Multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system, affects people in the prime of life, usually between the ages of 15 and 40. The cause of MS is unknown, and there is no cure.
Those affected experience symptoms such as blurred vision, fatigue, numbness or tingling, and problems with muscle coordination and balance. It's a disease that can suddenly disappear or reappear. It can get progressively worse. Every case is different.
A healthy nervous system depends upon the myelin sheath around the nerves, a layer of message-carrying insulation that transmits signals to and from the brain. The disease occurs when portions of the myelin sheath break down. The lost myelin is replaced by scar tissue, and signal transmission is lost.
Myelin can repair itself, so sometimes the MS patient recovers temporarily. The symptoms and the disease can perplex patient and doctor.
"Typically, a decade ago, someone may have had symptoms that the family physician would think was something else. Now, the word is getting out and treatment is readily available," said Dee Myers, of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Maryland Chapter, in Towson.
"When someone is diagnosed very early, MS is usually invisible and their quality of life can be quite [good]," she said.
Help is available in Carroll County. The Tri-County Branch of the Maryland Chapter opened to serve Frederick, Howard and Carroll counties just under two years ago. Jacqueline Stem, previously an MS volunteer of the year, addresses the needs of almost 400 clients with cheerful sincerity.
From the Tri-County office she coordinates equipment loans, counseling services, summer getaways, seminars and a job-readiness program that helps people with MS re-evaluate what they can accomplish in their professional lives.
However, little more than 100 people from Carroll have received literature or services from her office at 5340 Enterprise St., Sykesville.
"We know not everyone has registered [with the organization]," she said. "Some people fear job loss, or medical insurance problems. We emphasize confidentiality. It's a very big issue."
Lynn Carder, who has lived with MS for 22 years, leads the Carroll County self-help group. Every third Wednesday, 18 to 25 people gather at Carroll Community College. Often they hear an invited specialist. There's always time for conversation.
"It's good to get out and talk," said Mrs. Carder. "It gets past the fear. . . . Then you have it halfway made. Every case is completely different, but we all have the same feelings."
Cheryl Scrivener became involved with the MS Society about 18 months ago. She was on active duty at Bethesda Naval Hospital during Operation Desert Storm when her husband "had coordination problems and double vision," she recalls.
In a week, he was diagnosed with MS.
Bill Scrivener is a cancer research associate, working for a subcontractor of the National Cancer Society.
His wife, Cheryl, said, "I told him, 'Just hurry, find the cure to cancer and move on to MS.' You certainly pay a lot more attention to the disease when someone you love has it."
Mrs. Scrivener wanted to help close to home. She has brought the National MS "Super Cities Walk" to Westminster for the first time. The national walk is the society's main fund-raiser.
"Forty percent goes right to national research," Mrs. Stem said. "The other 60 percent stays in-state to provide services."
"That's one of the main motivators for us," said Mrs. Scrivener. "The money we raise is going toward research at places like the National Institutes of Health for medication research. It's support for Bill and others like him."
Mr. Scrivener has been a patient in an NIH study for more than a year.
"If it weren't for the drug [at NIH], I don't know where we'd be now," she said.
Dubbed "Wander through Westminster," the March 27 walk will feature the best of historic Westminster. Starting and ending at the Carroll County Farm Museum, walkers will circle to Western Maryland College and Courthouse Square. Pamphlets provided by the Tourist Information Center will call attention to important landmarks.
Chrissy Kirkner, publicity chairwoman, said she plans to "pamper the walkers." An aerobic warm-up at 8:30 a.m. by Slim Time Spa gets everyone moving for the 9 a.m. departure. Pizza, cookies, fruit and beverages are provided.
"All types of people are walking," she said, and the organization is hoping for at least 100 participants. "Not just people in the greatest shape. We'll just stroll along."