RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Blurred vision, numbness, trouble speaking and difficulty walking are just some of the symptoms nearly half a million people across the US deal with on a daily basis, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.
Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating disease with a lot of mystery still surrounding its cause. The good news is there's ongoing research being done and new lifestyle methods beyond medication.
"It's something that we deal with every day," said Nick Canderelli, who's dealt with multiple sclerosis everyday for the past 20 years. "Sometimes there isn't a magic bullet; it just is."
Diagnosed when he was just 29 years old, Canderelli had just been promoted in his job and was expecting his first child. Now he's retired at 50, walks with a cane, and says he has pain daily.
"It's things that you used to be able to do that you really can't anymore," said Canderelli.
It's an unpredictable, progressive, disabling disease without a cure that can deteriorate the body. Bon Secours Neurologist John Hennessey has seen Canderelli for two decades.
"He's a survivor," he said. Hennessey's own wife struggles with the same illness that he calls an immune attack. "The coating on the nerves, the insulation, has been stripped away by an immune directed reaction."
Some of the biggest challenges up front are not even knowing you have the disease and not knowing where it comes from or how to avoid it.
"It may be passed off as it's your nerves or it's an insect bite," said Hennessey. "We're not sure what starts off this immune attack, but there are symptoms that occur."
Those symptoms range from numbness in the limbs and double vision to severe pain and difficulty walking, sometimes even an affected state of mind.
"Anything within the central nervous system confines can be affected potentially," said Dr. Hennessey. But it's not a fatal illness. It's very manageable with several treatment options and ongoing research. "I'm extremely hopeful."
Like many with MS, Canderelli relies on a weekly injectable medication, using the same one since his diagnosis.
"If I wasn't taking Avonex, I'd probably be a wheelchair," said Canderelli.
A less developed theory is dramatically changing your lifestyle. NBC12 reporter Britni McDonald's mother, who was already a very healthy eater before her recent diagnosis, completely changed her eating habits. Everyday, she now eats a large amount of fruits and veggies, along with proteins like steak and fish, and avoids wheat, dairy, and sweets. It's a theory not widely endorsed by the medical community.
"I don't know of any magical MS diet except for one that's responsible," said Dr. Hennessey.
But combined with medication, it has been shown to drastically reduce symptoms, like in Dr. Whal's case. She wrote a book about her journey through MS and how simply eating a nutrient-rich paleo-type diet took her from getting around in a wheelchair to riding a bike for miles at a time. Montel Williams, who's suffered from the disease for years, swears by healthy eating and exercise to reduce pain and inflammation, but perhaps the best treatment is a good attitude and hope for the future.
"I think the people who are most successful are those who don't forget about the disease but live in spite of the disease," said Dr. Hennessey.
"Most people think that if you have a chronic illness that you should just crawl into a hole and have your life be over, and I don't believe that way," said Canderelli, "You don't let it define you as a person."
Copyright 2016 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.