So in 1997, when I was 24, a year after moving to San Francisco from Nebraska, I began to seek alternative treatments. During the decade I lived in the Bay Area before my diagnosis, I regularly saw an acupuncturist, several different massage therapists, a chiropractor, a hypnotherapist, a meditation teacher, and a nutrition counselor, plus I practiced yoga at least five days a week, all of which had tremendous therapeutic benefit. I firmly believe that if it weren't for this team of holistic practitioners, I would be much worse off today. I think their help kept the MS at bay, but only for so long. It was no match for the overdriven lifestyle I lived. There is a strong connection between high levels of stress over extended periods of time and autoimmune diseases. Scientists are still studying this connection, but I believe that if I had made different lifestyle choices, it is possible I may not have developed full-blown MS.
While Mark and I were on our honeymoon, I developed a urinary tract infection. We had four days left in Mexico, and I wanted to wait till we were back in the States to treat it. By that time it was pretty bad. (I've since learned that a UTI is a common trigger for an MS flare.) The infection cleared up after I saw a doctor, but three days later I woke up and my hands simply didn't work. I couldn't bend them; they were stuck like claws. Over the next couple of days I felt tremendous fatigue. I could hardly get anything done at work. By the time I lost the vision in my right eye, I found myself back in the hands of mainstream doctors after a pretty long absence.
My diagnosis of MS came just one month after my wedding day. Three neurologists in white coats took turns looking into my right eye and commenting on the degradation they could see on my optic nerve. They took me through a few standard neurological tests. Tap your index finger and thumb together. Walk heel to toe. Touch your nose with your index finger. One of the top neurologists at the UCSF Medical Center confirmed the diagnosis for me by showing me pictures of my brain from the MRI scans they took.
"You see this hook-shaped white lesion here?" he asked, pointing to his computer screen. "That's a classic MS lesion. Judging from your history of symptoms, I'd estimate you've had MS for more than a decade."
"A decade!" exclaimed Mark, stunned. "Shouldn't someone have caught this sooner?"
"I don't think she's ever had enough symptoms present at one time to lead to an accurate diagnosis," replied the doctor So there really wasn't anyone to blame, but that didn't stop me from being angry at all the doctors I saw over the years who told me I was suffering from nothing more than stress.