“In sickness and in health” are wedding vows that are truly related to “for better or for worse.” My husband and I had no clue how quickly our vows would come into play. 15 days before our 1 year wedding anniversary, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It was a life changing event that left us with a decision. Are we going to live for better or for worse?
This all started when I had a sharp pain in my right eye. I lost most of my vision in it and I went colorblind. During that time I was diagnosed with Optic Neuritis (basically my optic nerve couldn’t send proper signals to my brain that would allow me to see normally). The diagnosis of Optic Neuritis lead to my MS diagnosis in 2012.
Three days after that life altering diagnosis, I got a call from one of my managers here at WAVY-TV 10 & FOX43 telling me they wanted me to start filling in as the morning show anchor. I knew I had a chance to make that a permanent gig and I wanted that spot…badly.
So, there I was freshly diagnosed with this disease that I knew a little about, but certainly not a lot about. I knew it was incurable. I knew what I learned from a friend’s family as I watched her mother die from the disease. In the end she wasn’t able to walk or talk. That’s the kind of the picture I had in my head. Then, I had to go anchor a newscast.
I felt like I had “MS” stamped across my forehead. Internally I was scared and mad. On the outside I had to appear calm and happy. Bright lights were blinding. I still couldn’t see out of one eye yet there I was was preparing to anchor WAVY’s morning show…one of the most watched newscasts in our area.
When the lights went up in the studio, for the first couple of days I was anchoring, I thought two things: Don’t mess up and don’t let anyone watching think I am not happy and together. Meanwhile, in commercial breaks I would step behind the set, quietly cry, and then with 30 seconds to go, I would put powder back on, tweak my blush, plaster a smile on my face, and go back to anchoring that show.
My managers knew I had MS. I decided to tell them right away, yet they still promoted me to the Morning & Midday anchor position, a position that puts me live in the public eye for at least 28 hours a week. They believed in me, supported me, and still do. I’ve been the morning anchor for 4 years now. I am fortunate to work at such a wonderful place like WAVY.
I am aware not everyone is as lucky as me. Many feel they have to hide their MS from their managers for fear the won’t get opportunities for promotion. It’s unfortunate that some discriminate in that way, but it happens. Luckily I can live by my mantra, “You can’t find a cure if you’re quiet.”
My friends at WAVY constantly ask questions about Multiple Sclerosis so they can learn about it. They share their stories of loved ones and friends who have it. It’s like a very important open forum that no one is afraid to join.
On the one day a year we wear orange to raise MS awareness, our building looks like a work zone! You see orange everywhere you turn! When I speak at events like the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s “On the Move” luncheon, a group of colleagues joins me every year to listen, learn, and love.
In the beginning, even when I was surrounded by love and support from family and friends (which, by the way, not everyone living with MS has) I still felt very alone at times. I felt like there was a ticking time bomb inside. If and when my next symptom hits, what will it be? When will it happen? If you don’t have MS, it’s hard to understand that initial fear of the unknown.
One day I was driving by myself in my car and a song came on the radio. It’s funny how sometimes it can seem like music is speaking to you, isn’t it? In this case, the song was by the group “Gym Class Heroes.” The title? Fighter.
Here’s the chorus:
“Until the referee rings the bell
Until both your eyes start to swell. Until the crowd goes home. What we gonna do ya’ll? Give em hell, turn their heads. Gonna live life ’til we’re dead. Give me scars, give me pain. Then they’ll say to me…There goes the fighter…Here comes the fighter…That’s what they’ll say to me…
This one’s a fighter.”
The song, to me, was literally perfect. It spelled out my life and how I plan to live it. Those of us who have MS have lesions on our brains, scars on our brains. MS can cause pain. So when the song says “give me scars, give me pain,” it’s like it was written for “my” group of people… MS Warriors.
The key to that song? It says “Gonna live life.” Not long after my diagnosis I promised to live. To appreciate what I can control and just try to roll with what I can’t control…like painful and exhausting MS fatigue. It’s a tired that is hard to explain, but should never be trivialized.
NOTE: When someone with MS tells you they’re exhausted, don’t reply with “me too.” It’s not the same thing. Unless your bones and brain feel like they’re being crushed by a vice and your blood feels like it’s turned to sludge begrudgingly forcing it’s way through your veins…no. Your exhaustion does not compare to ours. (For some, that exhaustion is daily. For others it’s occasionally. For me, I have only had that exhaustion happen 3 times).
In a very odd way, MS has made me a better person. I appreciate things so much more. Something as simple as picking up my son when he reaches for me. My arms still allow me to hold him. Some with MS have little or no feeling in their arms.
A simple trip to the grocery store means so much. I love going there. I love that I can still walk through. Some with MS can’t walk anymore, so I don’t take any step for granted. Now that my vision has fully returned (it was affected for 14 months), I love that I can see all of the colors in the produce section…you never really realize how many colors are there until your ability to see is taken away.
In every aspect of life you should appreciate the little things and surround yourself with good people like I am able to do here at WAVY and outside. Surround yourself with people who are uplifting. People who are positive. People who will make you better even when you feel you are at your worst.
Which brings me right back to my husband and our wedding vows. We had no choice but to accept the “in sickness” part, but we did have a say in “for better or for worse.” I can tell you with a smile as I wake up with him by my side every day, we chose “for better”…for MUCH better.
Read two other blogs written by Katie on her fight against MS below: