April 29, 2004
Tahoe Daily Tribune
In some respects, Diana Bowler, 52, may start her life again today.
Bowler, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1973, plans to return to aquatic classes at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Center.
Swimming was an activity she enjoyed in her younger and healthier years. She used to jump in the lake during breaks at Heidi's Pancake House, where she worked three decades ago.
Recovering from a tough year, Bowler stopped going when she became too weak. Her medication, Betaseron, failed to work. She's now unable to use her legs, relying on a titanium walker that doubles as a chair when it's too difficult to be on foot. She most often uses a cane.
The setback hasn't curtailed her will.
"I feel I have MS, but it doesn't have me. Until we find a cure for MS, I'm not going to let it get the best of me," she said, lounging on the deck of her back yard with her dog, Theodore and cat, Macy. The sounds of birds and the wind blowing through the trees give Bowler a sense of serenity.
Bowler gains much of her strength from keeping a positive attitude through strife.
In 1981 she was waiting tables at Heidi's when she got her first symptom of the disease that affects the central nervous system of about 400,000 Americans. Women more than double the number of men afflicted by the disease. The usual age range for being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis is 25 to 50.
"I just went blind one morning for no reason at all while taking an order," she said. She lost sight in her left eye, and immediately became concerned about her right eye.
Her vision returned in two months. Two years later, she became paralyzed on her right side while getting out of bed.
"I just fell down. That's how cunning and baffling this MS is," she said. "The central nervous system is such an integral part of the body. The symptoms are so diverse."
Beyond the slurred speech, she suffers from ailments that range from bladder dysfunction and dizziness to tremors and fatigue. The latter keeps Bowler from driving a car at times. She receives rides from friends and her compassionate companion, Ed Cotter.
Life has not been easy for this 30-year resident of Lake Tahoe. Three years after she was diagnosed, Bowler's husband, Liam Bowler, died.
She turned to drugs to deal with her grief. She also slid into depression, another MS symptom.
"It was not only a double whammy. I was not only diagnosed with MS; I lost my husband," she said. "I could be very negative. But where would that get me."
Through the roller coaster ride of dealing with the disease, Bowler said she's found support in the community. She also finds inspiration from the beauty of Lake Tahoe, along with listening to comedy and jazz.
Bowler's raised two daughters with aspirations and dreams, and she carries a few of her own. She's built a relationship with Cotter, a local contractor. She also attends a support group that meets every first and third Thursday at Carrows at 4 p.m. Plus, she's taken a career path in counseling for addicts and the disabled.
Things have especially been looking up in the last month. She's changed her medication. She's now taking Copaxone, a drug specifically billed to help with the disease's relapses.
"Lake Tahoe is a good place for a person with MS because they say heat is poison," she said.
Dr. Michael Sullivan, a South Lake Tahoe neurologist, said research has shown a number of factors, including temperate climates, altitude and heat exposure, can affect people with MS.
"It turns out very warm temperatures impair electrical impulses," said Sullivan, who's seen a growing patient list now up to about 50 people locally.
Although there's no proven cause for MS, new medications such as Copaxone improve quality of life and provide hope in dealing with the symptoms.
"Hope is important," Bowler said.
Copyright © 2004, Tahoe Daily Tribune