Sunday, April 21, 2013

My Niece vs. MS: Leveling the Playing Field?

I don't have kids. Oops, hang on, the peanut gallery is responding angrily to that statement.

"Hey! What about us?!"
Oh, I'm sorry my widdle sweeeeties!!! Mommy didn't mean to hurt your feelings! Allow me to clarify: I don't have HUMAN children. I do have a nephew, R., and a niece, K., who are kind of like my children, except I get to return them to my sister and brother in law when I'm done! Given my oh-so mild tendency to worry about things that haven't happened or may never happen, it's crossed my mind that K., a 'tween, has an increased risk of getting MS, courtesy of her Aunt CrankyPants.

In general, I prefer to make statements with little or no supporting evidence (as long as there's no one more knowledgeable in the room who might correct me). In this case, though, I have a few readers who probably know a lot more than I do. So I'll try to keep my facts straight, or at least base any statements I make on things I've read in vaguely reputable sources. Things such as:

(1) As a Caucasian female in a northern climate, K. already has some strikes against her. According to some guy who appears to teach an anthropology course at Michigan State University, " addition to MS being most common among Caucasians, it is also two to three times more likely to occur in white females."

(2) My having MS increases her risk of getting it. The National MS Society says this: "While the risk of developing MS in the general population is 1/750, the risk rises to 1/40 in anyone who has a close relative...with the disease." 

(3) She was born in the spring. Huh? This was news to me. My sister sent me an article (you can read it by clicking here) that says the month in which you were born can play a role in your chances of developing an autoimmune disorder. Here's a quote from the article: "Many patients with MS are born in the spring, and rates of the disease are lowest for those born in November." I was born in March; my niece, in May. (Interestingly, my sister was born in November. Seeing any signs of favoritism here, people? I know I am....)

Without wanting my niece to become a raving hypochondriac (like some people we know), I am wracking my brain for things she might or might not do to help level the playing field a bit. At least they might tip the scales back a little in her favor, as there's not a thing she can do about having me for an aunt or the fact that her parents so rudely had her in May.

Here's my much-too-short list (and please remember, people, I'm not a doctor, I'm just a cranky blogger):

(1) Don't smoke. Now, did I listen to my parents, who told me not to smoke? Ummm, no. I thought it was fun and cool and most of my friends were doing it. But there is evidence that smoking makes MS worse, and can perhaps even trigger it. If I'd never started smoking, who knows? Maybe I wouldn't be giving myself shots every night and worrying that one day I won't be able to walk.

(2) Get some sun but not TOO much sun. Oh, this one's exasperating. Too much sun and she'll be seeing the dermatologist every other week like I am to check on Suspicious Moles. But, according to this article, a "...lack of vitamin D and lack of sun exposure were both risk factors for nerve damage, which can be an early symptom of MS."

My sister, K.'s mom, for many years has taken great pains to avoid sun exposure. In that same article, the author says, "Less sunlight for Mom means less vitamin D in her blood for the baby in the works. A low level of vitamin D could affect the developing immune system."

(3) Chill out on the salt? I very recently heard about the possibility that too much salt might (or might not) affect "...the development and severity of autoimmune diseases in people." Studies were done on mice, not humans, so the jury is still out on this one. Still, it couldn't hurt to watch salt intake. (Read an article about it here:

I know lots of you have children and grandchildren, or nieces and nephews. What, if anything, have you done or told them to help mitigate their risk of developing this dread disease? Or is it pretty well out of our hands? I'd love to think that there's something, anything, I can do to help sweet K., who from the time she was a little girl has helped raise funds for the National MS Society with bake sales and lemonade stands. The same goes for my nephew, of course. I know males tend to have it worse when it comes to MS. God forbid either of them take after their Aunt CrankyPants in this way. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

K., showing off her newly pierced ears. She was SO excited that day!


