Camille Tong remembers May 30, 2008.
It was the day her life changed.
“I was driving and my vision changed in one eye,” she said, adding that at first she thought it was just a smudge on her sunglasses. “It looked like I was looking through water.”
The next few days she used eye drops and when her vision didn’t improve, she went to an eye doctor, who asked in passing if she had multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and central nervous system.
Not that she knew of, Tong remembers answering.
But over the next two years all the while experiencing definite but temporary symptoms, like a tingling sensation on her left side and intolerance to heat would be a barrage of tests that eventually would determine that Tong did have MS.
“There’s no one test for MS,” she explained. “It’s such an individual disease.”
According to a news release from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s National Capital chapter, symptoms of MS are unpredictable and the progress and severity of the disease cannot be predicted.
MS affects more than 400,000 people in the United States and 2.5 million around the world, the release states. There is no cure, but early detection and ongoing therapy can improve the quality of life of those who suffer from it.
But advances in research and treatment are being made. Six fundraising walks in April are slated to take place in the Washington, D.C., area. While it is free to walk, organizers ask that participants raise money through pledges.
“Funds raised will directly support local services for 18,000 people in our community affected by MS, as well as fund vital research initiatives to find a cure,” said National Capital Chapter President Chris Broullire in the release. This year, organizers hope to raise $1.4 million across the six local walks.
Tong along with her grandchildren, Jordan, 5, and Kenneth, 4 will be among the walkers Saturday who will take part in the Walk MS at William B. Wade Elementary School in Waldorf.
Among the walkers will be friends Lauren Adams and Susan Fenwick of St. Mary’s County. Both have family members who were affected by MS. In the society’s release, Fenwick said her grandfather suffered from the disease.
“As children we never really noticed his illness,” she said in the release. “He was always in a chair or scooter, and always happy to see his grandchildren. As we grew older we realized he never stood up on his own.”
Adams’ sister MaryJo was diagnosed in 2008 with MS. Saturday’s walk is Adams’ way to help fund MS research.
“I feel helpless when I cannot be there to take her pain away and help when she needs it,” said Adams in the release. “By participating in Walk MS, I am able to offer moral support.”
Tong, who walked in the event last year, said if she and her two young grandchildren can do the 3.1 miles, and with free registration open at 9 a.m. on the day of the walk, anybody can walk.
An administrative assistant with the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Tong, 46, said after she first received her diagnosis of remittal relapse multiple sclerosis a form of MS where symptoms can go into remission but sufferers also may relapse, “There are good days and bad days. There could be a long period of time that I don’t feel anything and I start thinking, ‘Maybe I don’t have it.’ And out of nowhere …” the numbness returns and Tong has to admit to herself she does have MS.
The disease was unknown to her when she was diagnosed. Once she knew what she was dealing with, she attended just about every seminars, support group and workshop she could find. Sometimes her children, daughter, Casey Larry, and son, Sean Europe, would join her.
But soon it all became overwhelming.
“In the beginning, I’d get those down times,” she said. “I get depressed. The mood would come over you. I became aware of it and fight against it.”
Selecting events more judiciously nowadays, Tong said the support she has received from the MS chapter has helped a lot.
Tong takes prescription Vitamin D and a daily shot of medication and tries to stay busy.
She walks on the treadmill, works out on the elliptical machine and if the weather is cool enough, she’ll take a walk outside.
The heat intolerance makes it difficult.
Tong said she can feel like she’s being burned even while sitting on the couch in her living room.
Fatigue also can overtake her.
While she used to be able to clean the house, do the laundry, go to the store and cook a meal without missing a beat, now she can feel her energy being drained just by folding clothes.
There are medications to treat symptoms, but too many medications have side effects that Tong doesn’t want to live with.
“I just live with it and try to tolerate it,” she said. “I exercise, try to manage my energy.”
But when things get too bad, or when her symptoms flare up, she can feel it and it usually attacks her eyes.
“You know when something’s wrong,” Tong said. “I go in and get treated.” An intravenous drip of steroids administered at home for three or four days usually does the trick.
“My vision gets brighter and the sharp pains are gone,” she said, recommending that people with MS should stay active. “Do whatever you can do. I walk to be a part of the movement to keep moving and to get one step closer to a world without MS.”
Walk this wayNational Multiple Sclerosis Society’s National Capital chapter will hold its 24th annual Walk MS April 14 at William B. Wade Elementary School, 2300 Smallwood Drive W., Waldorf. Registration starts at 9 a.m. To register, go to http://walkdcw.nationalmssociety.org/site/PageServer?pagename=WLK_DCW_register.
The 3.1-mile route through various Waldorf neighborhoods and along Hampshire Lake, will conclude with a finish line celebration with music, food and entertainment. Go to www.MSandYOU.org.