Monica Elliott-Williams: Remembers the Moment She was Told Her Diagnosis
Monica Elliott-Williams of Fayetteville, NC remebers the moment her physician told her she had MS. Here is Monica's story, in her own words.
My name is Monica Elliott-Williams and I have been living with multiple sclerosis for twenty years. I can remember the moment my parents and I were told that I had multiple sclerosis. I had given birth to my son about two months prior to receiving the devastating news. I had heard of MS, but I did not know exactly what the effects of the disease were and how disabling it was to the body.
I was given a spinal tap to withdraw fluid from a bodily cavity, and afterwards my physician confirmed the prognosis. He spoke to my parents with a great deal of compassion, and he informed us about the characteristics of the disease and some of the lifestyle changes I would have to endure to begin living with MS. We also learned that although this disease was not contagious, there was no known cure. I was both nervous and scared. I began reading everything I could get my hands on about multiple sclerosis, and I prepared for the tremendous lifestyle changes I would have to make.
My first marriage did not last. I am most certain that MS was a contributing factor in my divorce. Fortunately, six years later I met and married my husband, whom is still by my side today in this struggle with MS. Our marriage has been presented with a lot of obstacles, and there are certainly times when I feel he does not understand what I am experiencing. I have emotions that I cannot control and I often get upset when I cannot do the things most people take for granted like tying shoes, dressing myself or simply being able to walk. Sometimes I feel alone as if I am trapped in a body that I cannot control physically or emotionally. I cry for all those reasons and many more. I often question why my husband remains by my side, although he often reassures me by expressing his everlasting love for me.
My neurologist told us there were some medications available. He wanted me to begin a new medication named Avonex, and I did for about six months. I had to give myself injections in my thigh once a week. I began suffering from headaches and severe soreness in my thighs. Friday nights were injection nights, and unfortunately my body did not agree with Avonex. I informed my doctor that I was getting sick to my stomach about five days after my injections. He quickly put a stop to my Avonex injections, and he switched me to another medication called Betaseron. I am so pleased with this medication. I also have to inject this medication in my thigh or my stomach, and I have to do this every other day. The positives to using Betaseron are that the needle is much smaller than the one I had when I was using Avonex and I have not experienced any negative setbacks yet. My doctor also suggested I should change my diet. As a result, I stopped eating fried foods, pork and frozen seafood.
Changes to my diet were not the only changes I had to make. I decided to turn to my first love, the church. I grew up going to church, and I was privileged to be the Sunday School teacher for third to fifth graders. I must say my faith has grown stronger and stronger. I try to live the best life that I possible can. Additionally, I began exercising three days a week and I am so happy with my body—I lost 40 pounds and kept it off! I can finally see the results, and I am very proud of myself. I have found exercise to be a great reliever of stress.
A few of my close friends, who are each in various stages of MS, and I meet one weekend a month. We use this time to discuss or vent about anything that is on our minds. For example, we often talk about the positives, such as the kind attitudes of perfect strangers. In contrast, we often discuss our dismay in the awkward stares and whispers that come from others.
One Saturday afternoon, my son and brother were watching a movie. My head began to pound. I could not use my hands to pick up or hold anything, and I was not able to walk properly. My right leg began dragging, I began to have hallucinations, and I saw people or objects that were not there. I quickly contacted my doctor, he informed me to stay in bed, drink plenty of water, and rest. My doctor scheduled me for a CAT scan which revealed that I had a tumor on my pituitary gland and it would require surgery. My husband and I went on several trips to Chapel Hill. On the day of the surgery, I said a prayer for my neurosurgeon, his hands, his nurses, and myself. When I awoke from surgery, the doctor informed me that the removal of the tumor was a success. My husband and son were there waiting for me the whole time.
Upon returning home, it took me at least three weeks to even get up and walk, but with the support of my husband and son waiting on me hand and foot. My husband literally washed, fed and dressed me while still working as a soldier. Not only that, but he also kept the house clean, paid the bills, made certain that our son maintained his personal hygiene, kept up with his schoolwork and had all meals prepared.
I have been truly blessed to have the love and support from my family and friends. My greatest fear was becoming unable to raise my son, losing the use of my limbs or living life as a paraplegic. Rather than sit around and feel sorry for myself, however, I decided to go back to college and complete my degree in Sociology because I had always dreamed of becoming a social worker. I had always loved interacting with people, especially with children and the elderly. It was a happy time for me, especially since I was attending college in my hometown. I was a junior when I returned to college, and my Sociology courses were great! I especially enjoyed doing group projects and working together as a team to create something.
I graduated from Fayetteville State University with a B.A. in Sociology 1995.