Shawnda hadn't divulged the symptoms to many people, or even to her husband, but Cindy insisted that Shawnda get help to prevent losing control of a car with Shaylin in it.
Shawnda went to optometrist David Tufts, who diagnosed retrobulbar optic neuritis and referred her to Winchester Neurological Consultants to be evaluated for multiple sclerosis. The next day, Scott Shulman informed her she probably did have MS, and had her admitted to the hospital for an MRI and to begin steroids. She went to Winchester Medical Center over Fourth of July weekend, still not grasping the diagnosis.
"She was even more upset, at times, because she was missing her favorite holiday," Cindy said. "So I planned a party at her house because of her condition, and I got everybody at work together, and they ended up getting her family together."
Shawnda steadily deteriorated. She was prescribed more than 10 medications, but her symptoms grew and became more varied. Once lean and athletic, she was gaining weight and losing mobility, all the while stricken with bouts of pain and numbness. Her vision got so poor that, at times, she could see objects only directly in front of her face and, often, nothing at all with her left eye.
"It was really hard on Shaylin, 'cause she'd go to her mom, pull herself up on the couch, and she wanted Mom to pick her up," Marsha said. "She would start crying, and Shawnda would do all she could just to pick her up, and then she would start crying because she couldn't."
Shawnda endured hallucinations and nightmares, and made nonsensical exclamations. Her mother, who came by the house every weekday to care for Shawnda and the baby, once noticed Shawnda sniffing the curtains intently. Shawnda told her she'd dreamed the curtains were on fire and could now smell smoke. Another time, Marsha followed Shawnda onto the roof in search of another phantom fire.