It was Freshman year of high school and I was looking for any way to get involved and make new friends. I had always been interested in sports and decided to join my high school's crew team in the Spring. Both of my parents had done crew in high school and college, so I though that maybe I would be a natural and enjoy the sport as much as they did.
My coach had assigned me to be the coxswain on the team since I was much shorter and smaller than most of the rowers. I was upset at first, but ended up loving the leadership role that was placed upon me. One day, when my team was practicing for a big upcoming race, I had noticed that the vision in my right eye had started to fade. I figured that this was probably due to my contacts, and did not think much about it until I began having to ask my friends at school to help me read the material on the board. I was too afraid to let my coach know about my vision, mainly because the most significant job of a coxswain was to be able to see and steer the boat in the right direction.
I finally told my mom and she decided to take me in to the eye doctor’s. The optometrist asked me to cover my left eye and read the letters on the board. He asked me over and over again if I could read the letters on the board and over and over again, I told him no. He finally completed the vision screening and I opened my left eye. The large, capital E was displayed on the board, and at that moment it hit me that I had gone blind in one eye. I was shocked and worried that I had waited too long, that I had gone permanently blind in my right eye.
After several more tedious eye exams, countless MRI’s, numerous blood tests, and prolonged IV’s of steroids to gain back my vision, the doctor concluded that I had Multiple Sclerosis. I remember asking my mom what that disease was and how I could possibly have it. My knowledge of the chronic illness grew immensely when the neurologists diagnosed me. Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system and has affected my life more than I thought it would. I continued to be a coxswain for the team and would get my infusions of the steroids early in the morning to ensure that I would not miss a regatta. Finishing the season was a big challenge, but I managed to do so and rejoined the team the following Fall season of my Sophomore year.
I spent most of my high school career in the hospital rather than in the classroom. It was a lonely and depressing time when I was unable to participate in school events and was misunderstood by many of my classmates. My Junior year of high school was by far the most difficult. I was constantly in and out of the hospital, receiving treatment after treatment of various medications to help me at least stay stable and finish off the year, which ended up not even happening. I had four flare-ups that year and thankfully my counselor worked out a plan where I could end the year early and not have to take my final exams. While receiving the steroid treatments to help me gain back my vision and ability to walk, I was constantly in pain. I would use the only strength I had to try and make it to the bathroom rather than throw up on the the hospital bed from the medication.
This pattern of flare-ups and steroid treatments continued into my senior year and I thought that I was not going to be able to graduate. I was still struggling to gain my self-confidence back, but the looks that I got from strangers when they saw me struggle to walk down the hospital hallways or back to my car definitely caused my self-esteem to plummet all over again. If that wasn’t enough to break me, seeing my balloon-face in the mirror, caused by the steroids, did. It took me much longer than I intended to return back to school, because I refused for my reappearance to be in a wheelchair. After several physical therapy appointments and what seemed like an unending amount of IV’s, I was able to return to school back on my feet.
I managed to graduate high school and am currently attending Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. I love my college and am hoping and praying that I will be able to graduate with my classmates. I have been on five disease modifying drugs such as, rebif, copaxone, tecfidera, and tysabri, and am currently on Gilenya. My most recent Tysabri infusion was suddenly halted by my body's resistance of the medication and allergic reaction to it. Searching for other medications is a scary process, but I am hopeful that the one I am on now will continue to work. My goal is to graduate from CNU and attend law school, preferably on the West Coast; however, right now all I can do is hope for the best and plan for the worst.
It has been an extremely difficult and extensive battle, but remaining hopeful is the most important part of this process. As I have grown, matured and experienced much of the symptoms and side effects that MS can have on a person, I have been searching for ways to help others my age who are going through the same thing or have just been diagnosed. It is hard enough to go through high school, start college and leave home, but dealing with a chronic illness on top of all of that can take an enormous toll on a person's body and I would love to assist anyone who is going through the same thing.