Multiple sclerosis (MS) is different for everyone. It can be difficult to explain, let alone manage. Here’s how three people took their diagnosis head-on and continue to live beyond their condition.
Michelle Tolson, 42
Year Diagnosed: 2014
Michelle Tolson was a young, impressionable ten-year-old when she saw Vanessa Williams crowned Miss America. Tolson immediately knew she wanted to follow in her footsteps. In search for a “talent” suitable for the competition, she took up dance. By the time she was sixteen, Tolson had become a dance instructor and was an avid dancer herself. She followed her dreams and went on to become Miss New Hampshire, 1996.
The very next year, Tolson joined the famed Radio City Rockettes. She delighted the New York stage with her dancing talent for the next six years. She then turned to teaching musical theater at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York.
In 2014, Tolson noticed blurriness in her left eye, a haziness similar to a spotty disco ball. After a couple attempts to find the source of her problem, doctors sent her for an MRI. Although the neurologist thought it was MS, the doctor suggested she get a second opinion. Another MRI followed and on St. Patrick’s Day 2014 Michelle was diagnosed MS.
Tolson’s supportive family initially thought the worst of her diagnosis. Her mother even envisioned her in a wheelchair. Her treatment began with a daily oral medication, but it didn’t help her symptoms. Then, her doctor found more lesions during a follow-up MRI. Tolson decided to get more aggressive treatment with infusion therapy.
While Tolson’s childhood dream may not have included MS, she’s used her diagnosis as a platform for raising awareness. Her focus on advocacy is seen through her team support at the National MS Walk in NYC.
Karen Marie Roberts, 67
Year Diagnosed: 1989
Karen Marie Roberts was diagnosed with MS over 25 years ago. At the time of her diagnosis, she was working in a high stress environment as a director for research at an investment firm on Wall Street.
Receiving a diagnosis of MS meant Roberts had to re-evaluate some of her choices, including her career. She stopped working at her high-pressure job, and chose a life partner based on his supportiveness.
After considering living in various places, Roberts and her partner decided on a ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley in California. They live with their five rescue Borzoi dogs, a Silken Windhound, and a horse, named Suzie-Q. Horseback riding is one of the therapies Roberts uses to cope with her MS.
While she still deals with symptoms, especially fatigue and heat sensitivity, Roberts has found ways to work around them. She avoids the heat and stays away from intense exercises. Since her diagnosis, she’s only had a few remissions. She attributes her success to taking medications and living a peaceful, stress-free life.
Given the chance to go back in time, Roberts wishes she wouldn’t have been so fearful of her diagnosis. Her latest book, “Journeys: Healing Through Nature’s Wisdom,” discusses how nature has helped her deal with her diagnosis.
Kelly Smith, 40
Year Diagnosed: 2003
Fearing the worst, Kelly Smith was actually relieved when she found out she had MS. After experiencing a range of symptoms, including numbness, cognition problems, difficulties with balance, and a loss of movement in her hands, she had expected much worse. She knew her diagnosis wasn’t terminal and that it could be managed.
Her treatment began with medications, but after several years of taking them as prescribed she decided to stop. She was happily married, a mother of two children, and she simply felt she didn’t need it anymore. She also stopped taking her anti-depressant medication.
Soon after this, Smith discovered she was pregnant again. Although the MS worsened her postpartum depression, she still didn’t go back to any medication.
Today, except for slight tingling in her limbs, Smith’s disease is mostly in remission. She doesn’t shy away from talking about her MS, and openly speaks about it at schools and churches as a way of bringing more awareness to it.