Ann Prospero: MS is just a blip
Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis can easily lead someone to feel defeated, embarrassed, and helpless. Learning to overcome those feelings and embrace life’s challenges is no easy task, but Ann Prospero, a former editorial director in the Department of Publications at a Florida university, did just that. Ann experienced a rollercoaster of unpleasant emotions after her eventual MS diagnosis in 1980. Though she had been experiencing symptoms for years, MS was difficult to diagnose in the early 1970s, leaving Ann to do research on her own in medical libraries to discover the disease that was causing her mysterious and frightening issues.
“My first symptom was the eyes…and when I was overheated, I couldn’t see. That was scary,” said Ann. After meeting with a doctor in Philadelphia years after the onset of her symptoms, Ann finally received confirmation of her MS diagnosis. “I had the diagnosis, but I didn’t know what it meant…When a doctor finally talked to me about it, which was in 1980, he said ‘You’re okay now, and all your symptoms are invisible,’” she said.
Ann was embarrassed of her MS diagnosis and even hid it from her three children, leading them to wonder why their mom was constantly tired. Ann often told coworkers that she simply had a “neurological problem” to prevent them from thinking she was incapable of working. With time, however, came maturity, and Ann eventually realized that carrying on with life and being who she naturally is became her greatest ally in dealing with her MS symptoms. “I don’t have patience for people who say ‘I can’t.’ I know it’s really, really hard. In a sense, I was lucky that I had to deal with it for such a long time. I didn’t have the option of saying, ‘Okay, I can’t. I’m going to quit working.’ I just had to keep going, and I’m glad I did,” Ann stated.
Despite her determination to keep moving forward, Ann encountered her fair share of complications. In 1994, Ann’s knee locked, causing her to fall down a flight of concrete stairs and break her shoulder in three places. After this incident, Ann made the brave choice to take disability retirement, sell her home in Florida and relocate to Durham, North Carolina.
Ann began spending her free time writing and in early 2001, she published her first novel, Almost Night. Ann decided to keep writing and in 2009, she published Chefs of the Triangle: Their Lives, Recipes, and Restaurants. Most recently, Ann published Even You Can Be Healthy!: 3-Step Guide For Busy People Plus Easy Recipes. To write her most recent work, Ann researched nutrition information through local libraries and even consulted a Duke University Medical Center nutritionist. The book aims to provide easy tips and recipes for people with or without disabilities to adopt a healthier lifestyle, release inner vitality, and reduce chances of issues like stress and obesity.
Ann hopes the book allows people to see that they are capable of activity and do not have to be sedentary and completely dependent on others. “I wanted to make it possible for people with MS to say, ‘I can do that.’ One of the big hurdles anyone has to take, with or without a disability, is to make the decision to do something,” she said.
Ann also made the recipes adaptable for those people on a shoestring budget. One of Ann’s favorite recipes in the book is the Big Salad, which is versatile and instructs readers to throw together whatever they have in the pantry such as nuts, greens, vegetables, fruits, and cheese. “You don’t have to be special to be healthy. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. It’s how you live your life. Just small changes, but they work,” Ann added. Ann also advises other people with disabilities to not be afraid to ask for help or to feel like a burden to others. Ann encourages others to take advantage of assistance when necessary. For example, Ann often orders her groceries online and when she goes to the store to pick them up, grocery store workers load her purchases into her car.
As for a future project, Ann hopes to resurrect one of her old novels by bringing it up-to-date and sending it to a publisher. For now, Ann wants to focus on spreading her message of the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle and how Even You Can Be Healthy!: 3-Step Guide For Busy People Plus Easy Recipes can help people believe in their own capabilities and make healthy choices. Through her experiences of learning to cope with her MS symptoms, Ann hopes readers of her book will be inspired to live their lives fully and not be held back by their physical limitations. “I’ve had MS for such a long time, and I’ve been through the periods where you hate it and you’re embarrassed. I know what it’s like. But having come out on the other side, I know you can do it. You can live your life. You don’t define yourself by MS. You define yourself by yourself. MS is just a blip.”