Faces of Multiple Sclerosis: Local Teacher Finds Strength Through Adversity
Michelle Mazur grew up in the Johnstown area and later attended Edinboro University, where she graduated with a degree in art education. She chose to settle down in Marienville and currently teaches art at the Forest Area School District.
Mazur was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while she was in college.
She told exploreVenango.com, “It happened really quickly.”
“I was having trouble seeing out of my left eye and went to a great eye doctor in Erie who sent me straight to the hospital for testing.”
The tests showed that Mazur’s vision issues were caused by Optic Neuritis, a condition in which inflammation damages the optic nerve, causing a loss of vision, which is also a common symptom of multiple sclerosis. She then spent five days hospitalized, receiving intravenous steroids and undergoing multiple tests to finalize her diagnosis.
“I was lucky everything happened the way it did because some people spend years trying to get a correct diagnosis, and I had a major flare, was diagnosed, and started treatment all within three months, which is great in the long run,” noted Mazur.
Following her initial diagnosis. Mazur had several smaller flares over the next year, consisting mainly of numbness and tingling in her arms. In the following years, she also dealt with fatigue, which is common among people with multiple sclerosis.
However, according to Mazur, her daily life hasn’t been significantly affected.
“I know when I need to rest, so I don’t overdo it and risk a flare,” she said. “I still exercise often. I even ran a marathon this past October.”
She gets an MRI each year and also sees a neurologist twice each year to keep careful tabs on her condition.
The importance of these checks, even when an individual’s symptoms seem to be under control, cannot be overstated.
“My most recent MRI in September showed some new lesions in my brain, so even though I didn’t have a flare my neurologist determined my current medication wasn’t as effective as it used to be, so I’m switching to a new treatment next week,” Mazur noted.
Multiple sclerosis, which affects 2.5 million people worldwide, including 400,000 in the United States alone, is a potentially disabling disease of the central nervous system. It occurs when an individual’s immune system attacks the myelin, which is the fatty substance that surrounds and insulates the nerve fibers, as well as the nerve fibers themselves.
“MS is so different for everyone,” Mazur said. “Everyone’s story and symptoms are so widely different it’s amazing. I know several people who have MS and pretty much the only thing we have in common is the name of our autoimmune disease. MS can be extremely unpredictable and scary.”
While Mazur’s diagnosis was frightening for her, she said it has also changed her in more positive ways, as well.
“I’ve gotten stronger since I found out and was able to put a name to what was going on with my health and do everything I can to stay healthy and manage my daily symptoms.”
She has also become involved in awareness and fundraising efforts, including the Walk MS in Pittsburgh in 2015 and the Bike MS in Cook Forest in 2018. She is planning to participate in the Walk MS in Pittsburgh again next month.
“There’s a chance of finding a cure in my lifetime if we just keep up awareness and funding!”
(This is the second article of a series of articles in honor of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month.)
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