‘Start Spreading the News…’ By Sheryl McAlister, a freelance writer based in SC.
It was in the early 1980s when a beautiful, young woman took her talents, her looks and her dreams to the big city. She was the star of her own show, and everybody knew it.
A college graduate armed with an advanced degree in fine arts, she was headed north with a plan to build a career and start her life in one of the greatest cities on earth.
And for the next 20 years, her grownup life unfolded just about as she had planned. She worked in the big leagues of advertising and fundraising. She rubbed shoulders with athletes and celebrities. She raised millions of dollars for charitable causes. She formed a production company and rejuvenated a small playhouse, bringing theatre back to a small northern town.
And then something happened that started to whittle away at the life she had worked so hard for. Something was happening to her body that she couldn’t explain. This intruder began to take away — piece by piece — the abilities she needed to tackle the professional competition as well as the physical demands of living an urban life in one of the world’s busiest cities.
Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York didn’t plan for Multiple Sclerosis.
Her MS started to show up in the year 2001. Small signs were probably there much earlier but were largely ignored. Chalked up to something else. A blip, if you will, in a life that included weekdays in Manhattan and weekends in The Hamptons, on Fire Island or in the Upstate NY countryside. A nuisance for someone accustomed to international travel and a fast-paced career.
The symptoms started with small bursts of seizure-like episodes. She looked perfectly fine during these “spells” as she called them. But her words would slur; her right leg would go numb and stiff, and her right hand wouldn’t function correctly. In 2007, after a multitude of symptoms presented themselves, she was diagnosed with MS.
This is the face of MS. And she’s still beautiful.
But after a while, the ability to attend a fundraiser and work a room became quite a challenge. After all, she would need at least 3 hands to manage a handshake, a cocktail and a walking cane. The brutal cold northeastern weather wreaked havoc on her limbs. And the crowded subways and slippery sidewalks were a nightmare.
These are the harsh realities of life with MS. The disease is crippling. The cause is unknown. And there is no cure.
March is MS Awareness Month. And if you don’t know anything about MS, you should start paying attention because this autoimmune disease can strike any one at any time. The environment, genetics and chance can all play a part in who gets it.
MS is a neurological disease where myelin, the protective coating around nerve endings, is destroyed, causing the brain to short circuit and not effectively communicate with the rest of the body.
The disease has been described as electric circuitry gone haywire. Imagine myelin to be like the protective coating around a series of copper wires. Each wire has a different purpose and is wired specifically for that purpose. If the protective rubber-like coating around the wires corrodes, the wires short circuit and cause a misfire. And for every person, those misfires are presented in different ways.
The National MS Society reports that MS symptoms are “variable and unpredictable. No two people have exactly the same symptoms, and each person’s symptoms can change or fluctuate over time.”
According to the National MS Society website, those symptoms “can include blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, paralysis, and blindness and more. The problems may come and go or persist and worsen over time.
“Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, although individuals as young as 2 and as old as 75 have developed (the disease).”
It’s difficult to diagnose MS, according to experts, because the symptoms of the disease mimic other illnesses. Often, an accurate diagnosis can take years. In the meantime, the National MS Society estimates 2.3 million people are affected by MS worldwide. But because the disease is so difficult to diagnose, and some symptoms aren’t visible, the number is only an estimate.
And this is where you come in. If your March Madness has room for basketball, it certainly has room to help raise awareness for a disease that can strike anybody — without warning — at any point in their lives. Join a team in your area for Walk MS. And check out the Muckfest MS, Bike MS and Challenge Walk MS coming to a major city near you.
We need to find a cure, and raising money will help us get there.
It’s not always easy to know if someone is living with MS. You can’t always tell by simply looking at them. They are:
• A 30-something newlywed who participates in sports and works full-time;
• A brilliant student struck down before heading off to an ivy-league education and a world of possibilities;
• A 28-year old with a job, an apartment and a future;
• The person, you’ve just judged unfairly, who is using the handicapped parking space;
• The wife of a United States presidential candidate.
These are the real faces of MS … and they’re everywhere.
Please help fund the research to find a cure:
##### Copyright © 2015 Sheryl McAlister