I was driving on Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland around noon on a sunny and cold winter day when I got the call. It was January 30, 2005, and I was an active duty Special Agent assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigation’s headquarters. I heard my cell phone ringing, so I pulled over to answer it.
|My medical retirement in 2005|
“Hi Sylvia, this is Dr. X from Neurology at Malcolm Grow Medical Center,” said the voice on the other end. I had been expecting this call.
“What can I do for you, Doc?” I asked, trying to sound cheerful.
“Well, we got your brain MRI results back, and it’s showing you have a small lesion on your corpus callosum,” Dr. X said.
“Okayyyy…” I replied, thinking that couldn’t be good.
“Between your spinal MRIs and lumbar puncture results, this is all pointing towards MS. But we need to have another symptomatic occurrence to say anything conclusive, like optic neuritis or something,” he explained.
|Hiking in Guadelupe Mtns in 2005|
“You know I had optic neuritis in August 2003; it was my first symptom,” I reminded him.
Dr. X paused. “Wait, let me look in your records…oh yeah, there it is. I have no idea how I missed that. Well, in that case, we can make a clinically definite diagnosis of MS.”
Just like that.
We didn’t talk much longer after that. He wanted me to make an appointment with him pretty soon so we could start talking about different treatment options and what the diagnosis would mean for my military career. After I hung up, I felt…okay. That must sound odd, considering I had just officially been diagnosed with an incurable disease. But MS generally isn’t the kind of condition that hits you over the head from one day to the next. I saw this day coming more than two years earlier, and the diagnosis was almost a relief. It meant I could get started on treatment and move out of this limbo to make some decisions about my future.
|Ziplining in Park City, UT in 2007|
As you may already be aware, MS is a progressive disease for which there is no cure--only a variety of treatments that slow down the progression with varying rates of success. At the time of my diagnosis, I was still able to walk, hike, ride a bicycle, and I suppose even run a little bit had I been so inclined. A few years later, I had to start using a cane on really hot days or on occasions where I would be walking longer distances. Then I moved to a walker in late 2011, a scooter in the summer of 2013, and most recently a power wheelchair for our home a couple of months ago. I can still walk short distances, but it sucks and I hate doing it. I'm exercising regularly with a special trainer to keep my legs as strong as possible since I'm using them much less at home with the power chair, but they get worse every year.
|Exploring Sevilla, Spain in 2008|
On the upside of the physical aspects of my MS, my upper body still works almost normally, with the exception of my hands that sometimes give me trouble writing. Mind you, I usually only have to write short notes or fill out paperwork at a doctor's office on rare occasions, so this has only been a minor inconvenience. My memory and cognitive skills are normal, so I can work and think and take care of all the administrative tasks related to managing a household. With the help of my scooter, I travel alone regularly across the country with much success, albeit with the occasional help of kind strangers and some logistical planning ahead of time.
|Celebrating the 4th of July in 2009|
|Four-wheeling with the boys in 2013|
|ASIS Security Seminar in 2014|
|My new walker, c. 2011|