A brilliant doctor taught me acceptance after my diagnosis of MS

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by BioNews Staff |

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Five photos showing individuals with multiple sclerosis, who are sharing their real-life stories during MS Awareness Month, are hung with clips on a string above the words 'MS Community Spotlight.'
A woman stands in a field of sunflowers taller than her.

Did you know that sunflowers symbolize hidden disabilities? Deanna Renee reflects on her achievements while eagerly anticipating the future. (Photos courtesy of Deanna Renee)

Day 12 of 31

This is Deanna Renee’s story:

At 17, when a neurologist delivered my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS), it felt like my world had crumbled. The news, delivered to my mum via a phone call, kicked off a roller coaster ride of internet searches on Ask Jeeves — yes, that’s how long ago it was. The search results painted a terrifying picture, suggesting dependency on wheelchairs, hopelessness, concerns about life expectancy, and an inability to lead a normal life.

A woman, dressed in winter clothes and a hat, stands in front of a large volcanic crater with water in the background.

Deanna Renee poses at Kerið Crater in Iceland, with her pink mobility aid, which she says is a testament to resilience. On her jumper is the mantra “Made to stand out, not fit in.” In 2022, Renee trekked 100 km across Europe to benefit the charity Kiss Goodbye to MS.

Back in 2007, social media was not the giant it is today. The lack of positive representation and the heavy stigma around chronic illness left me thinking my life was over before it had started. Friends ghosted me, fearing I was “contagious” or just too much of a downer. I was even uninvited from a holiday trip.

As quickly as my life changed, my dreams of studying, traveling, and building a family vanished into the stereotypes and stigmas brought by my new, incurable, lifelong illness. I became convinced that everything I had wanted for my future was now impossible.

For the next two years, I drifted through life without a clear purpose, living as though each day might be my last. Then, a trip to the doctor’s office changed everything. In the depths of my depressed outlook, I confided that pursuing higher education, having a meaningful romantic relationship, and traveling were impossible due to my MS. The doctor, radiating sophistication and health in her elegant attire, shot me a nonchalant look and dropped the bomb — she had MS, too!

A woman, wearing a graduation cap, smiles as she holds flowers.

Deanna Renee celebrates an academic milestone after earning an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s degree in science in medicine and social work.

She took time and shared parts of her story with me. Her journey included university achievements, leading to her current role as the poised and accomplished professional seated before me. She spoke of travels and relationships where her partner not only loved her but also accepted her disability. Furthermore, much like me, she had received the diagnosis at a young age, and she lived today with MS as an “invisible illness.” It was a wake-up call that pushed me toward university studies, world travel, newfound confidence, and resilience. That single encounter flipped the script of my entire existence.

Fast forward to 2024, and I’ve come to embrace the term “disabled.” While loving a forever sick body has its challenges, I refuse to let MS be the defining factor or limit my achievements. I’ve accomplished a great deal in the last 18 years. Echoing the encounter with that doctor from my past, I navigate the world with an invisible illness.

Disclosing my disability and witnessing the lingering shock of others can still be uncomfortable. The all-too-familiar response, “But you look too good to have MS,” often meets my cheeky retort, “Well, MS doesn’t make you ugly.” Sometimes humor is the best medicine with the knowledge that stigma and stereotypes never truly disappeared; I just stopped letting them control me.

My journey from that life-changing phone call at 17 to the present highlights the profound impact of positive representation and influencing shifting perspectives. The doctor who shattered my MS misconceptions propelled me into a future I once deemed impossible. The life I initially mourned has evolved into something very different — an existence I navigate with resilience.

In recognition of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month in March, the MS Community Spotlight campaign features a series of stories highlighting the real-life experiences of people affected by MS, written in their own words. Follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest for more stories like this, using the hashtag #MSSpotlight, or read the full series.