Like most of us, Anita Stewart has good days and bad. But living with multiple sclerosis, her bad days are a little worse than most, and her good days - a lot more treasured.
Stewart, of Forestville, was diagnosed in her 20s with a form of MS called "relapsing-remitting." That means a person experiences relapses of worsening neurologic functioning, followed by periods of remission in which they can experience partial or complete recovery.
MS is an often debilitating disease of the central nervous system affecting people in Upstate New York at a rate about double the national average.
"People think I have MD [muscular dystrophy]. That's your muscles. This is your nerves. The only similarity is the first initial. I talk to everybody about my MS because people just don't know about it."
In spreading awareness of the disease, Stewart, 33, participates each year in the National MS Society Upstate New York Chapter's biggest annual fundraiser, Walk MS.
This year, Walk MS Northern Chautauqua is at Russell Joy Park in Fredonia on Sunday morning.
Walk MS Sunday event
What: Walk MS Northern Chautauqua
Where: Russell Joy Park, Milt Lupean Drive, Fredonia
When: Sunday, registration 9 a.m.; walk starts 10 a.m.
How: Participants can register on site Sunday or online at walkMSupsateny.org.
"I'm always excited about Walk MS. I love it. The people who come are happy. They don't dwell on what they have and what somebody else doesn't have," Stewart said
Stewart puts a lot of effort into maintaining a positive attitude, especially around her daughters, Olivia, 6, and Sophia, 4.
"I just don't like them to see me struggling, so I play it off. I tell them, 'Mommy's OK'. I don't want them to worry."
Stewart gets headaches and has vision problems, sometimes she feels a burning sensation in her eyes, and sometimes her hips hurt. There are days when her legs are weak and she has a hard time walking.
"I'll wake up every morning and say, 'Please let them not be weak today,'" says Stewart. "My worst fear is that one day I'm not going to be able to walk outside and watch my daughters jump around."
A close relative of Stewarts is living with MS, and she fears her children could get the disease, too. That's why, says Stewart, every time an MS research study is looking for participants, she's the first one to raise her hand.
"I don't care about the money," Stewart said. "If I'm the one who's going to change this around, so be it."
She believes raising awareness of the disease plays a big role in one day finding a cure, so Stewart encourages people to join her Walk MS team called, "The A-Team", which has about 32 team members. This year, children who attend dance classes with her daughters are asking to join the walk, which has participants raising money and walking a 1-, 3- or 5-mile route at Russell Joy Park.
Stewart says the children are eager to know about the disease that causes her to sometimes walk with a limp. "It makes me feel so good. They run up to me and ask, 'Are you feeling good today?' They're the most amazing kids."
Stewart lives with the philosophy that just because you have a disease, doesn't mean you have to let it overtake your life.
"Everybody asks, 'Why me?' But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."