Fourteen years ago, a highly regarded doctor told Nancy Davis that she was lucky she could operate a remote control and that she didn't have a brain tumor.
What she had was multiple sclerosis (MS), a progressive and degenerative neurological condition, and she didn't feel that lucky. At the time, she was a 33-year-old mother of three trapped in a rapidly deteriorating marriage and recovering from a painful ski injury.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. The disease damages myelin, a fatty substance that normally surrounds and protects the nerves. It can also damage the nerves (called axons) within the central nervous system.
Results of this damage can range from mild (numbness in the limbs) to severe (paralysis or vision loss). About half of people with MS experience problems with concentration,...
But that was then. Now, Davis, 47, the founder of The Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis, remains an avid skier and tennis player, is a black belt in karate, an author, and just gave birth to twin girls. "I am not living up to a negative prognosis and I feel amazingly fortunate," she tells WebMD.
Her secret? Positive thinking, education, and a steadfast determination to live her life to the fullest. This can-do philosophy is now the basis of Davis' new book Lean on Me: 10 Powerful Steps to Moving Beyond Your Diagnosis and Taking Back Your Life. The book provides an easy-to-follow 10-step roadmap to accepting illness, facing fears, and thriving in the face of chronic disease.
From Concern to Courage
The Los Angeles-based jewelry designer's diagnosis came shortly after she sustained a knee injury during a ski trip in Aspen, Colo. Days later, she felt numbness that spread from her fingers and hands to her abdomen. Her orthopaedist said these symptoms were not related to her knee and that she should consult a neurologist. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed plaques on her brain and spinal cord, which are the hallmarks of MS.
Though exactly what causes it is unknown, MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS), which comprises the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, including the optic nerves. A fatty tissue called myelin surrounds and protects the nerve fibers of the CNS, helping them conduct electrical impulses.
In MS, however, the myelin is lost in multiple areas, leaving scar tissue called sclerosis. These damaged areas are also known as plaques or lesions. Symptoms vary from person to person, but they can include abnormal fatigue, vision problems, loss of balance and muscle coordination, slurred speech, tremors, stiffness, or bladder problems.
Like Davis, most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. Worldwide, MS may affect 2.5 million individuals, according to statistics from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
What sets Davis, the daughter of the late oilman-turned-Hollywood-mogul Marvin Davis, apart from the fray is her attitude.
Sure, "my first reaction was to hide under my covers, cry, and feel sorry for myself," she admits. But "people who do that don't do well. The people who do well get really educated and don't have time to be sick."