Multiple sclerosis (MS), a particularly debilitating autoimmune disorder, occurs when an affected person's immune systems can malfunction. Instead of attacking germs or foreign cells, it will attack the body’s own healthy cells.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
- What is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month?
- How Did MS Awareness Month Get Started?
- When is MS Awareness Month?
- What Colors Symbolize MS Awareness Month?
- What Activities Can You Do to Acknowledge MS Awareness Month?
You may have heard of MS more in recent years as celebrities like Jack Osbourne and Selma Blair have gone public with their journeys. We'll go over MS awareness month, teach you more about this condition and the ways in which we can all raise awareness of the disease.
What is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month?
Most people know that Breast Cancer Awareness month occurs in October. Each year, people come together to raise funds to support disease research and draw attention to the toll the illness can take. Many other medical conditions have also had days, weeks, or months dedicated to them, including multiple sclerosis.
How Did MS Awareness Month Get Started?
Like many other campaigns, MS Awareness Month owes its existence to a patient and some dedicated family members. In 1945, a young man named Bernard Lawry began experiencing vision problems and difficulty balancing.
When he was diagnosed with MS, his sisters Sarah and Alice placed a classified ad in "The New York Times," asking for help. They quickly realized that many other people were in the same boat and no established structure provided guidance.
Sylvia Lawry left her career as an attorney to establish the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). From its inception, its mission was to raise funds to aid in scientific research with the ultimate goal of finding a cure.
This nonprofit organization has been integral in driving the research that informs our current understanding of the disease. Over the years, smaller MS-related groups have also popped up all over the world.
In March of 2003, the NMSS launched its first Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. The intent was to more cohesively coordinate fundraising and awareness campaigns in a centralized way.
When is MS Awareness Month?
In honor of its inception date in 2003, MS Awareness Month continues a celebration every March.
What Colors Symbolize MS Awareness Month?
Many diseases and illnesses that have awareness campaigns have a certain color assigned to them. For example, you likely already know that the color pink represents breast cancer. Orange represents multiple sclerosis. Patients with MS and their loved ones will often wear orange clothes or pin an orange ribbon to their lapel to raise awareness.
What Activities Can You Do to Acknowledge MS Awareness Month?
We can acknowledge and celebrate MS Awareness Month in many ways. These activities bring attention to this debilitating illness.
Get a tattoo
As we discussed earlier, people often wear the color orange to raise awareness of MS. Some even choose to make this a more permanent statement by incorporating orange into a tattoo. MS-themed tattoos often feature an orange ribbon either on their own or paired with some words. A tattoo could include the date of a patient’s diagnosis or a brief inspirational quote.
An MS awareness tattoo often also includes butterflies. According to many people, an MRI image of the brain resembles a butterfly. Since MS targets the brain and nervous system, the butterfly serves a symbolic function. With their orange and black coloration, monarch butterflies work well in an awareness tattoo.
Participate in or organize a fundraiser
Everyone living with MS or has a loved one who has been diagnosed knows that research must continue. Even though scientists haven't developed a cure, treatments that lessen the symptoms and preserve quality of life encourages patients and their families to raise funds.
If you like to organize events, you could put together a fundraising dinner or silent auction in honor of MS Awareness Month. Some families turn these into annual events. If you would rather participate than plan, you can also join up with other fundraising efforts. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society coordinates walkathons online. You can walk or sponsor someone else.
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Get a special gift
As someone recovers from an injury or surgery or has a short-term illness, they often appreciate get-well gifts. It can feel awkward to get someone a get-well present when they live with an incurable illness. Instead, get them a gift that in some way alleviates some of the stress or pain that accompanies chronic illness. Some ideas include:
- Subscription streaming video services: MS sufferers often face overwhelming fatigue. On bad days, patients may not move from the couch or bed. If you think they might like a particular streaming service, you can give them a subscription.
- Streaming audiobook subscription: If you know someone who loves to read but has been experiencing vision problems related to MS, audiobooks can give you a great gift idea. This allows a patient to explore doing something they love in a new way.
- Professional cleaning service: It’s hard enough to keep up with the housekeeping when you’re able-bodied. It can feel downright impossible when faced with a disease flare. Having someone come in once a week to declutter and once a month for a deep clean can really help a loved one with MS.
Show a caregiver some love
Patients who deal with the constant uncertainty of multiple sclerosis have the most difficult path to travel. But their family members also have a lot to deal with. Not only is it very difficult to watch a loved one suffer, but performing caretaking duties on top of managing your own life can invite stress. There are many great caregiver blogs that outline these challenges.
While we’ve already talked about gifts that an MS patient might appreciate, it’s important to honor their caregivers, too. These gifts can be small but thoughtful, like a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant or some homemade cookies. Or they may need more extravagance, like a spa day. Caregivers carry a heavy burden and they often do so very quietly. Let them know you see them and you appreciate their effort.
The Realities of Multiple Sclerosis
Finding out that you or a loved one has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis can feel scary and overwhelming. The good news: There is so much more research available than there was just 75 years ago. That is due in large part to awareness campaigns like Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month.
Even a few decades ago, a diagnosis of MS was immediately followed up by recommendations to look into long-term care planning. But while practical plans like those have their place, the prognosis for MS isn’t as immediately dire as it once was. Thanks to awareness and fundraising campaigns, MS patients have seen huge improvements in both length and quality of life.
- “Our Story.” Nationalmssociety.org, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2021, www.nationalmssociety.org/About-the-Society/Our-Story.