuals in the United States face this challenge, so this is a week to shine a light on information that may be new… or misunderstood.
As our friend “G. I. Joe” used to say at the end of each cartoon in the 80’s, “Knowing is half the battle.” Knowing what MS is — and what it isn’t — is helpful in gaining an understanding of this illness. So what is multiple sclerosis? It is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the otherwise helpful immune system is affecting something it shouldn’t. In this case, the white blood cells are attacking several (multiple) places on the coating of the nerves. These attacks create scars (sclerosis). Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Not so fast. Consider the nerves that run through the body, not to mention the large bundle of nerve tissue that we call the brain. In fact, using MRI technology, scars viewed in the brain often lead to a diagnosis of MS.
If it is anything, MS is unpredictable. Scientists are still uncertain as to the initial cause of this disease, there is not a certain pattern that it always follows, and it can vary quite widely from one individual to another. The best area analogy I have found is the menu of Upland’s Ivanhoe’s restaurant. This eatery is largely known for its 100 varieties of shakes and sundaes, and MS can vary just as much, if not more. Some are diagnosed and may have a small vanilla shake, with no additional or noticeable symptoms after the initial onset. Others, though, experience a large shake not even on the menu, with ingredients they never liked to start with. Symptoms can include fatigue, loss of coordination, heat sensitivity, slurred speech, cognitive problems… and I’ll stop there, as this is a bit disheartening.
Besides knowing what MS is, it is equally important that we realize what it isn’t. MS is not a death sentence: though chronic, it is not fatal. MS is also not the sign that somebody has lost his or her ability to be productive. Every individual, like those beloved gourmet shakes, is different. The last two homes where we lived had us next door to an individual with MS, something I certainly didn’t realize at first. You see, MS is not obvious. Two thirds of those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis are female, but this means that many are also male. MS is also not age-specific. A few are diagnosed as young as six, some in their 50’s or 60’s, but the majority in their 20’s or 30’s. Many are from Western European ancestry, but this also varies. And it is estimated that about a fourth of those with MS end in a wheelchair, but three fourths do not.
So why should we be aware? More and more medical breakthroughs are on the horizon. There are currently six medications on the market to help slow MS progression, and a cure is closer each day. In the meantime, patience and understanding are key in helping support our friends and neighbors with MS. Now you know, and though simply knowing may not be half the battle, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
Angie Knight lives in Upland and is affiliated with the Marion Area Multiple Sclerosis Support Group.