March is a great month! Two of my children were born in March; I get to pretend that I am a little more Irish than I am (cheers, my friends!); the arctic chill in the New York air begins to make way for light sweater weather, and it is MS Awareness Month. #MSawareness
Though we may not be able to raise a glass together in celebration of good ‘ole St. Patrick, through the magic of my little slice of cyberspace I get the opportunity to help expand knowledge, support and understanding about this disease.
And in case you didn’t already know…
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in February 2011.
Oh, and why did I have to get a disease that is so difficult to spell – “s-c-l-e-r-o-s-i-s”? COME ON!!!
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
MS is an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system (CNS) — the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves which are surrounded by a protective fatty material called “myelin.” In MS, it is thought that when the immune system attacks the CNS, the myelin is damaged — resulting in the formation of dense, scar-like tissue called “sclerosis.” These scars (also known as lesions) can occur in multiple places throughout the CNS.
In less-than-sophisticated medical terms, the damage MS causes means “your brain can’t send signals through your body correctly and your nerves don’t work as they should.” Symptoms include difficulty walking, extreme fatigue, muscle weakness or spasms, blurred or double vision, numbness and tingling, pain, depression, and problems focusing.
Wondering how severe my MS is? I have had all of the symptoms mentioned above. I have fallen a few times (ok, a bunch of times!), I often take two-hour naps (ok, on a daily basis) and I forget things … a lot. I am kind of like “Dory” from Finding Nemo.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition because there is not yet a cure for the disease. It’s important to know that for the vast majority of people who have MS, the disease is not fatal. MS symptoms can be managed and controlled with medications and lifestyle adjustments.
Some people have mild symptoms and don’t need treatment. Others will have trouble getting around and doing daily tasks.
Who gets MS?
It’s estimated that approiximately 400,000 Americans have MS, with women developing the disease at twice the rate of men. Since MS is not contagious, reporting of cases is not required and officials can only estimate the actual number of people living with MS. Scientists have yet to confirm whether or not geography, ethnicity, genetics and other factors contribute to the disease.
What causes MS?
I wish I could educate you with an awesome scientific answer. All I can say is that the body’s immune system responds abnormally and attacks the central nervous system — damaging the myelin. Don’t know why. Don’t know how. It just does.
The first symptoms often start between ages 20 and 40. Most people who are seeking treatment for MS go through relapses and remissions. A relapse is when you experience a flare-up of symptoms. Relapses are also called “exacerbations.” Remission is a period in which you have no symptoms of the disease. A remission can last for weeks, months, or, in some cases, years. But remission does not mean you no longer have MS — your immune system is still wired to attack myelin.
Is there treatment?
There is no cure for MS right now, but there are a number of different treatment options that may slow the course of the disease, prevent or treat attacks, ease symptoms, or help manage the stress that can come with the condition.
Along with treatment, there are other things patients can do to ease MS symptoms, including regular exercise and avoiding excessive heat. Taking care of emotional health is very important as well.
MS doesn’t care about your social status — it is truly an equal opportunity lender. Actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, best known for playing the daughter of mobster Tony Soprano, was diagnosed with MS at age 20. Jack Osbourne announced his MS diagnosis in June 2012. Ann Romney, wife of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was diagnosed with MS in 1998 at the age of 49. And former talk show host Montel Williams went public with his diagnosis in 1999.
And now, two things the patient (ME!) would love you to take away from reading this:
- Don’t feel sorry for me, but do learn more about MS. And, the next time I tell you “I’m tired” (p.s. – I’m actually EXHAUSTED) or cancel plans (which I am definitely guilty of…), you’ll have a better understanding why.
- Most important, practice compassion and tolerance whenever you see someone with a disease or disability (or anyone with “differences”). Each of us face difficult roads at one point or another and have to maneuver challenges — this is not just for people with MS, but everyone living this crazy journey of life. Often, our social media pages paint a pretty picture but let’s be honest, nobody is going to post a gross selfie!
Oh and of course, where there is a cause, there is a fundraiser!
There are many different fundraising opportunities for multiple sclerosis such as Bike MS, Walk MS, MuckFest MS and Challenge Walk MS. My wonderful friends and I participated in MuckFest two years ago (read about it here).
By the way, whoever is interested (and is on Long Island, NY), come hang out with me and my team of supporters on Saturday, May 21 for the MS Walk at Jones Beach (more info here).
The Home T (you can win one!)
I’m also a BIG fan of The Home T – a company that lets you show your state pride and donates 10% of profits to multiple sclerosis research. Their shirts are made in the USA, and are insanely soft! They were featured on Shark Tank in March and have been spotted being worn by celebrities such as Hilary Duff, Bryan Cranston, Mila Kunis and Chris Soules from The Bachelor.
Want to win your own Home T and help show your support of MS? Hop over to Facebook and drop your home state and t-shirt size (S/M/L/XL) in the comment thread. While you are there, I would love for you to share this blog post and help raise MS Awareness. I’ll pick one winner at random at the end of the month. Good luck!
Be on the lookout, World MS Day is officially marked on the last Wednesday of May every year (this year, it’s May 25, 2016) and I am sure I will be sharing more information. #strongerthanMS