Devoted to each other

DaVeeda White, right, with her daughter, Glennae Williams, at their home in Mt. Winans. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / April 30, 2014)

Sometimes, late at night, Glennae Williams is startled awake by a crash.

"Are you ok, Ma?" she calls to her mother.

Her mother, DaVeeda White, has fallen again. She gets up to use the bathroom and her legs collapse, just as they have been collapsing since Glennae was a little girl.

"I'm on the floor," White calls back. She knows her daughter will come.

These are not the kinds of nights one associates with the last exhausted, exuberant, anxious weeks of college.

Williams stays up late cramming for finals and fretting about grades, then rushes off to work in the morning. She'll be finished with all of her classes in a few weeks, although she won't officially graduate until the end of the summer. She wonders about her career, what life will be like now that school is finally behind her.

But there's another question hanging over her: Should she stay with her mom, or move out on her own?

Williams, the only child of a single mother, has cared for her mom through multiple sclerosis and breast cancer. She's bathed her, taken her to doctor's appointments, slept on a hard sofa in her hospital room.

But now the soft-spoken 22-year-old wonders if it's time to start her own life, away from her mom.

"I'm so torn," she says, sitting in the living room of their Mount Winans rowhouse. A train clangs in the distance. "I wanted to move out and get my own place."

"A 'swanky apartment,' is what she calls it," says White, 47.

"But you don't want to leave your mom," Williams says.

The diagnosis

Williams was in second grade when her mother first started falling.

White would be working a shift as a cardiac nurse at St. Agnes Hospital when the floor would start to spin. At first, she thought it was fatigue. Then her arms and legs began to tingle. She started slipping, tripping.

"We used to tease her and say she was clumsy," recalls her sister, Monica Pringle.

And then, one day, her legs just wouldn't move, White says.

She knew what she had before the spinal tap confirmed it: multiple sclerosis.

Although the cause of the disease is not known, multiple sclerosis is believed to be an auto-immune disease. Women under 50 are most likely to be diagnosed, although it can affect men and people at other ages as well.

Multiple sclerosis means "many scars." The scars are microscopic, spread throughout the body and caused by the body attacking itself.