I get a phone call from my youngest sister, PYT, a.k.a. Pretty Young Thing, just as I am flopping down in the driver’s seat after a lightweight workout with my toys at the gym.
PYT has three Young kids, four and under, who are competing with me for her attention. I win. Intermittently.
I tell her I’ve capitulated. I’m taking my new MS drug just as the doctor ordered, thirty minutes after an aspirin. “I splurged and got myself the kiddie kind.”
“The orange ones? The chewables? The ones that taste like mom loves you and everything is going to be OK?”
“Exactly.” Oh, it is great to talk to someone who knows precisely what the aspirin summons—not only the specific taste, but the specific aura our mother would convey while doling it out.
Now that I take Tecfidera after an aspirin, and a meal with a bit of fatty food—I love my avocado, I love my coconut milk—I don’t get a rash. Or an allergic reaction. Whichever. Dr. Z. had warned me it might take weeks for the rash to stop flaring up. The rash had stopped immediately.
And yet. I don’t trust the lack of rash. You know those times when your room is a mess and your mom has threatened to inspect and you shove all your miscellaneous underwear and books and socks and chewed pencils under your bed, and it’s still a mess but it’s a hidden mess? Well, PYT and I never did that. The hidden mess was our middle sister’s speciality. (She’s the pragmatist of us three.) Our messes were always flagrant—out in the open. And no, we never got points for honesty. But we’d always thought we ought to. Go ahead, roll your eyes. This is not a sentiment I’m proud of.
Am I the same person now? Hell, no. I suspect I’m not the only person with MS passing (less and less often) in public as able-bodied while actively concealing I’m a total hidden mess.
PYT knows me, the past me, the one who’d railed against the hidden mess. She gets my reservation that maybe taking the aspirin is just the same as shoving a mess under the bed. Does the aspirin genuinely alleviate my body’s resistance to the drug, or does it just push the resistance under the surface, where it can’t be seen?
We ponder this distinction as my four year old nephew explores the new paint he’s created by reconstituting dried out markers and as his twin sister mixes that paint with an entirely unacceptable color and as their younger brother decides it’s time to pee.
We wonder if the new drug is even worth it, given the conclusion of the meta-analysis of over 28,000 MS patients from 38 clinical trials that most current DMTs (Disease Modifying Treatments) are fairly useless for the average patient by the time they reach my age. We ponder Dr. Z’s point that I might be an “outlier” — which sounds kind of cool — unless “outlier” means that without drugs I might be the one to get hit with an exacerbation that could permanently disable me further. His distress over this possibility is nothing to dismiss. I’ve looked around his waiting room. Not everyone with MS has the luxury of describing themselves as a hidden mess.
I share the latest conclusion about the three types of MS—which is that relapsing/remitting, secondary progressive, and primary progressive MS are not three different diseases, but rather, three phases of the same disease. The FDA approved DMTs may prevent relapses, but do nothing for other processes known as “compartmentalized inflammation,” which do not show up on MRI’s. These are the messes under the bed, so to speak. Or more specifically, the messes inside the cells.
We speculate that maybe all those years I had credited Zinbryta for stopping my MS attacks, the change could have really been more of function of my slipping insidiously from relapsing remitting MS into a more progressive phase of a disease, where the breakdown can’t be detected by the MRI, but rather, by the lumbar puncture.
“It’s like a vicious dog that hasn’t bit anyone in twelve years on a muzzle, and I’ve credited the muzzle. But maybe the dog has just mellowed out with age.”
PYT chimes in, “And maybe the muzzle has been annoying for the poor dog.”
PYT and I are both dog lovers. We aren’t fond of muzzles.
I say, “Maybe we just have to be realistic about my MS. It’s a progressive disease. Slowly but steadily, I’ve been progressing. The drugs that work to stop relapsing remitting MS can’t do a thing about the kind of progression I’m experiencing inside my cells. Maybe it’s time to stop fooling ourselves by my taking a drug that only helps for an early stage of MS. I might be way past that phase.”
PYT says, “It sounds to me like you have taken your last Tecfidera.”
My flummoxed feeling is lifting. I starting to feel like myself again. (Talking with a sister will do that.) I share the last thing Dr. Z. said to me, “I will support you even if you don’t want to take any medication.”
His unconditional support means so much. PYT warns me that our mother and my husband will resist my urge to give up the medication. “As they should. They love you. They want to protect you.”
Protect…me? When we were growing up, I never cast myself as the damsel in distress. But that’s the role MS has forced me to play my entire adult life.