Sterling Heights woman with MS praises community, caregivers

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 28, 2020

 Faith Agauas, right, has been sharing her experiences with being involved in the local multiple sclerosis community. Her caregiver and daughter, Rebecca Agauas, is on the left.

Faith Agauas, right, has been sharing her experiences with being involved in the local multiple sclerosis community. Her caregiver and daughter, Rebecca Agauas, is on the left.

Photo provided by Faith Agauas

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Faith Agauas doesn’t let her multiple sclerosis deter her from living life day by day.

“Every morning, I put both feet on the floor, and I say, ‘What kind of trouble am I going to get into today?’” she said. “I never look at my MS as being a ‘woe is me.’ It’s what I have; it’s who I am. I just go about life and make the most of it every day as I can.”

Agauas, 65, of Sterling Heights, is using March as MS Awareness Month to share her personal story and experiences with the medical condition. She is involved with an awareness-raising program called My MS Second Act, made possible through a partnership with Novartis and the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.

According to health experts, multiple sclerosis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation and affects the nervous system. The disease can take on several different phases, and Agauas said she now has a progressive form of MS.

In 1999, a doctor that specializes in MS formally diagnosed Agauas with the illness. However, she had symptoms for years — such as optic neuritis, foot drop, and numbing and tingling in her hands and feet — but doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

Agauas said she at first lived a typical life after the diagnosis.

“I wasn’t any different than any other person,” she said. “I still worked full-time. I had a great career. I traveled.”

However, she said her disease started progressing around 2005 or 2006 and then progressed further years later.

“My disability is now full,” she said. “I use a walker. I use a transport cart to get around. I have some cognitive issues — you forget things, memory fog.”

She also has two other immune disorders, the thyroid-related Hashimoto’s disease and a blood-affecting illness called immune thrombocytopenic purpura.

Faith Agauas said her daughter, Rebecca Agauas, is her caretaker. Faith said she wanted to recognize and thank caregivers for their hard work, despite the risk of burnout, in helping people with MS function in everyday life.

“Without them, we’re not going to get through the day,” she said.

Both Faith and Rebecca are very involved in the local multiple sclerosis community. They take part in walk and dinner events, which often feature doctors and patient ambassadors as guests.

“It’s our community where we get together,” Faith said. “We share doctors, stories. …  It makes a big difference if you are involved.”

Faith said new drugs and treatments are being developed for MS patients, though she doesn’t think she will benefit from them so much, due to her age and the condition’s progression.

Rebecca described what some of the MS community’s events are like.

“The MS community is by far one of the best communities I’ve ever been a part of,” she said.  “We go to a lot of MS educational dinners and lunches. … We want to learn about this as much as we can. We went to one last night and still learn some new fact every time we go.”

Rebecca explained the positive effect that community can have on people with MS.

“You’re in a position where you’re surrounded by people who are just like you, and you’re all supporting each other and cheering each other on … a lot of love and support. It’s really beautiful,” she said.

As one herself, Rebecca agreed that caregivers are “unsung heroes.” She said she cares for her mother on a daily basis by doing household chores like laundry and dishes, as well as arranging doctor appointments and advocating on her mother’s behalf.

While Rebecca said “a lot of the weight falls on caregivers’ shoulders,” and they don’t always get the support they need to take care of themselves, she finds great purpose in caring for her mother.

“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” she said.

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