April 1999

Living with MS: A demanding ‘friend’

Debbie Dickerson
But you look so good . . . You’re doing great! . . .You don’t look sick.” Normally anyone would be thrilled to hear someone say that.

But when you have multiple sclerosis and you really do feel awful and worn out, it is easier to say thank you and go on about your business.

I was diagnosed with MS in 1985 following two brain biopsies and several repeated tests and hospital stays. I could have had a brain tumor: Believe it or not, that is what I did want. You know, zap it with a laser and it’s gone for good. I did not want MS. It was an unknown, and I would have to live with it every day and it would not go away.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. It may be as mild as numbness or tingling of limbs to paralysis or loss of vision. Between the ages of 20 and 40 is when it usually hits. It is lifelong and there is no cure yet.

As I have learned over these last few years, MS is a quirky disease that can affect the individual with various symptoms, any time and place and to various degrees of disability. It also has “hidden” symptoms that I dislike most of all.

I am fortunate that most of mine are not visible. I do not use a wheelchair or cane. My walk is pretty steady. The tremble in my hands and voice is barely noticeable.

What you can’t see are the numbness in my legs, the erratic and fleeting double vision and the occasional but frustrating confusion of minor mental details. But I know they still there, just waiting to rear their ugly heads.

Living with MS is challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is not to let MS control you but you control it and get along with it. I’ve tried to make MS a friend. I try to live with my friend and its idiosyncrasies. Like a friend, MS has a mind of its own and unfortunately it does have the upper hand sometimes.

The opportunity lies in what you make of your disability. Not what the disability makes of you.

With Lockheed Martin’s assistance, I have completed my college education, something I am not sure I would have tried if I had not been diagnosed with MS. MS was the incentive for me to say “you will not beat me.” Multiple sclerosis has given me the opportunity to take advantage of disability programs and become involved with raising the awareness of disabilities in the community.

You keep telling me I look great, and I’ll keep thanking you.

Help me and other individuals with MS by joining the WLKN4MS team sponsored by Lockheed Martin on April 24 in Oak Ridge. Please call and sign up today. Contact Janice Smith, 576-8431; Lora Wolfe, 574-7066; or Debbie Dickerson, 576-2083, for more information.

Debbie Dickerson works in the Life Sciences Division.