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Walk for the cure

It creeps up on you like a thief in the night.

The disease often starts with a numbness in the legs — creeping ever higher as time goes by. It can effect virtually any function in the body. Victims grow weaker as the disease progresses, year after year, with most ending up in a wheelchair.

Though other ailments have received more publicity lately — AIDS and mad cow disease, for example — multiple sclerosis (MS) remains one of the world’s most baffling, chronic, disabling neurological illnesses.

To fund the search for a cure, a pledge walk to benefit victims of MS will take place Saturday at Fairgrounds.

Last year’s countywide walk was held in Belfair. Organizers said the turnout was poor — 75 people — which prompted a more centrally located site.

“This is the only walk on this side of the water (Puget Sound) and we’re hoping to build it up,” said Elizabeth Griffin, spokeswoman for the Washington Chapter of the National MS Society. “We’re trying to get people from such places as Belfair to come up here and participate.”

Last year, walkers in Washington numbered 3,700 and raised more than $1 million. The society is looking for individuals or businesses to pledge money on volunteer walkers. The longer they walk the 3-mile circuit, the more money will be raised.

The Bremerton chapter of the society, which includes MS victims from throughout the county, is headed by East Bremerton’s Sharon Barley.

“It’s been 36 years since I was diagnosed,” she said. “I was a month short of my 25th birthday.”Barley said she wasn’t surprised at the diagnosis, since the disease ran in her family.

“My uncle had it,” she said, “so we had an inkling that’s what it was when my symptoms began to appear.”

Barley’s case is exceptional. She’s still able to walk, even though she’s had the disease nearly four decades.

“I can still get around and still drive,” she said.

Three drugs have been developed to slow progress of the disease. There is still no cure. The drugs are known as the “ABCs,” she said: Avonex, Betaseron and Copaxone. Unfortunately, the drugs have side effects that, ironically, mimic the symptoms of MS. Using the drugs makes some think the cure is worse than the disease.

Barley is not on the drugs, and has fought the disease through healthy living. She also described herself as just plain “lucky.” She said if one catches a cold or the flu, it can hasten further decline. The drugs produce flu-like symptoms. Plus, they can cost up to $10,000 per year, she said.

“It’s a gradual, downhill struggle,” said Barley.

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