Siblings & MS

Today is my baby sister’s birthday – ok, none of us are babies anymore so I’ll switch that one to my youngest sister, but it still tells you her birth order in my family. There are five of us siblings - all female, and this day, among others, I pause and wonder why I have MS and they don’t.

Honestly, if just one of us had to have MS, I am ok with the fact that it is me. Just as I am sure the sister who had breast cancer and the other one who also had cancer are ok that it was them and wouldn’t wish it onto one of us. But I still have to wonder – why me and not them too. Should this be a solo act of having this chronic illness in my family? I think about this more in an investigative way – always wondering what it is that causes multiple sclerosis. Environmental factors are often hinted at as a clue, but I have trouble with that idea.

My parents moved into their present home just before I was born – so my three older sisters lived elsewhere for 7 years or so, but then we were all in the same small Cape Cod style house together until we were grown and went our separate ways. Through the serendipitous nature of great genetics and good health, my parents are still living in that same home 62 years later.

From my opening you know I have four sisters – making the question of gender and multiple sclerosis mute since we are all female.

Family meal times were the same for our family – those of us who are old enough remember those days when the mother put the dishes of food on the table, everyone ate together, we passed the dishes around, and we all pretty much ate the same foods. I had the same overcooked pot roast, jello salads and tapioca pudding that my sisters ate. We all choked down the same lima beans when forced to eat them - or at least 4 of 5 of us did because one sister actually likes those things.

There was no hanging out and just waiting to be entertained or being driven to all of our activities.  First of all, my mother never had her driver’s license so she couldn’t take us; growing up was also a time when parents wouldn’t take us everywhere because that was what our feet, the bikes or even the public bus was for. We spent summer days and even after school hours doing the same thing – building tents from old sheets hanging from the clothes line, riding our bikes, and going to the swimming pool.  We got plenty of sunshine – we didn’t lack natural Vitamin D thanks to being outdoors so much.

The five of us went to the same elementary school and high school. We often had the same teachers and sat in the same classrooms. If there was anything toxic in our schools besides the bullies and the school lunchroom, we were all exposed to it.

So where does the link in health get broken and allow for the introduction of whatever it is that causes MS? I would think families such as mine illustrate to the scientists that environment might not be such a factor in this disease, because if that were the case then more than just me should theoretically have MS. That same scenario would be repeated through most of the families of people reading this article right now. A big question that will be answered someday, but not yet, remains - If you have MS, why aren’t your siblings also affected?

Wishing you well,


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