Tabbetha Jennings

Tabbetha Jennings (in back) of Chilhowie participated in an MS Walk in Chilhowie several years ago and is hoping to establish a new walk for the county. She’s hosting an Ice Bucket Challenge in Marion today.

If March hasn’t been cold enough for you, why not dump icy cold water over your head?

An MS Ice Bucket Challenge to support multiple sclerosis research and cure is planned in the town parking lot up behind The Bank of Marion in downtown Marion today (Saturday) from 2-4 p.m.

The challenge is open to everyone and those participating are encouraged to wear orange, the signature color for MS awareness. All donations are accepted and even those not wanting to get wet can come and make a donation. For those taking the challenge, bring a towel!

Tabbetha Jennings of Chilhowie, diagnosed with MS 19 years ago, is hoping to raise awareness in the county of the need to fight this disease and find a cure.

In multiple sclerosis, damage to the myelin in the central nervous system and to the nerve fibers themselves interferes with the transmission of nerve signals between the brain and spinal cord and other parts of the body.

When asked how she felt upon receiving the diagnosis, Jennings said, “The worst. I remember thinking my life was over. I thought I’d wither up and end up in a wheelchair.”

She said she felt so bad about her future that she told her fiancé at the time that she wouldn’t marry him. But he supported her then and for the next 15 years. She even had a daughter, now a seventh-grader at Chilhowie Middle School, but did not go into remission during pregnancy as is usual with MS.

Doctors were encouraging, she said, and there were many treatment options tried over the years until just the right one was found for her. Every MS case is different, she said, and you must find what works for your particular condition.

The disease was found when she went to the doctor with numbness on her right side. First her arm went numb, then the right side of her body, and then her right arm wouldn’t work. She went through injections, infusion and is now on a pill twice daily.

Nearly two decades later, Jennings is doing well and has been in remission for over a year. The symptoms she has suffered through MS include vertigo, weak bladder, hearing loss, restless leg syndrome, numbness and loss of balance, and short-term memory loss.

“It’s called the snowflake disease because everyone is different,” Jennings said of MS. “It doesn’t show and people say, you don’t look sick.”

But the pain and health issues are real, and similar to fibromyalgia, which is also an invisible disease, she said.

Fatigue is a constant problem, just trying to make yourself get up and go, Jennings said. “I just try to stay active. That’s the main thing with this disease. I have to keep myself going. I volunteer at school and the food pantry.”

Jennings said she is stable now but if her medicine stopped working she would have to find another treatment.

“They’re finding new ones all the time,” she said.

Although there are some autoimmune diseases in her family, she is the first to be diagnosed with MS. The disease appears to be growing in the region, she said.

“Recently the (MS) Society published a report that verified that the prevalence of MS in the United States has more than doubled since 1975 and we now know that at least 1,000,000 people are impacted by this unpredictable and often disabling disease of the central nervous system,” said Clare Lorio, Development Manager, Walk MS, National MS Society, Virginia-West Virginia. “It is going to be through the efforts of people who are committed to making a difference that we will find the cause and the cure soon.”

Lorio said there are more than 6,000 people living with MS and their families in Virginia. She sent a thank-you to The Bank of Marion for helping sponsor the MS Ice Bucket Challenge today. Water and ice are being provided by Marion Fire/EMS.

Jennings also appreciates all the support for her project to help raise money and awareness for MS and the possibility of a walk once again being held in this community in the future.

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