Ann Romney, the 63-year-old wife of Mitt Romney, has often been described as an antidote to her husband's perceived stiffness on the campaign trail. With five sons and 18 grandchildren, as well as an easy warmth and a generous sense of humor, she has a seemingly natural ability to connect with voters — a skill that has often escaped the GOP's presumptive nominee. Ann has also faced hardships that her husband has not — since 1998, she has struggled with multiple sclerosis, an incurable autoimmune disorder that attacks the protective covering surrounding the body's nerves, causing nerve signals to slow or stop. The debilitating disease can cause a host of problems, including fatigue, severe muscle spasms, paralysis, and excruciating pain. This week, Ann spoke to USA Today and The Wall Street Journal about coping with the disease. Here, five takeaways from the interviews:
1. Ann felt like Pac-Man was attacking her
"By the time she began looking for help" in 1998, says Thomas M. Burton at The Wall Street Journal, Ann "had been losing her balance and stumbling." Her right leg grew numb, she couldn't swallow, and she "was losing strength in her grip." Ann tells Burton that every morning felt like "a big uphill climb," and then pain spread to her chest, where it felt like "a Pac-Man was attacking" and eating away her insides.
2. With treatment, she can keep her MS under control
Ann is "to all appearances vibrantly healthy," says Susan Page at USA Today. After her diagnosis, she took steroids to calm her inflamed immune system, which "stopped the attack," she tells Burton. (She has now been off steroids for several years.) However, MS is a "relapsing-remitting" type of disease that can flare up if she's not careful. In March, days after Super Tuesday, Ann fell "flat on my behind" from over-exertion on the campaign trail, she tells Page. "My body was just telling me again, 'You can't just go. Knock, knock, I'm here.'"
3. Ann has tried alternative remedies…
Like others diagnosed with MS, Ann has taken up alternative remedies that soothe her immune system, including acupuncture and reflexology, "which involves massaging areas of the feet, hands, and ears on the theory that these areas correspond to various organs," says Burton. Ann is also part of a wide-ranging study that tracks the progress of 2,000 people with MS, in a bid to learn more about the disease.
4. …But therapeutic horseback-riding is her passion
Ann famously took up horseback-riding as part of her therapy, which has "attracted criticism on the campaign trail, with some pointing out it is an expensive hobby that might add to the perception of the Romneys as out-of-touch with the average American," says Alicia M. Cohn at The Hill. Ann has also trained in dressage, a genteel sport in which horses perform dance-like moves, which has been mocked by several comedians. But Ann is unapologetic about her passion. "This is my life," she tells Page. "This is a vehicle that brought me health and joy and happiness, and if it's misunderstood, I can't do anything about that."
5. She says MS has made her more compassionate
Ann acknowledges that her family, bolstered by her husband's fortune, has not experienced the financial difficulties that many Americans experienced during the recession. "But I do have challenges, and all of us have challenges in life," she tells Page. "For me, having this kind of serious health challenge has made me more compassionate, more understanding of those who are struggling." She adds: "You think of yourself as a person who is accomplished and competent and everything else, and all of a sudden you can't do anything… I learned that we don't escape this life without a little bit of tragedy and chaos and difficulty."