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Miss Pumpkin Fair & Mom reaching for the stars to find a cure for MS
Miss Pumpkin Fair 2009 Tanya Towner poses with her mom Vita Towner while organizing her fundraising team “Reaching for the Stars” for the annual MS Walk in Modesto that took place April 25. - photo by Photo by Shim Lacy-Watson
Imagine experiencing daily fatigue, loss of balance and difficulty walking. Some of the simplest daily tasks such as walking, yard work and shopping become difficult for a person with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Based upon recent statistics, over 400,000 Americans, including Manteca resident Vita Towner, have been diagnosed with MS. Towner, the registrar at Sierra High School, was diagnosed with the disease in 2006 after what she described as overexertion after a summer walk in the neighborhood. She now suspects her symptoms emerged over 14 years ago.

MS is a difficult disease to diagnose because many patients ignore symptoms such as fatigue, numbness, tingling, loss of balance, slurred speech, tremors or stiffness that can be explained away by the stress of daily life.

MS is a chronic unpredictable disease of the central nervous system. It is thought to be an autoimmune disorder which means that a person’s immune system that normally fights off infection & disease also attacks healthy tissue. There are genetic factors that make certain individuals more susceptible than others but there is no direct hereditary link.

MS symptoms result when the immune system attacks myelin, the protective insulation surrounding the nerve fibers of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal chord). Myelin is destroyed and replaced by scars of hardened “sclerotic” tissue. Myelin can be compared to the insulating material around electrical wire; the loss of myelin interferes with the transmission of nerve signals. Towner’s specific symptoms include fatigue, particularly during high temperatures, dizziness and trouble balancing.

While there is no cure, being diagnosed with MS is not a death sentence because it is not fatal and does not always result in paralysis. The majority of people with MS remain able to walk. Such is the case with Towner who says that she manages the disease on a daily basis without too much interference. She now has to plan ahead for shopping trips or other long walks by breaking them into smaller distances. “I can’t shop till I drop anymore or else I just might actually drop,” Towner said with a laugh. Her current prognosis is stable with weekly injections to slow the progression of the disease.

Her family including husband Joe, sons Joseph Jr., age 22 Jeremy, age 19 and daughter Tanya, age 16 are free from MS and have rallied to support Towner. Upon hearing of her diagnosis, her family including her niece who also has MS, formed a team and “joined the movement”, the motto for the MS Walk. They raised money and shared in fellowship with others diagnosed with the disease and their loved ones.

Tanya Towner, a sophomore at Sierra High School, is also the current Miss Pumpkin Fair 2009. As such she represents the Sunrise Kiwanis Club of Manteca and their annual Pumpkin Fair. Her title also includes an educational scholarship awarded during the 2009 Manteca Scholarship Competition sponsored by Manteca Youth Focus (MYF). Each scholarship recipient is asked to create a “community advocacy project” benefiting a volunteer organization and then implement the project during the ensuing year. Towner had no hesitation in selecting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society as her project.

For the past three years, she has organized a team called “Reaching for the Stars”, the MYF motto, in honor of her mom for the Modesto MS Walk and has successfully raised over $2,000 for MS research. Her advocacy project is more than just a requirement for her scholarship, it’s a family affair. “Every day I see how MS affects my mom; not just her body but her whole life and our entire family. Instead of feeling hopeless I am choosing to make a difference.”

If you would like more information about multiple sclerosis please visit the or call 1-800-FIGHT MS. For more information about Manteca Youth Focus and its continuing efforts in community advocacy, please contact Kristina Stamper at (209) 612-6930 or email