MANSFIELD - The date is burned into Tiffany Christ's memory: June 5, 2007.
"The doctor in Minneapolis said, ever-so-nonchalantly, 'Oh, you have MS.' I cried."
Those were the words the 34-year-old mother of two was hoping she would not hear.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the body's immune system eats away at the protective sheath that covers the nerves. Like the insulation on electrical wires, when the sheath is damaged, messages that travel along the nerve are either blocked or slowed. There is no known cure. About 400,000 Americans have MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Less is known about the disease than is known. Sources differ, but the disease usually develops between ages 20 and 40. White women are about twice as likely as men to get it. Studies are also inconclusive as to genetic factors.
"No one in my family has ever had it," the Mansfield resident said. "Naturally I'm concerned about my children."
She and her husband, Steve, have a son, Jackson, 8, and a daughter, Jessica, 4.
For many sufferers, symptoms come and go, often disappearing for months at a time.
"My symptoms first appeared when I was pregnant with Jackson," Christ said. "I had numbness and tingling in my leg from the knee down. Then, when I was pregnant with Jessica, I had numbness from the chest down. I went to all sorts of medical doctors and chiropractors, and I had all these tests in Aberdeen and in Sioux Falls."
Finally, at 30 she was given the firm diagnosis.
"Every person is different," she said. "Some people have blurred vision. I don't have that, but the numbness and tingling in my legs is pretty much constant now."
She also has 20 lesions on her brain and five on her spine, which means she's often in pain.
"What I have is called relapsing-remitting MS."
But Tiffany considers herself fortunate. Treatment options vary, but she really did not want to have to take injections. They can cost $1,000 to $1,500 per month, she said.
However, her doctor considered her a perfect candidate for a medical trial being conducted worldwide using an oral medication.
"It was a blind study, so I did not know for the first year whether I was getting a placebo or the drug."
She's in her second year of the trial and is taking the drug Laquinimod.
"It's not FDA-approved yet," she said.
As part of the drug trials, she has to routinely travel to Fargo, N.D., for a lengthy series of tests. "They test my strength, my mobility. I take a math test, a peg test and blood work and periodically, an MRI."
Lifestyle habits and restrictions are as varied as the symptoms and the treatments. Some people can continue to work; many are not able to work. Symptoms are often triggered or worsened by an increase in body temperature. For Christ, cold affects her worse than does the heat.
"It's important to avoid stress, stay rested and get exercise," she said. "You're supposed to try and eat a balanced diet and take vitamin D."
People diagnosed with MS tend to have the same life expectancy as the rest of the population. Christ has learned to appreciate one day at a time.
"I just never know. I could wake up tomorrow and not be able to walk," she said.