Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.
When you hear the words “lifelong friend,” what often comes to mind is a soulmate, partner, best friend, or spouse. But those words remind me of Valentine’s Day, which is when I met my new lifelong friend: multiple sclerosis (MS).
Like any relationship, my relationship with MS didn’t happen in a day, but began to progress a month earlier.
It was January and I returned to college after the holiday break. I remember being excited to start a new semester but also dreading several upcoming weeks of intense preseason lacrosse training. During the first week back, the team had captain’s practices, which involve less time and pressure than practices with the coaches. It gives students time to adjust to being back at school and classes starting.
In spite of having to complete a punishment jonsie run (aka a ‘punishment run’ or the worst run ever), the week of captain’s practices were enjoyable — a light, no-pressure way to exercise and play lacrosse with my friends. But at a scrimmage on Friday, I subbed myself out because my left arm was tingling intensely. I went to speak with the athletic trainers who examined my arm and conducted some range-of-motion tests. They set me up with a stim-and-heat treatment (also known as TENS) and sent me home. I was told to come back the next day for the same treatment and I followed this routine for the next five days.
Throughout this time, the tingling only got worse and my ability to move my arm decreased tremendously. Soon a new feeling came about: anxiety. I now had this overwhelming feeling that Division I lacrosse was too much, college in general was too much, and all I wanted was to be home with my parents.
In addition to my newfound anxiety, my arm was basically paralyzed. I was unable to work out, which caused me to miss the first official practice of the 2017 season. Over the phone, I cried to my parents and begged to come home.
Things clearly weren’t getting better, so the trainers ordered an X-ray of my shoulder and arm. The results came back normal. Strike one.
Soon after, I visited my parents and went to see my hometown orthopedic who was trusted by my family. He examined me and sent me for an X-ray. Again, the results were normal. Strike two.
"The first words I saw were: "Rare, treatment can help but there is no cure." THERE. IS. NO. CURE. That’s when it really hit me." – Grace Tierney, student and MS survivor
But, he then suggested an MRI of my spine, and the results showed an abnormality. I finally had some new information, but many questions were still left unanswered. All I knew at that point was that there was an abnormality on my C-spine MRI and that I needed another MRI. Slightly relieved that I was starting to get some answers, I returned to school and relayed the news to my coaches.
The whole time, I had been thinking whatever was going on was muscular and related to a lacrosse injury. But when I returned for my next MRI, I found out it had to do with my brain. Suddenly, I realized this might not be just a simple lacrosse injury.
Next, I met my neurologist. She took blood, did a few physical tests, and said she wanted yet another MRI of my brain — this time with contrast. We did it and I returned to school with an appointment to see the neurologist again that Monday.
It was a typical week at school. I played catch-up in my classes since I had missed so much due to doctor’s visits. I observed practice. I pretended to be a normal college student.
Monday, February 14th arrived and I showed up to my doctor’s appointment with not one nervous feeling in my body. I figured they were going to tell me what was wrong and fix my injury — simple as can be.
They called my name. I walked into the office and sat down. The neurologist told me that I had MS, but I had no idea what that meant. She ordered high-dose IV steroids for the next week and said it would help my arm. She arranged a nurse to come to my apartment and explained that the nurse would set up my port and that this port would stay in me for the next week. All I had to do was connect my IV bubble of steroids and wait two hours for them to drip into my body.
None of this registered… until the appointment was over and I was in the car reading the summary that stated “Grace’s diagnosis: Multiple Sclerosis.”
I googled MS. The first words I saw were: “Rare, treatment can help but there is no cure.” THERE. IS. NO. CURE. That’s when it really hit me. It was this very moment that I met my lifelong friend, MS. I did not choose nor want this, but I was stuck with it.
The months following my MS diagnosis, I felt apprehensive about telling anyone what was wrong with me. Everyone who saw me at school knew something was up. I was sitting out of practice, absent from class a lot because of appointments, and receiving high-dose steroids every day that made my face blow up like a pufferfish. To make matters worse, my mood swings and appetite were on a whole other level.
It was now April and not only was my arm still limp, but my eyes started to do this thing as if they were dancing in my head. All of this made school and lacrosse insanely difficult. My doctor told me that until my health was under control, I should withdraw from classes. I followed his recommendation, but in doing so I lost my team. I was no longer a student and therefore could not observe practice or use the varsity athletics gym. During games I had to sit in the stands. These were the hardest months, because I felt as if I had lost everything.
In May, things began to calm down and I started to think I was in the clear. Everything about the previous semester seemed to be over and it was summertime. I felt “normal” again!
Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. I soon realized I will never be normal again, and I’ve come to understand that isn’t a bad thing. I am a 20-year-old girl living with a lifelong disease that affects me every single day. It took a long time to adjust to that reality, both physically and mentally.
Initially, I was running away from my disease. I wouldn’t talk about it. I would avoid anything that reminded me of it. I even pretended I wasn’t sick anymore. I dreamt of reinventing myself in a place where no one knew I was sick.
When I did think about my MS, horrible thoughts ran through my head that I was gross and tainted because of it. Something was wrong with me and everyone knew about it. Every time I got these thoughts, I ran even further away from my disease. MS had ruined my life and I would never get it back.
Now, after months of denial and self-pity, I’ve come to accept that I have a new lifelong friend. And although I did not choose her, she’s here to stay. I accept that everything is different now and it’s not going to go back to the way it was — but that’s okay. Just like any relationship, there are things to work on, and you don’t know what those are until you’re in the relationship for a while.
Now that MS and I have been friends for a year, I know what I need to do to make this relationship work. I won’t let MS or our relationship define me anymore. Instead, I will face the challenges head-on and deal with them day by day. I will not surrender to it and allow time to pass me by.
Happy Valentine’s Day — every day — for me and my lifelong friend, multiple sclerosis.