According to recent articles in Runner’s World Magazine, having a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis has not stopped Cheryl Hile, Jennifer Lee or Melissa Ossanna. Each woman is fighting the symptoms of the disease through feats that most people could not even imagine or accomplish.
Cheryl Hile explained to Runner’s World that her addiction to running began in 1996 while in college. She wanted to be a running mate to her fiance, who now offers her encouragement and runs with her, giving support and guidance.
Almost immediately after the completion of a marathon in 2006, Cheryl started feeling pain, then numbness, and then electric shocks running along one side of her body.
After several tests and consultations, Cheryl was referred to a neurologist for an MRI scan. The scan showed lesions not only in her spine but also in her brain.
Even though Cheryl believed that she had MS, her neurologist believed otherwise. He based his opinion on her running long distances while people diagnosed with the disease were dependent on wheelchairs, canes, and walkers.
Ten months from the onset of her symptoms, Cheryl saw a specialist who confirmed the diagnosis of MS.
Dr. Barry Singer, a neurologist at the MS Center of the Missouri Medical Center explains that MS causes the immune system to attack the coating (myelin) that protects the nerves of the brain, spinal cord, and eyes.
Critical signals from the spinal cord and brain are disrupted. Initially, this results in weakness and numbness but eventually, it becomes severely debilitating.
MS primarily affects women between the age of twenty and fifty who face almost three times the risk of getting the disease than men.
The disease may be treated with either injections, corticosteroids, infusions or a combination of drugs. However, there is no cure for the disease.
Doctors recommend exercise at whatever level is suitable for the MS patient. Symptoms such as fatigue, balance issues, and depression can be eased, even if only for a short time.
The Best Medicine
Contemplating what her life might be like after hearing her diagnosis, Cheryl went through a period of depression. Her doctor was concerned about her being suicidal and prescribed antidepressants.
Cheryl decided on a more powerful medication. With her husband’s encouragement, she decided to return to running and it worked. She accomplished a “first” by running marathons on seven continents as a patient.
Cheryl helped create a team of MS runners now in its second year, with one hundred members. She has also raised money for MS research and awareness.
Jennifer Lee, a radiation oncologist, told Runner’s World that one week after she had run a 50K she felt a sharp pain in her face. She was unable to walk and lost sight in one eye.
Jennifer’s MS diagnosis came just as she was finishing her residency. The diagnosis threatened her career as well as her physical activities. She decided not to disclose her condition and decided that for as long as she could, she would continue running.
Eventually, Jennifer got the courage to tell people about her diagnosis. She found a group of athletes with similar neurological conditions who offered support and raised funds for MS.
Jennifer is now 33. She explains that each day brings a different challenge. One day she is able to run twenty miles, but the next day she may not be able to take a few steps without aid.
She is determined to do the things that she loves for as long as she can.
Runner’s World recently interviewed Melissa Ossanna who is called “Smiley” by her friends in Bar Harbor. The nickname originates from her big smiles as she runs miles through her hometown. Melissa’s smile did not vanish even when she was in pain after completing a 100 mile race.
During Melissa’s interview with Runner’s World, Melissa related her experience with MS. She was a twenty-seven-year-old nursing student when she was diagnosed. She managed to cope with weakness in her limbs, temporary blindness, and other symptoms while still working for a pharmaceutical company.
By 2009 Melissa had to take disability leave as MS had impacted not only her job, but her life with her husband and thirteen-year-old son.
During a routine physical her neurologist discovered that Melissa was suffering from sleep apnea which is related to MS. After being successfully treated for her sleep apnea, Melissa had more energy and was able to go back to work full time.
Melissa’s love of running began in 2011 when she observed a group of runners preparing for a marathon. She noticed the enthusiasm and energy of the runners and signed up for the 2012 marathon, ready to do whatever it takes.
After a year of training, she not only completed the 2012 marathon but has gone on to 50 and 100 milers. Ever since she started running Melissa has not experienced any progression of the disease.
Melissa is now approaching age fifty and is in her seventh year of running marathons. She is taking on the challenge of running in four one hundred mile races within a few months. The challenge is called the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. Along with the physical challenge, Melissa hopes to be able to raise about $3,500 for a non-profit helping people with disabilities participate in sporting events.