Reality hit hard for Nicole Yarnold in October 2010. The numbness she felt down to her feet was not going away. After a series of tests, she was given the news. She had multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease affecting three times more women than men in Canada.

The 33-year-old resident of Milton, ON was stunned. “When my neurologist told me, I just sat there,” she recalls. “It was like my ears shut off. As she was speaking, I felt like I had become incoherent. It was Thanksgiving weekend. I spent it at home under a blanket in my room and cried.”

New options for managing MS

At first, she was reluctant to start drug therapy because she knew that it would mean receiving medication through injections. “Needles scare me,” Yarnold says. “I’d think about it, then decide, ‘No. It’s not for me.’”

When her condition worsened after a physically demanding summer job at a factory, it was time to move ahead with treatment. Yarnold was relieved to learn from her doctor that injections were no longer the only option for managing her MS. Instead, she chose to start a new once-daily oral pill that fits into her lifestyle.

Yarnold’s MS could have derailed her life, if she had let it. That’s not her style. Just two months after her diagnosis, she became pregnant with her daughter Elana (now age five), then went on to graduate from Humber College’s recreation sports management program. These days, she is the mother of two children (the latest addition: son Evan, 19 months), volunteers her time supporting MS causes, works as a manager at a home for seniors, and lives a full, busy life.

Her medication is helping her manage her disease well. “I feel like I have more energy and I haven’t had any relapses,” she says. “I just try to stay active, maintain a sense of humour, and take everything with a grain of salt.”

When Tracy Seymour learned she had MS in October 2002, the full-time mother in Upper Island Cove, NL didn’t have an oral medication available to her as a treatment option. “I was just getting my life started,” she remembers. “I got married and had just had my daughter. Then everything stopped and went into reverse. At the time, it was like the whole world was crashing down around me. I was devastated.”

Factoring in the quality-of-life issue

In March 2003, she was prescribed daily injections. But 12 years of using needles left her skin damaged with pain, bruising, and sensitivity. Eventually Seymour ran out of suitable injection sites. First, she could no longer inject into her arms, then her legs, then her stomach and hips. “Finally, I gave up. I didn’t want to feel like a pincushion. I prayed and prayed for an oral medication. When it finally came out, I jumped at it.”

Seymour, 38, has been taking a once-daily oral pill for about a year and a half. She is happy with the results. “I’m doing great,” she says. “I love to row, take trips, watch my 14-year-old daughter Chloe skate and go for walks — something I thought was going to be hard because my legs were very weak for a long time starting with my diagnosis. With the right drug therapy, I live my life the way I want.”

Advances in disease management

Peggy Cook is an MS resource nurse at Saint John Regional Hospital in New Brunswick who has specialized in working with MS patients for the last 10 years of her 30-year career. She has heard patient stories like these before.

“The majority of patients who have made the switch are very happy,” she says. “These people were previously on injections so having the choice to effectively treat their MS with a pill makes a big difference. They no longer have to give themselves a needle, or try to find someone to do it for them. Having an oral medication available means having a heavy weight lifted from their shoulders.”

If there’s anxiety around injecting, it could lead to compliancy issues. For some patients, injections are a constant reminder of their disease. “A pill is easy to take and can fit into most people’s lifestyles. It means you’re not thinking about your MS every second of the day,” says Cook. “And that’s life-changing for some.”

Nicole and her children, Elana and Evan, playing around near their home in Milton, ON
Nicole and her children, Elana and Evan, playing around near their home in Milton, ON
Nicole and her children, Elana and Evan, playing around near their home in Milton, ON
Nicole and her children, Elana and Evan, playing around near their home in Milton, ON