Lori Kiker was relieved to hear the news. The doctor told her she had multiple sclerosis.
"I thought he was going to say cancer," the 48-year-old Phenix City woman said, recalling the day this past March when she received her diagnosis.
In January, she had begun slurring words and stuttering. Her mother, a retired nurse, thought she might have had some mini strokes, but medical tests, a head scan and EKG proved that was not the case.
However, an MRI showed spots on the brain. Cancer was the first thought.
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A brain biopsy showed otherwise.
"I did not know anything about MS," said Kiker, a receptionist at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.
What she learned led to depression.
Someone suggested a support group, but Kiker could not find one.
The solution was for Kiker to get one started.
That's how the Chattahoochee Valley Multiple Sclerosis Support Group was born. The first meeting was held in September.
The group, currently with 14 members, meets for about 90 minutes once a month at the Columbus Public Library. Those seeking information about the group can call 706-575-6925 or email email@example.com.
Its mission statement says the group was created to provide support, inform and educate MS patients and the local community about MS and the special needs of the disabled. The meetings provide an environment of fellowship to motivate and inspire members as snacks and ideas are shared.
"We don't meet to whine or complain," member Roger Davis said. "It is all meant to be constructive."
Davis, 51, of Midland, Ga., is a retired Army Sgt. 1st Class who uses a wheelchair to get around.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society describes MS as a chronic disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. No cause is known. There are treatments but no cure.
As part of an immune system attack on the central nervous system, myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers, is damaged, as well as the nerve fibers themselves. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue (sclerosis), which gives the disease its name.
When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted. Sometimes, the body does not respond properly to what the brain wants it to do.
"A major short circuit" is how Davis described it.
Some common symptoms include fatigue, pain, seizures, respiration problems, swallowing problems and hearing loss, but it differs among people.
Davis was diagnosed in 2001, a few years after he began having trouble walking.
"I was stumbling," Davis said.
His feet began to feel like "cinder blocks."
Schkaylle Marshall, 28, is a member of the group. An Army spouse, she volunteers for Army Community Services at Fort Benning, where she helps with family team building.
It was in May 2009, while her husband was stationed at Fort Polk in Louisiana, that Marshall, who had just been accepted into veterinary school at Tuskegee University, woke up and was blind in her right eye. An MRI showed the reason to be MS.
"I used to be a klutz in high school," she said. "I fell down a lot. It's a relief to know there was reason. I've probably had MS for quite awhile."
Ronnie Wilson, 57, of Phenix City, is a retired manager for Winn Dixie. He helped organize the first annual MS Walk.
Like Kiker, Davis and Marshall, he is a patient of Columbus neurologist Reinaldo Verson.
Wilson said he had been having some problems with his right leg. Doctors kept telling him it had something to do with his back, though nothing specific could be found.
"MS is often misdiagnosed," Wilson said.
It was Verson who quickly got to the root of his trouble.
He recalled Verson seeing him walk and telling him "you've got MS."
Wilson said his reply was "What's that?"
It was through Verson's office that members found out about the forming of the support group.Wilson and Marshall both said that the disease affects memory.
"Long term and short term," Marshall said.
"That can really make it hard at a job," Davis remarked.
Marshall wants to work. She said someone with MS can be a good employee.
Medication that helps keep MS under control is expensive. Wilson said the cost of his medication is $6,500 every 28 days.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society says annual health care costs for people in the U.S. is an average of $39,000 and the cost of MS increases with greater disability.
Although more than 90 percent of people with MS have some form of health insurance, 70 percent report some difficulty paying for health care.
"I don't know how people without insurance get by," Wilson said.
"It is not easy having MS," Kiker said. "It is easier when there are others you can share information and your thoughts with. That's why this group is important."