  1. In addition to being born in Nov, I was conceived & born in Rio de Janerio, which may have made the month of birth thing a moot point since I am sure mom got PLENTY of Vit D there in Brazil in the pre-sunscreen days. Still, I'll take comfort (for myself) in my "good" birth month, I guess, at least until the drs discover that being born in Nov puts me at increased risk for some other bad malady. Also, for what it is worth, and I don't know if there is a correlation between incidence of one auto-immune disorder & another, but another one does run in our family: endometriosis. I have it, & while never dx I am quite sure by her symptoms that mom had it too & maybe her mother also, based upon 6 years of initial infertile marriage.

    Looking forward to any suggestions from your very helpful & supportive readers! I love the comments & always read them.

    -K's mom/your sister/MK

    1. Good points about Rio, MK (and way to restore family harmony; I was about to have a massive SULK).

      There are some lovely, supportive readers of this blog for sure.

    2. MK, on the National MS Society website, I read this about "close relations":

      While the risk of developing MS in the general population is 1/750, the risk rises to 1/40 in anyone who has a close relative (parent, sibling, child) with the disease.

      So, better news for K., as she's not in the 1/40 bucket I initially thought. Not entirely good news for you, although the chances still are pretty slim. Maybe, as Karen suggested below, you should explore the vitamin D supplements, after talking to your doctor...couldn't hurt.

  2. Hiya!

    This is a bit freaky for me too. My dad had PPMS, which gave me a 1 in 100 chance of getting MS.
    However, my son has a 1 in 50 chance of getting it as the odds are higher when your mum has it as opposed to your dad.
    When I was first admitted to hospital, the main question they kept asking what how long I lived in Scotland.When did I move to Wales? Apparently, any time from age 14 onwards and the damage (lack of vitamin D and genes) was already done. Guess what? I was 14 when I left Scotland!

    Also, my father's side of the family come from Norway, so a nice little double whammy going on as they too have a very high incidence of MS, as well as Scotland having the highest in the world. There is a theory that the Vikings are the ones to blame for spreading MS across the northern hemisphere!

    I do worry about my son, but I figure, a)he was born in London b) he's always been outside playing throughout summer, so his vitamin D levels are high. c) his birthday is in August. Oh. So is mine! So that theory doesn't work for us.

    Anyway, I will stop rambling now. Please try not to worry. The chances are still very low and there needs to be a certain combination of factors (environmental, genes, etc) PLUS a trigger.
    p.s. the cats are just too cute!!!

    1. Hi, SIF!

      I did think of you and your dad when I wrote this, and, of course, the Teenager. My goodness, you did have a lot of factors working against you. We are fortunate in that we now have more ways to fight this so many ways to connect with others in the same boat.

      I knew there'd be people out there who know more than I do (not hard to accomplish): what do you mean by a trigger?

      Thanks so much for your comments. Hoping, of course, for the best for all of those we love.

      Ms. C-Px

      p.s. the cats agree with you!
      p.p.s. blasted Vikings!

    2. Hey there!
      I've read that for some people intense stress or a virus can 'trigger' your MS, but you have to have an initial susceptibility as well. So, for me, my parentage, where I grew up, possibly a major car crash and head injury I had plus major stress three/four years ago probably all combined to trigger it in some way. Or I was just darned unlucky, lol.

      But yes, compared to the horror story my dad went through, I am in a far better position, especially being offered the Alemtuzumab treatment ( I thank my lucky stars every single day).

      Blasted Vikings indeed! And those darned Scots (ahem). Am currently trying to diet into my old Norwegian national costume (a 'bunad') to no avail. It's Norwegian National Day on 17th May and I don't have a cat's chance, lol. I can still fit the shoes and blouse though!!

    3. Yikes, SIF, sounds like a perfect storm of sorts. Thanks for the extra details. Very helpful.

      I just Googled a bunad. Best of luck and please post a photo on your blog. Your fans demand it! Okay, I demand it!

    4. Nobody would ever visit my blog again if I did that! I shall take a picture of the shoes!
      Luckily they only have a tiny heel, but wicked buckles.

