Multiple sclerosis awareness week is being observed today through Sunday, and one local woman with MS hopes to educate the public about the disease.
“Not many people know about MS and its effects on a person who has been diagnosed because they don’t take the time to learn about it until it becomes a part of their lives in some way,” said Cathy Sanchez, a 36-year-old mother of three who was diagnosed with MS in 2007.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that affects a person’s central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision.
“The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another,” said Sanchez, who works as a dispatcher at the Hale County Sheriff’s Office.
She said since no two people have exactly the same experience with MS, the disease course may look very different from one person to another. And, she added, it may not always be immediately clear to the physician which course a person is experiencing.
Diagnosis is not always easy either Sanchez said. Some people can be diagnosed right away, while others may go a long period of time before getting a diagnosis, mostly due to the fact that MS can mimic that of other diseases.
In the United States, more than 200 people are diagnosed with MS every week. Most are diagnosed between ages 20-50, MS can appear in teenagers or older adults.
天啊, 這種成長率真是高的嚇人, 台灣去年一年MS成長率還不及美國一週的成長率...
Currently, there is no cure for MS, and researchers have not been able to find the exact cause.
People with MS typically experience one of the four stages of MS: relapsing remitting (RRMS), secondary-progressive, primary-progressive or progressive relapsing. Each can have symptoms that can range from mild to severe.
After a person is diagnosed, they have varying stages of acceptance, Sanchez said.
“It can be almost a relief to know what is wrong or it can lead to depression of realizing what you now have to deal with,” she said, adding that People with MS deal with more than just the disease. “They have to find new ways of doing normal, everyday things and try to get their family and friends to understand what they are going through. This can often be hard because most of the time those with MS hear comments such as, ‘But you look so good’ or, ‘But you don’t look sick.’
“That is because most symptoms are not always seen. We may have things going on that do not show on our outward appearance, but we may be suffering on the inside with symptoms. We also find out who our true friends are. Some of us have lost friends because they don’t understand or we slowly get to a point we can not do the things we used to, and since others don’t understand they tend to fade away.”
The National MS Society and other researchers are working to find the cause and the cure for MS.
In Plainview, a self-help group meets at 6:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month in the Max Gabriel Conference Room at Covenant Hospital Plainview. Sanchez is co-leader for the five-year-old group, which calls itself Never Surrender.
“We all get together with our family and friends and share advice with each other. We enjoy having speakers come in with new information and also enjoy presentations on ways to make our lives easier. Not only that be we really enjoy being able to talk to someone who is walking in the same shoes and knows exactly what we are going through, and that makes the most difference.”
Only about “five or six” people attend meetings, “but we’d love to have more,” Sanchez said.
Their next meeting will take place March 16.
In addition, Sanchez said MS walks and MS bike rides take place each year throughout the country to raise awareness of and money for research.
“It is our goal that everyone not only understand this disease but show support for those afflicted with this illness,” Sanchez said.
Anyone wanting to learn more or participate in an MS walk or MS bike ride can contact the National MS Society at 1-800-FIGHT-MS.