May 1, 2004
As told by Mary Graiko
Rhode Island College Anchor
Multiple Sclerosis awareness is alive on the Rhode Island College campus. Six students from the Rhode Island College Public Relations Team have been working with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Rhode Island Chapter, with the guidance of Development Coordinator Sean McAuliffe. RIC students, Abbey Brooks, Allyson Cook, Dave Cranshaw, Jacqueline Crevier, Jamie Pachomski and Sabrina Proulx have received permission from the Governor to declare March 11, 2005 a Statewide MS Education Awareness Day. The PR Lab Group is collaborating with the Rhode Island College Communications Honor Society, Lambda Pi Eta, Epsilon Chi Chapter, to hold a “Wash Out MS” Car Wash,” where a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the MS Society. The car wash is scheduled to be held on May 29, 2004.
The Following Story Tells the Tale of a Woman With MS
“Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul,and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”
- Emily Dickinson
Mary Graiko was receptive to the life changes of empty nest, retirement, a move to Florida and getting accustomed to the warmer climate; she had no idea that she was also to be accustomed to what it was like living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
MS is an auto-immune disease in which a person’s defense system attacks a fatty substance, called myelin which protects the central nervous system. About two-thirds of an estimated third of a million Americans have MS. (National MS Society: nationalmssociety.org) Mary is one of these women.
She was a woman that was always active. Ironically, she was also a woman who rarely ever had a cold. How does a healthy woman, who raised two children, who has never suffered from any serious illness in her life get MS? MS knows not gender, age, or race. Although it is a disease that generally affects people between the ages of 20 and 50, anyone could be diagnosed. MS is not a fatal disease. Most people who have been diagnosed with the disease learn to effectively cope and engage in a fulfilling life. Mary is one of these people. This is her story.
Mary and her husband had decided to move to Florida, after 30 years of raising their two children in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her children, a daughter who is now 36 and a son, who is 26, had “flown the coop” so they decided to move to a warmer climate to begin to enjoy their retirement years together.
Mary began to feel very tired shortly after they had settled in their new home. She did not feel herself, given the fact that she had very little energy. It just wasn’t like her to be so tired all the time. “I chalked it up to the move and to the heat,” Mary had rationalized to herself. Her weariness continued and in addition to this fatigue, she began to have a sporadic tingling sensation in her fingertips. “I have had thyroid problems for many years,” she pointed out. She went to see her family doctor and consulted his advice. “The doctor thought that maybe he needed to adjust my thyroid medication “
If only that was it. After her thyroid check came back normal, the doctors considered the idea that the tingling sensation in her fingertips was the result of a pinched nerve. She was instructed to return in ten days and to take some pills for that duration. “My thyroid was fine, but the medication did not seem to do any good,” Mary recalled.
She was sent to have a Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) so the doctors could attempt to see what was wrong with her and why she had not been feeling right for weeks. The MRI results showed a couple of lesions on her spine. Mary was sent to a neurologist to follow up on these abnormal test results. The neurologist speculated that she may have had a brain tumor or “other horrible things.” “My husband and I dubbed her the “evil one.” The only good thing that came out of my seeing her was she sent me to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville to be diagnosed,” Mary commented.
She underwent multiple tests at the Mayo Clinic over the course of a six-month period. “It is a terrible thing when you know there is something wrong with you and so far all you’ve heard has been the horrible things,” Mary pointed out.
Because her symptoms were “slight” it was difficult for the doctors at the Mayo Clinic to diagnose Mary. They concluded that she had MS in its early stages, through the process of elimination and after ruling out Sjorgrens disease, which, like MS is an auto-immune disease. Mary had exhibited the mild MS symptoms, including weakness, tingling and numbness sensations. The MRI showing the lesions on her spine was evidence of scar tissue in the central nervous system. Sometimes it takes several months or years to diagnose an individual with MS. Mary was among one of the luckier people, to have been diagnosed early, before the disease could progress.
Naturally, she did not feel lucky. When Mary thinks back to those first days and months after she was first diagnosed with MS, she remembers her depression that followed shortly after. She was subjected to a series of Solumedrol treatments for a series of three days in a row. Each day, these treatments took a couple hours. “Honestly, I thought I was going to die. I went into a terrible depression. I think it was from the treatments, finding out I had MS, and the medication the first neurologist put me on,” Mary explained.
She spent nearly a month in bed due to the depression and the “after-effects” of the Solumedrol. “I had no hope,” Mary remembered thinking. Her family doctor prescribed her to take the anti-depressant, Zoloft. About two months later, she began to get her strength and her will back. She went back to work and began to regain confidence. “I made up my mind that if I was going to have to live with this, I need to stop feeling sorry for myself, and get on with my life; if I wanted one and I did.”
MS is a “mystery disease” because doctors are not entirely sure as to what exactly causes it. Some people argue that environmental factors play a role, while others point to genetic factors as an influence. Mary has her own opinion on this matter. “I can’t help but think that all of this, the move to Florida and the MS might have something to do with me going through menopause,” she commented. “I mean, how can you go from being so healthy to being diagnosed with MS?” Mary wondered.
Mary has learned to live successfully with MS and considers herself to be “healthy, even with MS.” She does however; face many daily challenges that are unique to a person who has MS. Each day, she takes her Zoloft, daily vitamin, Vitamin C and Levoxyl for her thyroid. While some people get up and make a fresh pot of brewed coffee and sit down to read the paper as their early morning routine, Mary’s routine is giving herself a daily injection of Copaxone, which she has been taking for the last five years. “My doctors’ are very happy with the results of the Copaxone treatment,” Mary pointed out. Copaxone is usually administered to patients, like Mary, diagnosed with early stages of MS, because it slows down the natural course of the disease. (National MS Society).
She gets tired easier than most people. She does speculate that some of this exhaustibility is linked to growing older, but realizes that she needs to “dole out her energy.” She explained, “If I want to play golf. I can’t play 18-holes and then go to the mall all night.” But every Sunday she and her husband go golfing, to the auction or to the beach.
“I do feel that people are knowledgeable of MS, because of all the research and new developments concerning MS that are publicized in newspapers and magazines, and especially new breakthroughs that you can see on the Web and on TV,” Mary noted. This past October, which was her last appointment at the Mayo Clinic, her doctor informed her that some drugs that are used to lower cholesterol are now being used as a form of treatment for MS.
Mary supports the National MS Society and attends some of the MS club
meetings in Florida when she can.
Copyright © 2004, Rhode Island College Anchor