When Sharon Ambrose awoke one morning last week and found that she could not see out of her left eye, the uncertainty of the past several weeks finally was made clear.
She had multiple sclerosis.
"I'm happy to have a diagnosis," Ambrose said, with the crisp candor that she displays on the dais as the Ward 6 representative of the D.C. Council. "I'm confident that with medication and proper adjustment of my schedule I will be fine."
Ambrose, 60, spent most of the summer with her doctor trying to figure out the cause of the pain and numbness in her face and legs. Initially, she said, her doctor ruled out multiple sclerosis, deciding instead that she had had a severe attack of shingles. The council member, who has held the Ward 6 seat for 2 1/2 years, came back to work last month, using a cane to help her walk because of continued weakness in her legs.
But when she partially lost vision last week, Ambrose said, "that pushed it into the definite column" that she had the incurable disease.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. People who develop it experience a range of symptoms, including muscle weakness, blurred vision and fatigue. The symptoms come and go without warning. Although the disease progressively gets worse, it does not necessarily shorten a person's life.
The disease is treated with interferon, which helps modulate the body's immune system and reduce the frequency of flare-ups.
Ambrose said she will start taking her medication--an injection every other day--this weekend. She said her husband and three adult children will help her adjust to the regimen.
The Democratic council member said her illness has had little effect on her ability to do her job. She said she can see well enough to move about. Her staff uses extra-large type in preparing written materials.
Since the diagnosis, "I've participated in about four hearings, co-chaired one committee hearing, held a committee mark-up [Thursday] on three resolutions," Ambrose said. Yesterday, she attended the 200th birthday party for the D.C. Navy Yard.
"I think people will be understanding that, at least until after the first of the year, I'm not going to go to community meetings four days a week and all day Saturday," Ambrose said. "I've been doing 60, 70 hours a week. I'll do it 40 [hours a week] for a while."