Living Without Fear: Multiple Sclerosis
Education and Advocacy In 2004, Christiane received news that would change her life forever. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), an incurable, often disabling, disease that affects an estimated 100,000 Canadians.
Signs and symptoms
The symptoms of MS vary greatly from person to person and they can appear suddenly out of the blue — fatigue, difficulty in walking, tremors, dizziness, and cognitive impairment to name a few. For Christiane, the first sign came eight years earlier when she woke up one morning and was unable to see out of her left eye. Her doctor said it could be a sign of MS. “I didn’t like that word at all,” she recalls. “My first reaction was denial. I refused to even think about it.”
“My first reaction was denial. I refused to even think about it.”
Then a few years later, at the beginning of a ski trip, her left leg went numb. It was weak and lacked strength. Determined to not let it ruin her vacation, Christiane went skiing anyway, using her hands to move her limb where it needed to be.
After this second incident, Christiane was referred to a neurologist who was able to confirm a diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS (the most common of the four types), following a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test. Immediately, she assumed the worst: “I thought I’d be living my life in a wheelchair. I was in shock.”
A manageable condition
But the more she learned about MS, the more she realized that it was a manageable condition through disease-modifying drugs and a healthy lifestyle. She didn’t have to give up her active lifestyle. She could still do the things she loved — downhill skiing, cycling, tennis, swimming, travelling to countries like Austria (her favourite) with her husband, and running her own marketing and graphic design agency.
She was referred to an MS clinic for treatment where she was prescribed an injectable drug to slow the progression of the disease. In March 2014, after an annual appointment with her doctor, she switched to a once-a-day oral option — one she had heard about two or three years prior that was being studied substantially by Canadian neurologists.
“I was thrilled when it became available. I would no longer have to have daily injections,” she says. “I didn’t like them. For a decade, they were constant reminders that I had a serious disease.” There were practical considerations as well. Oral treatment meant an end to the pain and bruising she experienced at the injection sites.
New and convenient options
And, for someone like Christiane who loves to explore the world, the change was freeing. She no longer has to worry about the hassle that comes with traveling with hypodermic needles, or with cleaning up broken glass in a hotel due to a dropped vial.
“The oral medication has made a big difference in my life,” she says. “It’s so convenient. I take my pills each morning and, in seconds, I’m ready to begin my day. I no longer have side effects, like constipation, to contend with. I feel great.”
Canada has the highest rate of MS disease in the world, but thankfully has some of the top MS researchers. Some of Christiane’s time is devoted to planning community fundraising events to help find a cure for MS. The irony is that, long before her diagnosis, Christiane donated to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
“It was a disease that scared me,” she explains. “Now that I’ve been diagnosed, I want to do more than just send a cheque. I’ve benefitted so much from what life has given me. I want to give back.”
It helps Christiane face every day with optimism and a one-day-at-a-time attitude. “I’m living my life without fear. I’m doing what I want to do. And I’m happy.”