The Home T is committed to raising money for multiple sclerosis (MS) research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, but we also want to help raise awareness about the disease and how it impacts people.
This interview is part of an ongoing series where we talk to members of The Home T community that are impacted by multiple sclerosis.
Today, we’re going to hear from former collegiate tennis player and New York transplant, Becca.
What state do you call home?
I went to college in Wisconsin and then moved to New York, but Arkansas will always be “home” to me.
When did you learn you had multiple sclerosis, and do you have relapsing remitting or progressive?
I learned I had multiple sclerosis the summer of 2012 at the age of 20. At the time, I was taking a summer course in Wisconsin and went blind in my left eye. This was very scary because not only did I go blind but also the darkness hit while I was driving my car. A doctor informed me that what I was experiencing was optic neuritis and after more tests I was officially diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting MS. Wow, it’s been over three years since hearing the news but it feels like yesterday.
How has it impacted your life the most?
I have been living with multiple sclerosis for only three years and I’d say its been an emotional rollercoaster, but, ironically an eye-opening experience. At first, a lot of its impact has been simply dealing with and accepting the disease. A lot of the irritation I had in the first year was amplified by my struggle with the medication. The often “forgetful” behavior between me and my syringe was more of an internal battle with hating what the medicine stood for: a constant reminder of how scary and invisible this disease is.
The only physical limitations MS has imposed on my life are occasional fatigue and sight issues with my left eye, which is often induced by heat. Being someone who loves sports and played tennis competitively growing up and in college, these issues were a real bummer, especially because tennis is heavily reliant on hand-eye coordination. But just as anything else, I learned to make adjustments and still really enjoy playing.
For a while, the impact was a intertwined pretzel of anger, confusion, sadness, denial, unfairness, and what-if scenarios. It was hard to wrap my head around something so complicated, so unpredictable. But as time went on, I slowly realized that my experience with MS has been a very lucky one: I have a very mild case, I haven’t had a relapse, I am an able bodied person that is capable of being a part of the MS community, someone that can participate and try to help find a cure for those who have it much worse than myself.
Thanks to the encouragement of my best friend and my sister, I also developed an interest in investigating the bio-medical approach of dealing with chronic illnesses and how optimal nutrition can benefit those with MS and other, currently, incurable diseases. Getting involved with this approach to the disease has completely changed my life.
How has MS affected your relationship with tennis?
My “spare time” has been consumed with tennis practices and workouts ever since I can remember. The unique physical and mental elements of the game always kept me interested. Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis was one of the scariest things I have ever experienced, not only was this disease threatening my health its debilitating nature threatened my ability to play tennis.
Before 2012, seeing the ball and reacting quickly was not something I had to think about, it was second nature. After my MS diagnosis, I had an eye impairment and fatigue. As you can imagine, this made playing tennis a little difficult. As my frustration grew on the court, a serene and calm mindset came over me. I realized that not having perfect vision and getting tired easier was, in the big scheme of things, a very small price to pay in a very large world of possible disabilities.
All in all, it took living with a disability for me to be thankful for my current and former physical ability. People say “you never know what you got until it’s gone” and while I think this applies to my situation with MS and tennis, the truth is, I knew what I had, I just never thought I would lose it. I will always value my ability to walk out on the court and play the sport I love. So, did getting diagnosed with MS change my perspective on tennis? No, it is still the fun game it always has been, I just have a much larger appreciation for my place in it.
What has multiple sclerosis helped you learn about yourself?
Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis really encouraged me to look in the mirror and take all aspects of my health more seriously, and also has helped me grow into an extremely emotionally mature person. I learned that I am a lot stronger than I ever knew, and at this point in my life I could handle just about anything thrown my way.
To be honest, having multiple sclerosis allowed me to see the world in a different light, it allowed me to recognize that everyone deals with hardships and this is a part of life. Since really recognizing this I have a newfound respect for all people’s unique experiences and mental and physical difficulties. I am not alone in my individualized struggles. We are all fighting or dealing with something unique.
This might sound weird, but so far I have learned that I am extremely lucky; I am lucky to not have had another relapse, lucky to be diagnosed with a milder form of MS, and lucky to have such amazing, supportive people in my life.
What’s one thing those that don’t have multiple sclerosis should know about it?
Many people associate debilitation when they think of people living with multiple sclerosis, and while this is a reality for some people that live with this disease, it is not the case for all that are affected by it. There are a lot of different symptoms and relapses that one person with MS may live with and another person with MS may never experience. If you meet someone with MS, you have only met one kind of MS. Everyone is affected so differently that a diagnosis of MS is not one size fits all and it is difficult to predict the degree of disability for any specific person, especially with today’s effective medications that can slow disease progression for many.
What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
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In 2011, Beth Donaldson, mother of two and wife of a police SWAT officer, was busy with work and the day-to-day life of raising two children. But when she was diagnosed with MS at 40, she dedicated herself to making a difference. Now she and her husband Mike run Living MS and are launching a charity bike ride to benefit MS awareness and research.