Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month



A Multiple Sclerosis Ribbon on an orange background.

“Am I going to die?” Alexis Macias, Assistant General Manager of Portillo’s, states, was the first question that came to mind when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

March is MS Awareness Month and many still aren’t aware of what MS even is. Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. There are too many white blood cells, and when they cross the blood barrier in the brain, it attacks the nerves and eats away at the Myelin Sheath. Many symptoms of MS include fatigue, numbness or tingling, weakness, vertigo or dizziness, vision problems, muscle spasms, stiffness, mobility problems, pain, problems with thinking, learning, and planning, and depression and anxiety.

Macias stated that it was over Christmas when she first had symptoms, and she thought she was hungover. She had a bad headache and a little bit of a loss of stability where everything felt as if it was moving, or she was moving. When Macias went to urgent care, she was told that she was dehydrated and to go home and drink fluids.

It wasn’t until April 2020, that she found out via a video call with a doctor that she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Only 0.5% of the population is at risk of getting MS and doctors are still unaware of what exactly causes it. Compared to cancers, MS is still a baby when it comes to knowing all that they do. There are also three different types of Multiple Sclerosis: Relapse Admitting, Secondary Progressive, and Primary Progressive. For her, the MS is hereditary and Relapse Admitting. Her father was diagnosed because Macias was diagnosed after exhibiting many of the symptoms she had before she was diagnosed. MS can be physical or cognitive and her father has the cognitive type of MS. He’s currently being treated with Alzheimer’s medication.

People with MS have what are called attacks, or “flare-ups.” An attack for Macias is having her whole left side go numb. Her first attack lasted six months. An attack can’t be considered one if it doesn’t last for 72 hours. Attacks normally last about two to three weeks; the only way to stop them is to take steroids.

Alexis Macias sits with her hands folded as she awaits her interview. (Kayden Berger)

“Everyone’s attacks are different,” she states. “One of my friends that I met from the MS Therapy group, hers is completely on her right side. It depends on where your lesions are because that’s what it is. It’s the lesions.” She also explains how it’s a mind game. Walking or picking up a can of Sprite is a normal movement for everyone else, but during an MS attack, it’s not. Thinking about moving your leg to walk is the last thing on someone’s mind but Macias states that she has done physical therapy, especially in the beginning, and it taught her that during an MS attack, she must tell her brain to move her leg, to move her muscles, to continue to keep going on.

The thing about MS is that doctors don’t know when or how the attack is going to happen. Even the medication is just to help suppress MS, it’s not a cure. Macias hasn’t had an attack since 2021 and her medication is the closest thing to a cure that she has right now. Although, the medication she’s on is something a patient can only be on for five years before it can become deadly. If you risk it and continue taking the medication, you could likely develop a deadly brain disease that gives the person between 6 months and two years to live. Macias is thankful to have her close friend, Nick Labadie, Portillo’s Assistant General Manager, as her neighbor. If it weren’t for having him nearby, she says she would feel most comfortable back closer to her family.

What Macias wants to make clear about MS is that it doesn’t kill you, but it can change someone’s entire life. For Macias, her goal was to continue working for Portillo’s for the rest of her life, but after her medication use is over, she’s going to have to find something much calmer than working in the back of a kitchen. MS is still something that doctors don’t know much about. The research is minimal but there’s truly hope that soon there will be more studies on finding a cure in the future.