To the uneducated, Sherri Mytopher is unassuming, pretty and petite, her brown hair braided into a ponytail, her smile glinting with her eyes.
She doesn't look sick, and unless she told you, you wouldn't know she's been living for five years with multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable autoimmune disease that comes with a battle that's different one day to the next.
"Nobody knows what MS looks like and I think people must assume you must be in a wheelchair or a scooter," Mytopher said. "It's a hidden disease."
Mytopher is the face for the MS Society of Canada in Fort St. John and Northern B.C., and though more than 100,000 Canadians suffer from the disease, she runs into the uneducated more often than she'd like.
At the recent trade show promoting the society and its upcoming walk to support MS sufferers and services, a man remarked Mytopher should have had someone living with MS with her at the booth.
"I was speechless. My stepdaughter spoke up before I did," Mytopher said. "He shrugged his shoulders and walked away. It upset me."
Multipe sclerosis attacks the central nervous system, specifically myelin, the protective covering of nerves, causing inflammation and damaging myelin to the point where nerve impulses are disrupted in their travels through the body.
MS is unpredictable, its symptoms different for everyone who lives with it. Some have a constant numbness in their hands and arms, or suffer from chronic fatigue. Others lose their vision or their mobility.
"There's days I can't hold object or turn faucets, and there's days you just don't want to get out of bed," Mytopher said. "That's why the disease is so scary from one day to the next. You don't know how you're going to feel or if one day you're going to be immobile."
Because of this, there's no cure for MS, let alone a consistent approach to treatment, Mytopher said. What works for one person may not work for the next. But that doesn't mean researchers aren't looking for a cure.
Mytopher is hosting two events this month to raise funds to support the MS Society and its work to find one. It starts May 25 with a burger and beer night with a silent auction at Casey's Pub May 25. The walk takes place May 27 at Centennial Park, where more than 60 people will walk a city block to support those living with MS.
Nearly $11,000 of the $15,000 fundraising goal has been raised so far, most of which goes to support the MS Society. Ten per cent of the funds stay local to help fund peer support meetings, wellness sessions, and equipment and medical travel needs.
There are around 800 MS patients in the Northern Health area, with between 100 to 120 of them in Fort St. John and surrounding area. The Prince George MS Clinic sees an average of one to two referral a week from the area since the new MRI machine was installed in the hospital.
As Mytopher readies for the upcoming walk, educating people about MS is key. The month of May has been declared MS Awareness Month in Fort St. John, Taylor, and Dawson Creek.
"The more I'm out in people's faces, the more people understand," Mytopher said.
The walk gathers at the gardens at Centennial park May 27 at 10 a.m. The walk starts at 11 a.m.
For more info, email Mytopher at email@example.com or call 250-263-8058. To register, visit the MS Society site by clicking here.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at firstname.lastname@example.org.