Valerie Jankowski Skrabut wasn't always an artist. The 49-year-old from Long Island was a successful musician until MS stole her ability to perform in 1990. The loss of her music drove her into four years of depression. Finally her husband sat her down in front of the computer and told her to do something--anything. She found the "paint" program and doodled, then began drawing. "Even though I couldn't play the piano," she says, "I had to create."
Now her creations hang in galleries throughout the United States and are sold to buyers as far away as Europe. Her mixed-media works are computer-generated drawings combined with traditional water color, charcoal and pastel techniques. The results are kinetic, electric paintings that seem more at home in the ionosphere than on a wall.
Of course, she still misses music. "It was my passion," she says. "Music comes from your soul--it's more emotional, more mathematical, more deliberate." But she's moved on, seeing depression as a trap that must be avoided. "MS feeds off depression," she says. "So no matter what obstacle there is in life, you have to get through it, you have to cope with it. It's there for a reason. It sounds like a stupid cliché your grandmother would tell you, but it's true." Her work can be viewed on her Web site: www.vjsltd.com.
FDA Approves New Drug
Finally there's an FDA-approved drug for progressive types of MS. Novantrone, a cancer drug, suppresses T cells, B cells and macrophages, the white blood cells thought to attack the myelin sheath, causing MS symptoms. A 24-month trial showed that Novantrone may delay progression, reduce relapses, and reduce the number of new lesions for people with progressive types of MS. On June 7, 1999, following these promising results, the manufacturer--Immunex Corp.--filed with the FDA to expand Novantrone's use from cancer to MS. The FDA's Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Panel unanimously recommended for approval on January 28, 2000. Final approval came on Oct. 13, 2000. That's less than a year from the beginning of the approval process to the end--the FDA version of a fast track.
Immunex Corp. stresses that Novantrone is not benign. Besides less serious side effects, it can lead to heart problems. If you take Novantrone, you should have regular testing of your heart's ability to pump blood. Also, have your blood levels tested before each dose to check blood counts and liver function. Because of these side effects, lifetime treatments are limited to about eight to 12 doses over two to three years. Doses are given by IV infusion once every three months. Contact Immunex, 800/566-8268; www.novantrone.com.
Might Help, Can't Hurt
Hey, Bowflex Guy, move over for neurobics--brand new brain exercises designed to increase mental fitness and prevent memory loss. Here's an example: Turn your world upside down. Simply turn pictures of your family, your desk clock or an illustrated calendar upside down and see how your mind reacts.
Read more about neurobics in Keep Your Brain Alive, by Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D., and Manning Rubin. Katz is a Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center. Rubin is also the author of 60 Ways to Relieve Stress in 60 Seconds. Keep Your Brain Alive, published by Workman Publishing, Inc., is available in most bookstores.
"Consider this your life raft," say the creators of MS MOMS about their Web site, www.msmoms.com. Owned and operated by women with MS, this is one of the few Web sites geared toward people who've had MS for quite awhile. It focuses more on living with MS--for instance, parenting and relationships--than on medical treatments.