  3. Ms. CP: I bet the cigarettes might be an example of a trigger. Or maybe those 3 yrs we lived in Iceland. We have a bit of Scots in us (one quarter). Does anyone know what the correlation is between having a maternal aunt & getting MS? Is an aunt considered a "close" relation in terms of genetics/bloodlines? MK

  4. I am a Caucasian female, I was born in the spring, and have lived in Canada all my life. I smoked cigarettes and loved heaps of salty foods, never went out in the sun, because redheads burn, freckle and peel. I have had Epstein-Barr (mononucleosis), and varicella zoster (chicken pox). Gawddd, no wonder I have MS!

    Thing is, no one in my family (as far back as we know) had MS. My aunt on my dad's side had Lupus, another autoimmune disease, (which I also have). One of my specialists remarked that any autoimmune disease can trigger another. We are still not sure which one came first in my case.

    I have a daughter and a granddaughter, and I have some concerns about them "getting" MS. Generally speaking, I really think this is out of our hands, but we have consulted with our family doctor, and they are both on Vitamin D supplements appropriate for their age and weight. My daughter restricts the familiy's salt intake, and she is going to quit smoking. Will that narrow her/their chances? I dunno, but it sure can't hurt.

    BTW...your cat babies are cutie pies!

    1. Thanks, Karen. Sounds for sure as if you (unwittingly) did a lot of the things the "experts" are saying we should avoid. Me, too...although I did spend many fruitless hours trying to get tan.

      Lovely to learn that other autoimmune diseases may be lurking around the corner. As my sister mentioned, we have endometriosis in the family, plus we had a great aunt who suffered terribly from arthritis. Perhaps rheumatoid?

      I'm sure she'll read these comments, but I'll pass on the suggestion of vitamin D supplements as something to discuss with her doctor.


      p.s. yes, the cats think they're mighty cute all right!

  5. I am a Caucasian female and was born in the summer. I have lived in Australia (which gets plenty of sunshine) all my life. As far as we know I am the only family member with MS. However, my father was a German Jew and I have no idea what his family medical history was. Like Karen I had a delightful (not) doctor tell me that because I have MS and an underactive thyroid I could look forward to other autoimmune disorders. Which ones? Oh perhaps lupus or diabetes or... It is a lottery. One that I didn't buy tickets in and certainly didn't want to win.
    How is the medication going? Has it helped?
    And I too love the cats. How could I not.

    1. EC,

      Ugh about the chances of other autoimmine diseases. Honestly, I think ONE is quite enough. Here's hoping we (or family members) don't win that freaking lottery.

      The medication has not helped yet. I counted: yesterday, drinking the same amount of liquid I usually do, I peed 11 times. Lord! Once was in a PortAPotty, which was especially unpleasant if completely irrelevant to this tale.

      The cats are so full of themselves at this point! Thanks for complimenting my "kids."

  6. Damn, folks, I am a cat lover from way back, but enough already on those two! Isn't that niece just the picture of cuteness too? In case it influences your "vote" she is the spitting image of Ms. CP as a young'un! Also, yes, our gr. aunt had rheumatoid arthritis. She started having symptoms in her late teens I believe. --The niece's mom

    1. Aww, Anon., people probably feel sorry for me & my childless self. You know, the childless aunt with MS and her cats. I'm starting to feel sorry for me, too!

      They are ALL cute -- cats *and* K!

  7. Also, thanks for the feedback concerning MS & family members. Best of luck to all who are in the auto-immune boat along with Ms CP & us, her family.
    MK/mom of niece/sister of Ms CP etc...

  8. Believe me I worry about the genetics all the time because of my daughter. Even when my son says he is so tired. I say, how tired? but thankfully they have a lot more info like Vitamin D recently. I tell my kids to take vitamin D but so far they dont listen

    1. Thanks, Kim; I keep hearing about vitamin D. Definitely important!!

  9. I constantly worry about my kids getting MS. I watch their every move & compare them with myself at their age.
    With this behavior, I can better understand what a hypochondriac must go through.

    1. It must be hard to be watchful without passing on any anxiety...

      p.s. being a hypochondriac SUCKS!