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      Living with multiple sclerosis

      It's a disease that affects one out of every 500 Americans: multiple sclerosis or MS. For your Facebook story Friday, you wanted to know more about it.

      MS is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. It's unpredictable, and symptoms vary with each case.

      At first glance, you wouldn't know Nancy Beukema takes several pills a day just to keep going. But this former runner has now settled for walking. She says the first symptoms of MS were alarming.

      "In order to use my arm, I had to move it with my hand, and it was dead to the world," said Beukema.

      Attacks like those on the central nervous system signal the beginning stage called the relapsing-remitting, and it's what makes the disease so unpredictable. Doctors say there are four stages of MS, each one slowly worsening neurological functions. The disease course may look different from one person to another.

      "More problematic symptoms would be weakness and most common being what we call Optic Neuritis, which is blurred vision, loss of vision," said Dr. Karl Meisel, a neurologist at Marquette General Hospital.

      Since being diagnosed in 2003, Beukema's disease has progressed, but slowly. And since starting a new drug, she hasn't used the leg brace she once relied on. Doctors say the plateau is a good thing.

      "What we try to do is delay that time period where people are in the relapse-remitting phase and have a longer onset to the secondary progression," Dr. Meisel said.

      The National MS Society estimates nearly 18,000 Michiganders live with the disease, and a little more than 500 are in the Upper Peninsula. Most patients don't become severely disabled. With an active lifestyle and drug treatment, the attacks can be minimized.

      "To me it's the only way," Beukema said.

      Doctors say they cannot pinpoint why, but people living in the Northern hemisphere have a greater risk of being diagnosed. The disease is also not considered to be hereditary.

      An upcoming MS Walk is scheduled in Marquette for Sept. 23. Registration begins at 12 p.m. at the Superior Dome. For more information, visit