Jennifer L. Grubbs: My definition of ‘hope’
There’s been a lot of talk about “hope” this year.
It’s a vague idea that makes us feel good.
It’s something that people are really wanting in these hard economic times.
It’s been the central campaign message of one of the major political candidates all year.
And I am feeling a renewed sense of hope these days.
But the economy and the presidential election have nothing to do with it.
Instead, my “hope” is about a breakthrough in medical science.
You see, it’s likely I’m in the early stages of multiple sclerosis.
On Friday, a story broke internationally about a potential new treatment for certain types of MS, which someday could constitute a cure.
That’s right – a cure.
Now, this new treatment has a long way to go. More clinical trials are needed, side effects need to be evaluated, and consideration will need to be given by multiple international governments and U.S. agencies before this treatment becomes available to patients.
But there’s now a new reason for hope.
How it began
In January 2005, I was watching TV when I noticed a gray streak through my vision in my left eye. It looked like someone had taken an eraser and wiped it through my vision.
I was alarmed, and I went to see my optometrist. He told me it was strange and that he couldn’t really give me anything to make it go away. He said that if it got worse or started hurting, I should go to the emergency room. That was Monday.
Well, it did get worse.
Over the next four days, I lost all sight in my left eye. And on Friday, it started hurting like hell.
That night, I had my mom take me to the E.R. at Sterling Regional MedCenter. There, I was initially given a shot for a potential migraine. When that did nothing, the E.R. doctor called in a specialist, the local ophthalmologist.
It was pretty late when the ophthalmologist, who was well past age 70, arrived. I remember he was pretty cranky about being called in after midnight.
But I was pretty cranky about my hurting eye that I couldn’t see out of!
Maybe that’s why he tried telling jokes to calm me down.
It didn’t work; in fact, it just made me more worried and frustrated.
Since he didn’t regularly treat me, he had me do a number of tests.
It was just as I thought: I couldn’t see a darn thing with my left eye.
After shining a tiny flashlight at my eye for a long time, he told Mom and I that at that point, he suspected demyelinization.
I had no idea what that meant, but Mom sure did.
She told me what demyelinization meant.
It meant MS.
What came next
After the night in the E.R., I found myself with a prescription for steroids, and brain scans and appointments with specialists to schedule.
I had the diagnosis of optic neuritis, or an inflammation of the optic nerve.
In coming weeks, I spent a great deal of time on the Internet finding out more about optic neuritis, multiple sclerosis and everything else that popped up when I Googled those key words.
What I found was promising and scary.
• Until I had more attacks or proof was demonstrated in MRI brain scans that I had suffered a certain number of attacks on nerves (creating scars and giving the disease its name, which means many scars), I could only receive a diagnosis of Clinically Isolated Syndrome. In other words, this could have been an isolated event.
• There are several treatment options out there, to treat attacks and possibly prevent further attacks.
• Cases of MS that begin with optic neuritis often are the Relapsing-Remitting form of the disease, which spreads somewhat slower and is usually less traumatic than other types.
• In many cases of optic neuritis, patients regain some or all vision in the affected eye.
• Having had this happen at age 25, it is likely this was the first sign for me – it was caught early.
• Research is being done everyday on treatments for MS. We never know what science might discover tomorrow.
About a breakthrough
Last Friday, I got home from the Daily Press about 10:30 p.m. and settled down to watch an episode of “Numbers” I had recorded on my DVR.
Although I usually fast-forward through commercials, a promo for the CBS4 10 p.m. news caught my attention, and I pushed the “back” button to hear it again.
Anchorwoman Molly Hughes was teasing to a breakthrough in treatment of multiple sclerosis!
I couldn’t watch the 10 p.m. news, since it was long over, but I could get on the Web. I have never been more thankful for the Internet.
I Googled multiple sclerosis and found an article on the Web site of London’s The Times.
Here’s what I read:
“When people with early-stage MS were treated with alemtuzumab, their condition improved significantly more than those on beta interferon, the best treatment available now, across three standard clinical indicators.
“The drug reduced the number of MS attacks by 74 per cent, and the progression of disability by 71 per cent, when compared with beta interferon. Patients on alemtuzumab also showed recovery of brain function, so that they were less disabled at the end of the three-year study than at the beginning, while those on beta interferon continued to decline.
“Almost every patient taking alemtuzumab improved, whereas about half of MS patients show no response to beta interferon.”
While the article did state that this breakthrough had a long ways to go before a widespread treatment could be available, it gave me something I needed.
It gave me hope.