Mission Stadiums for Multiple Sclerosis

My MS Story

by Téa Hayes

My MS Story

by Téa Hayes

“We can rule out MS.” This is one of the first things the ER doctor told me as I sat in the hospital bed by myself trying to figure out what was going on with my body.

It all started during my freshman year of college at the College of Charleston. It was the week before my first semester and everything was going great until one day I noticed a numb sensation that radiated throughout the whole left side of my body. At first, I truly didn’t think anything of it other than the fact that it was new and unusual. Once I hit the 3 day mark of this feeling, I began to tell my roommates and friends what I was going through. They all mentioned how odd it was and how it was “probably nothing.” To be completely honest, I thought the exact same thing. I finally took it upon myself to visit the campus doctor after a week of feeling this way and he asked me a ton of basic questions, did a couple of tests and ultimately ruled it as anxiety. It made sense to me at the time considering I was 3 1⁄2 hours away from home, in a new environment and starting a new chapter in my life. He mentioned that if this sensation continued into the following week to go to MUSC or Roper Hospital to get an MRI just to be sure. However, this sensation went away on its own after that visit and I believed that it was my anxiety that had caused me to have this episode. I didn’t think of the possibility of it being something much bigger than that at 17 years old.

Two years later, I found myself feeling that same sensation I had two years prior. I immediately began to tell myself it was anxiety related since that’s what it was ruled as last time. So I let it run its course thinking it would go away again after a week or so. I finally hit that one week mark and was still feeling that numb sensation from the top of my head all the way to my toe on my left side. I decided to wait it out a little bit longer to see if it would eventually go away. Unfortunately, my symptoms began to worsen. Just before the two week mark, I had a really bad case of double vision and my eyeball itself had shifted toward the center and was visibly noticeable just by looking at me. I remember I had a dentist appointment around this time and on my way to my appointment my vision was so terrible that I had to cover the eye that was the most impacted just to be able to see more clearly. The receptionists could clearly see just by looking at me that something was off, but were too nice to ask me what happened to my eyes and what was going on with me. Once I made it back to my apartment safely and in one piece, I knew I had to tell my family how bad it had gotten and my grandma was the one that urged me to get it checked out at the nearest hospital downtown.

Once my grandma urged me to go to the hospital, I immediately reached out to my best friend Tiffany Simmons. As expected, she was there within the next 10 minutes to take me in to get everything checked out (and drove considering my experience at the dentist). Keep in mind, this was in 2020, so COVID restrictions were strict as ever, which meant Tiffany couldn’t come into the hospital with me. So, here I am, a 20 year old girl who has no idea what is going on with her walking into a hospital by herself for the first time, scared to find out what was happening. At this point, my family, most of my friends, and my dance coach all knew what was going on at the time. I had many people to update and many people who were just as concerned as me but truly didn’t think that it would be anything major. Once I got into the room the ER doctor asked me a couple of questions about what was going on and looked at me and said “we can rule out a possible brain tumor, stroke, and MS” before an MRI was even done. He then mentioned wanting to do an MRI on my brain and spine after he had told me his assumptions. I remember the nurses having to help me take out all of my jewelry, especially my nose piercing. They struggled so hard trying to get it out of my nose that I was a bit traumatized already. I had never had an MRI done before, so I was super nervous and concerned about everything and just wished I had someone in that hospital with me that entire time for support and comfort .

After sitting in that room for quite some time waiting for my MRI results, the ER doctor finally came in and I could immediately tell by the look on his face that he had figured out what it was. I had so many things going on in my head, all bad of course because I was expecting the worst but hoping for the best. I honestly only remember him telling me that they found lesions on my brain and that he was confident that it was in fact Multiple Sclerosis. Once I heard Multiple Sclerosis, I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a second out of pure confusion since I was aware of what the disease was. I just remember being so confused and upset and trying not to cry while he was talking to me, but I couldn’t help it and began to cry because I felt so alone and so shocked at that moment. Having to tell my mom that news while she was 3 1⁄2 hours away was hard and she actually instructed me to hand the phone to the ER doctor so he could fully explain to her why he felt so confident to diagnose me on the spot.

Fast forward to later that evening after I was released, my parents made the drive down to Charleston to come and get me. While I waited, Tiffany and my other friend Ashley kept me company with keeping things light-hearted by ordering in some pizza and helping me put all of my jewelry back in. Once my parents got there, they were shocked by the look of my eyes and immediately started calling neurologists nearby to get an appointment scheduled. Sure enough, all of the neurologists that my parents reached out to were booked out for 3+ months. It wasn’t until Tiffanys mom reached out to her neurologist in Greenville, SC and told her about what had happened and she immediately wanted to get me in that following Monday. For reference, all of this happened on a Friday, so this was major that I was able to get in that fast thanks to the help of Katie. The first FaceTime call I had with Dr. Hughes immediately gave me a sense of calm, peace, and hope. She didn’t want to confirm that it was MS right away until she saw my MRI scans that following Monday, but based on my symptoms and my story she was 99.9% sure it was.

I’ve always had an odd attachment to butterflies because my mom always told me they were signs from heaven. I used to see them all the time on my walks in Charleston and immediately formed an obsession with everything butterfly related. That Monday, I walked into Dr. Hughes office and her entire office was covered in butterfly decor. Little did I know that the symbol for MS was a monarch butterfly. After I left that appointment, I felt a sense of hope and empowerment that everything was going to be okay. She emphasized to me multiple times that I would be able to continue to dance and live my life the way I want to, which is a privilege thanks to the technology and advancements we have today. Hearing those words come out of her mouth lit a fire underneath that led me to where I am today.

I haven’t had a relapse since my last episode back in 2020 that sent me to the hospital. I’m grateful to say that the medicine I take everyday for my MS is doing it’s job and is keeping the relapses away. I still get my blood work done every three months as well as my annual MRI to make sure everything looks okay given how the medicine affects my health. With all of that being said, I’m lucky enough to be in the position where I feel somewhat “normal” every day minus the small symptoms that don’t impact me in a negative way. Given all of the ups, downs, and what ifs I’ve gone through over the past three years, I truly couldn’t get through any of it without my village and all of the support I’ve received since the day of my diagnosis. I wouldn’t be standing here today as a 23 year old living in Atlanta as a professional cheerleader and saleswoman. I made a promise to myself to not be scared, afraid or worried of what my future holds. Instead, I will live out my dreams for as long as I can until my body physically tells me I can’t. I wanted to challenge myself, but also challenge and inspire others who might be in similar situations who fear that it might be too late to live out their hopes and dreams. Yes, living with MS has its ups and downs for sure, but I’ve chosen to turn something negative into a positive thing by continuing to do what I love while also inspiring others to do the same.

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