More MS news articles for July 2001

Making the most out of MS

Fri 20-Jul-2001
By John J. Archibald
of the Northwestern

JoAnn Drake would be sitting quietly one moment, then her face would suddenly flare up into great pain.

All of a sudden it would get so bad I would want to cry, the Oshkosh woman said.

Doctors referred her to other doctors. Medicine was followed by tests. When the diagnosis finally came multiple sclerosis she found some relief. When she was in her early 30s, she finally found out what had caused the pain for a decade.

It helps to have a name to it so you dont lose your mind, said Drake, 59, sitting on a couch in her airy south-side home.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that occurs after nerves in the brain and spinal cord lose their ability to communicate signals. The disease often masquerades as vision loss, paralysis and walking difficulties, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Web page. It is sometimes difficult to diagnose. About 350,000 Americans are affected by multiple sclerosis.

Drake suffered pain for years and likely had symptoms before she married when she was in her early 20s. Unlike people who wait years for a diagnosis, she was fortunate to have a diagnosis within several weeks when she finally sought medical advice.

New criteria announced July 10 allow new guidelines for helping doctors confirm the disease more quickly, possibly reducing the waiting time some have before they can be diagnosed.

The criteria were recommended by a panel organized by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Associated Press reported.

Traditional multiple sclerosis testing requires two attacks of the disease for a diagnosis, but decades may pass before the second verifiable attack occurs. The new guidelines are expected to help doctors diagnose multiple sclerosis in people who have had only one attack or havent had any attacks, but have noticed a progression of disability.

Drakes diagnosis was made 28 years ago.

She works in an office at Mercy Medical Center, and is an avid biker and walker. She needs no assistance walking, and springs up from her couch as quickly as a teen-ager to answer a ringing telephone.

She and her husband, Dale, have plans for a 50-mile bike trip this weekend.

I think its important for people to know that when they have a diagnosis its not the end of the world, Drake said.

She has learned to adapt to situations in her life because of the disease. Those who have multiple sclerosis are sensitive to extremes in temperature. Her meals must be pea warm, as she calls it, meaning not too hot or cold as well as soft.

In the years when the Drakes were raising their son and two daughters, the family made allowances knowing their mother couldnt do some tasks. The children chipped in. My kids grew up knowing there wasnt something right with me, she said.

Her faith in God is another resource that she relies upon for strength. She said people with multiple sclerosis have to be bullheaded about facing their disease. Im a quiet fighter. You have to have a sense of humor to laugh at yourself, she said.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society Wisconsin Chapter often refers people to Drake who have just discovered they have the disease, to allay popular fears of the disease.

Her husband used to be active in getting a spouses group together. The reasons for a support group had more to do with the stress that the disease may inflict on a marriage for those unable to cope with it. Ninety percent of MS victims spouses divorce them, Dale Drake said.

The Drakes, by contrast, have been married 38 years.

Their secret for happiness together? Its not a secret, they said, just love and faith.

Nobody could have either one of us, so were better off with each other, Dale Drake said, wryly.

© Copyright 2001, The Northwestern.