50 year old Natasha, from Pretoria, has walked with Multiple Sclerosis for the past 25 years, and the road remains rocky.
It started out when Natasha Pretorius went to her GP. “You go to the doctor and tell him that your hand is paralysed, and he says, ‘Okay, maybe it’s this,’ and he gives you some pills. Next week you come back and say ‘Thank you…but it wasn’t that.’”
After three weeks, and a semi-spastic hand, the doctor suspected something more serious. Natasha was then directed to a neurologist. After going for an MRI, Multiple Sclerosis became her new reality.
She was immediately booked into hospital and placed on a cortisone drip for a week. “It’s the inflammation in your brain which causes your arm or your leg not to work. Then you get cortisone, and that eases the inflammation,” explains Natasha. This was over 25 years ago.
Today, Natasha’s cortisone treatment continues, the only difference being that she is now on cortisone pills, which are not as potent as the drip. “When I am on treatment, the first two days I drink more than 10 cortisone pills in the morning. It then drops down to eight, then six, then four…and they really don’t taste good!”
A month after her first week in hospital, Natasha’s hand was almost back to normal. She then went into a year of remission, which is quite normal for those with MS. The disease works in waves of remission, and then it gets worse again, and so it goes on. “Every time something happened, you can say I went down a step. It gets better, but you never get back to where you were before. So after many years of going down the steps, you are far from where you should be.” In 2012 she had to stop working as a chemical engineer in Sasolburg, and stay at home.
Usually it is a person’s loss of vision that gives MS away, but this was never Natasha’s case. For her, it was the difficulty using her arms, and later her legs. But, as she stated in her interview with Beloved Magazine, Multiple Sclerosis symptoms differ from person to person, and each person experiences the condition in their own way. Once again, unlike some, Natasha does not experience any pain, only difficulty in doing “normal daily tasks,” like walking or eating with cutlery, and she has long since given up writing.
On the 18th of August, she went in for stem cell treatment, but this has had only a minor effect on her quality of life. “It’s hard to tell,” Natasha explains, “but I feel a very small change. Maybe it’s 2 or three percent better.” But if there is one thing that causes difficulty, it’s heat. “Cold weather is much better for me than warm weather. I can’t use a sauna, and I try to stay out of the sun.”
Although those in the medical research field are struggling to find a cause for MS, there is speculation that the environment, as well as genes, could have a role to play. According to Natasha, her work environment was far from ideal. First in Secunda, and later in Sasolburg, she always had direct exposure to chemicals. Two of Natasha’s friends, who were also directly exposed to various chemicals, have also been diagnosed with MS.
The external chemicals were not the only problem. “When there were issues in my life, I could immediately feel it with MS,” Natasha said. This year has been especially stressful for her; whereas she previously spent three years treatment-free, this year alone she has received treatment three times. “Everything just goes down the drain because you are stressed out with everything that is going wrong. You tell yourself not to be upset about things, but it still does bother you inside.”
Now single, Natasha has been living temporarily with her parents. “You can’t move back in with your parents after 25 years. After you have had your own home…” But
she will be moving into an assisted living apartment in March. “I’m quite looking forward to moving into my own place,” she said, smiling at her future of being partially independent again.
 Dobson, R. and Giovannoni, G., 2019. Multiple Sclerosis – a review. European journal of neurology, 26(1), pp. 30