BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Bree Alvarez was living her best life before a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis threw her a new obstacle in life, but it hasn’t stopped her from being active and hoping to inspire others with the disease.
Before her diagnosis, Alvarez, 37, says the term multiple sclerosis was not part of her life. Unfamiliar with how the disease affects the body diagnosed in around 1 million Americans, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It wasn’t something she had given much thought to as a high school teacher and Zumba instructor. She was living life like anyone her age might — exercise and nights out with friends.
“I was just living life really,” she says. “I thought I was on top of the world.”
She started feeling her first symptoms of her MS after a run in the scorching summer heat about six years ago. Her vision would become blurry. “Little by little, my peripheral [vision] just completely went out,” she said.
Her symptoms progressed to other parts of her body: numbness, tingling sensations in her legs and hands, she said in an interview.
“Half of my face started twitching and I thought to myself, ‘This is not normal. Something is definitely going on,’” she recalled.
Alvarez went to a doctor and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. An MRI showed a lesion on her brain — a key indicator of the disease. She and her family had conversations about what it would mean for her and what would come next. Her future was scary and unknown.
“We sat down and we cried together, and we started looking things up … they weren’t familiar with it either.”
Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the body’s central nervous system in the brain and spinal cord. The disease causes damage to the protective layers surrounding nerve fibers (myelin), disrupting signals to and from the brain. Those disruptions cause symptoms like numbness, tingling, vision problems, pain, memory problems, and possibly disability.
The severity of the disease varies and there is no cure for it, but several treatments exist.
Alvarez has maintained a positive outlook in treating her MS. An aggression in dealing with her symptoms like she lives her life — being active and fit.
“I just keep pushing myself. I keep pushing a little bit harder. I do take the time to stretch and take the time to internalize what could possibly be happening… I just have to continue to be positive and say OK this gonna pass, this is gonna pass.”
Alvarez is also treated with a medication called Ocrevus. She visits a treatment facility in Bakersfield once every six months for several hours for an IV treatment.
Day-to-day, she keeps her focus on her goals of living a normal, active life regardless of her sometimes debilitating disease.
“I know that at any point, I could possibly wake up and my legs not be able to move. That scares me, but I have to keep a positive mindset,” she said.
I have to stay positive and not try to think of the negatives … Keeping a positive mindset and knowing that I can fight this and live with it and just be strong.”
Alvarez’s hopes and dreams for her own life are no longer on hold. She’s recently engaged and is planning her future with her fiancé. His and her family’s support has made a difference.
“Once I was diagnosed, he said: ‘Wherever this goes, I’m here for you.’”
Today, Alvarez is training for the Bakersfield Marathon on March 27. It will be her fifth marathon while battling MS.
She encourages others to keep fighting and not let the disease keep hold on their bodies.
“Keep your head up, you don’t have to have a diagnosis like this completely tear away at you. You gotta just keep fighting and know that you have your life to keep fighting for.”