By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC

According to the National Institutes of Health, multiple sclerosis (MS) is an “unpredictable disease” of the central nervous system in which “communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted.”

Rachel, 47, who lives in Independence, Kansas, with a daughter and son, was diagnosed with MS more than 20 years ago. Her closest friend the last 15 years, Skip Leon, lives in Texas and is sports editor of the Plainview Herald.

In a telephone interview, Leon said, “Rachel hasn't been able to walk the last three and a half years and was having trouble even three years before that when she had to use a cane or crutches. Rachel always defined herself by what she could accomplish in life, such as raising three kids under age 11 by herself after a divorce. She is very, very independent.”

She has chronic progressive MS and has had many emotional ups and downs. Leon called his best friend a warrior.

He said, “It was really emotionally tough on her when she could no longer do the things she'd always done, such as cleaning house, caring for her cats and dogs, cooking dinner for her son after he came home from work, driving a car or being there for her kids. It took a while for her to readjust her thinking. She tries to keep her spirits up. She has to fight depression.”

As for depression, she had been seeing a mental health professional, but because of her disability had trouble making appointments. What helped her most was eventually arriving at a point where she could begin accepting her condition.

Leon said he also did his best to keep her positive. “For example, I let her know she was the same person to me and she still is,” he said. “I told her that as a mother she had a great deal of wisdom. Her mother had passed that wisdom on to her, and she could pass it on to her children, even though she couldn't physically do the same things as before.”

Leon had advice for people with loved ones diagnosed with MS: “Don't concentrate on what they can't do, but on what they can. Also, try to stress that even though they have MS, they are still the same person. If you (receive an MS diagnosis), it's not the end of the world.”

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