West Virginia Author Speaks in Wheeling About Living With Multiple Sclerosis
WHEELING — Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis hasn’t stopped author Lisa McCombs. Instead, the retired educator uses her “superpower” to raise awareness of the autoimmune disease.
McCombs, who lives in central West Virginia, spoke Thursday at a special Lunch With Books session at the Ohio County Public Library. She read passages from her 2015 book, “I Have MS. What’s Your Superpower?” and answered questions from the audience.
Her book is designed as a common-sense guide to living with the incurable neurological disease. The former teacher also has written four young adult novels.
McCombs, who became a first-time mother at age 40, was diagnosed with relapsing, remitting multiple sclerosis in 2001– when her son was 6 months old. The diagnosis was made after a frightening incident involving the new mom and her infant.
On a perfect summer day, she placed her baby in a stroller and set out on a mile-long walk to the library in Fairmont, where they resided. However, “the bottom fell out” on the walk home when her vision blurred, her arms numbed and her legs weakened. “My perfect morning was no longer perfect,” she said.
McCombs managed to get home and call a doctor, who urged her to go to the emergency room. She was hospitalized for 11 days and underwent extensive tests. The testing revealed she had multiple sclerosis caused by lesions on her brain’s frontal lobe.
“My real MS adventure began that summer,” she said. Divorced a short time later, she resumed a teaching career and cared for her young son on her own.
She has had only one other major episode since the initial diagnosis.
Ironically, the second incident occurred on another perfect day — when she and a friend, who would become her second husband, went to a West Virginia University football game on their first date in September 2004.
Now, 17 years after her diagnosis, she said, “I’m still kicking. I have chosen to deal with my MS by learning more about it and helping other people.”
For instance, she has learned fewer cases of MS are found close to the equator, where people have more exposure to vitamin D in sunlight.
McCombs said men who have MS “have a much harder time with it” than female patients.
For women, the average age for diagnosis ranges from 20 to 40. McCombs said pregnancy exacerbates onset of the disease, although women are free of symptoms while pregnant.
Heat and humidity bother McCombs, although cold temperatures affect other patients. Stress is a huge trigger for MS-related problems, she added.
Medication can slow the disease’s progression, but cannot stop or cure it. “All MS drugs are still in the experimental stage,” she said.
Currently, McCombs takes a drug to aid with balance and walking, while yoga and low-impact aerobics also help her.
“Walking is my biggest problem, especially in the morning,” she said. “Fatigue is one of my newest symptoms. I’m tired all the time.”
McCombs retired three years ago after teaching language arts in high school and middle school for 33 years. She said there is no right or wrong diet for a person with MS. She takes a common-sense approach by drinking water, eating lots of fruits and vegetables and avoiding red meat, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners.