I am excited to introduce a new installment of Always PHREA, which is the PHREAdom Leaders! The PHREAdom Leaders is a feature where I will interview individuals who embody the goals and mission of PHREA which is discovering endless possibilities through passion, hope, respect, empowerment, and ambition.
As a way to kick start the new feature, I want to recognize World Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Day and highlight one of my sorority sisters, Jessica Ross. She is a MS survivor. She was diagnosed with MS in 2002.
Ross, 29, is originally from Shannon, North Carolina. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Fayetteville State University. She graduated cum laude in 2006.
On November 10, 2002, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She was only 18 years old, but on that day her life changed.
“I remember waking up that morning in my dorm with a speck of dirt in my eye that I couldn’t get out,” Ross said. “As the day went on, that speck got bigger and bigger until when I looked at my Mom, I could only see from the top of her nose up.”
Ross was scared because she had no idea what was going on. The doctors in the ER checked to make sure that it wasn’t a tumor. The following day, she learned from the neurologist that she had multiple sclerosis.
“I was happy to know that someone knew what was wrong, but I was scared because I knew people with MS were in wheelchairs and used canes,” Ross said.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the disease is “the most common neurological disease affecting young people.”
The disease is chronic. It is a “disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve” (National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2013).
MS is not the same for everyone. Their bodies react different to the disease.
Ross refers to multiple sclerosis as the bag of surprise disease. “I wake up in the morning and I never know what I’m going to get,” she said.
Living with MS
MS changed Ross’ life in many ways. She cannot be surrounded by extra stress. She has to actually sleep. She has to actually listen to her body.
She may experience relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis which is when she may go through periods of active disease followed by periods of remission, she said.
“When I feel unbearably tired, I have to stop,” Ross said. “No matter who or what needs me. It has shown me that I have to put myself first at times, even if it makes me feel incredibly selfish.”
Another impact her diagnosis had on her life is her pursuit for a Ph. D. She is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C.
“I wanted to go to medical school, but I knew that the level of stress would not be good for my illness,” Ross said. “I knew I had to choose a path that would allow me to take the time I needed away when I had relapses, but would also allow me to impact others and the world, so I chose to pursue a career in science.”
Ross recalled a professor who took the time to help her when she was out due to her illness. Due to that situation, it to led her decision of becoming a college professor.
“She saw me struggling and took me under her wing. I would love to give back to a student who may be in the same situation,” Ross said. “I feel like MS happened for a reason, and I think it was to give me direction and new goals to meet.”
Ross shares with anyone about her disease. She’s not ashamed about it. It’s considered an invisible disability; therefore, people are quick to scrutinize her because she does not look handicap.
“I’ve had several run-ins with people who feel the need to inform me that I’m not handicapped when I use my handicapped placard. I politely tell them that I have MS and if you want my placard, you have to take the MS too,” she said.
Passion for Life
Ross’ diagnosis gave her a passion for life. Waking up and not knowing how her limbs or body will react every day can be a challenge, but Ross does not allow it to become one.
“I get up every day thankful that I can move all of my limbs and that I can walk without assistance most days,” Ross said. It makes her feel pretty good.
Hope for understanding, no judgment, and endless possibilities
Ross said she hopes that people will understand that multiple sclerosis is a real illness.
“It’s not just something people ‘imagine’,” she continued.
Ross also hopes that people will learn not to judge people by their appearance. Although someone may look good on the outside, doesn’t mean that they are inside.
“I hope they learn that even though you are faced with a huge mountain, they can accomplish their dreams,” Ross said. She is an example of doing just that. She does not allow her disease hold her back from achieving her goals.
“I never thought that I would be receiving a Ph. D.,” Ross said. “Even my doctors are surprised.”
Respect and Empowered to share information to the public
Ross wants to make sure that everyone is aware of symptoms and are aware that the disease affects people differently.
“After my diagnosis, I realized I started having symptoms at 16 that I dismissed as being tired, working too much, or staying outside in the cold for too long,” Ross said. “I wish I hadn’t dismissed it.”
Ross wants to remove the stigma of MS that community has on people living with it.
“Not everyone looks disabled on the outside because many of the symptoms are invisible,” she said. It is starting to affect people of both genders and ethnicities.
The awareness can simply start from researching and learning more about the disease.
Ambitious to educate and help find a cure
Outside from wanting to become a college professor, Ross is ambitious to help with the process of potentially finding a cure. One way that she can possibly do this is by participating in the MS Challenge Walk in March. The walk is 50 miles in a 3 day time span to raise money and awareness for multiple sclerosis.
“Everyone who has MS has a dream of one day waking up to news of a cure,” Ross said.
They are able to assist by raising money and awareness to help scientists develop better treatments and possibly one day find a cure, Ross said.
For more information about multiple sclerosis, please visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at http://www.nationalmssociety.org. Show some support for World MS Day by wearing orange or by sharing information about the disease to help PHREAdom Leaders like Ross.
Source: National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org.