Randolph author reads about living with MS tonight
by Gail Scott

  RANDOLPH -- When Dana Snyder was 25 years old and in the midst of a new job she loved, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
  Twenty-five years later she is a psychotherapist and has written a book titled, "Just Like Life, Only More So and Other Stories of Illness."
  She writes about her experience, learning to live with MS and about life in general.
  "We all live with something," she said in a recent interview, "that may make us vulnerable to hurt or to loss and it can be manageable. We can move on. I think we struggle with things in our lives like accepting limitations, asking for help, learning to let go of control.
  "One of the reasons I wrote the book is that I think illness forces us to look at our lives more directly. But I hope the book is relevant beyond struggling with illness," she said.
  Snyder, now Snyder-Grant, reads from her book tonight at 7 p.m. at the Randolph Town Hall on Durand Road in Randolph. The reading is sponsored by Wonderland Books, of Gorham.
  "Living with illness is about living with vulnerability," she said.
  Snyder-Grant has made the long trip to acceptance with grace and a nice sense of humor.
  She vividly remembers the beginning of this new way of living. It was December, 1981. She was teaching in a private school in Cambridge, Mass., having just earned her master's in history. In September she had noticed a numbness and tingling on the left side of her body, but, she said, "it was just annoying. It went away in a few weeks."
  But one day in December she noticed her vision was not right. She went to bed early and woke up to a spinning room.
  Her physician prescribed antibiotics for what he hoped was an inner ear infection, but told her to call him if the double vision didn't go away. She discovered if she covered one eye, the double vision stopped. She called to report this discovery. Her physician made her an appointment immediately with a neurologist at the St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Brighton, Mass.
  "He told me at that point, 'I know you are a smart young woman thinking horrible things. It's MS," she remembered.
  He didn't explain, but the neurologist did.
  "She was very direct and matter-of-fact," Snyder-Grant said. "I told her my story of the last three months. She said, 'I know exactly what you have. It is multiple sclerosis.' She let me sit in her office for an hour, crying."
  According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, "MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain, spinal cord and the optic nerves. Surrounding and protecting the nerve fibers of the CNS is a fatty tissue called myelin, which helps nerve fibers conduct electrical impulses.
  "In MS, myelin is lost in multiple areas, leaving scar tissue called sclerosis. Sometimes the nerve fiber itself is damaged or broken.
  "Myelin not only protects nerve fibers, but makes their job possible. When myelin or the nerve fiber is destroyed or damaged, the ability of the nerves to conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain is disrupted, and this produces the various symptoms of MS."
  Actually, Snyder-Grant remembered, by the time she saw the neurologist, her symptoms were all but gone, but for the five subsequent years, she had a lot of flare-ups. She taught for three more years, but fatigue was one of her biggest symptoms with MS, because of the energy absorbed as damaged nerves try to send their messages. She realized she couldn't continue to teach, but she had particularly enjoyed the counseling aspect of teaching. She went back to graduate school to get a degree in social work at Simmons College School of Social Work, concentrating on psychotherapy.
  Completing the course of study, she became a therapist, working only part-tune because of the fatigue with which she has learned to live.
  Other symptoms were visual problems, balance difficulties and weakness. At one point she had to use a walker to get about and hated having to do so.
  "The hardest flare-up was when I lost my balance and had to use a walker. I saw my own image with a walker and it was astounding to me about how I beat myself up. That was a powerful moment," she recalled, "confronting my own prejudices that having illness forced me to do."
  Over the years treatments for MS have made great strides and Snyder-Grant is thankful she has had relatively mild symptoms of a illness that can, for some, be extraordinarily debilitating.
  She is also fortunate to have met her husband, James Grant, who fell in love with her when she was finally beginning to make her own peace with MS.
  A friend brought them together.
  Snyder-Grant says that initially it was all she could do to deal with being less than perfect and to come to terms with what she could and could not do and dealing with the, "Did I do something wrong?" question.
  But she had begun to date again, so when Grant called, she accepted a date for dinner and liked him. The question, of course, was when should she tell him about the MS.
  The question was resolved on the next date.
  Grant suggested going bike riding. Snyder-Grant demurred. He suggested a walk. She thought she could handle a walk. As they started out around a reservoir, she pulled from her purse the folding cane she always carried, and smartly opened it up.
  "What's that all about?" he asked, and Snyder-Grant told him, sooner than she had thought she would and all unrehearsed.
  They finished the walk around a reservoir and sat on a bench.
  "How are you doing with this?" Snyder-Grant asked him. "He said, 'Oh, it brings me down to earth.'"
  "We quickly became very good friends," Snyder-Grant recalled. "That was more than helpful."
  In a little less than a year they moved in together and married.
  Snyder-Grant continues her work as a psychotherapist, part time, and writes a lifestyles column for a local newspaper in Acton, Mass., where they now live most of the year when they are not in Randolph
  Snyder-Grant has even taken a couple of whirls at hiking, which is a passion for Jim, and has made it to Madison Hut and Mount Washington.
  "I hope my little book is larger than illness," she said, "but if it makes a difference for people struggling with MS, it will have accomplished what I hoped. There are 2.5 million of us around the world."

(August 22, 2006)

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