Nicole Tufaro: MS doesn't change who you are
It took Nicole Sannino Tufaro a while to realize that hearing the words “you have MS,” did not change who she was, deep down.
Diagnosed five years ago, Nicole, 43, of Flemington, NJ, used it as a chance to take on new challenges. “It made me more aware of myself. I began to eat better, and do things I hadn’t thought I could do, such as working toward getting a MBA,” she said. She was going to school full time when she was diagnosed. “Everyone else said to take time off, but my neurologist, Dr. Manish Viradia, said it would give me something else to focus on. It preserved my sanity.”
Nicole, who’s married with three stepchildren, today gives abundantly to others through her work as a patient coordinator with a national hospice company. “It completely grounds me and keeps my MS in perspective,” she said. She was recently honored by the Who’s Your Lifeline program, which spotlights individuals affected by MS who maintain a positive outlook. As part of the program, her story was featured in October in a special section of Redbook magazine sponsored by EMD Serono.
Nicole also volunteers on an MS help line, drawing on her experiences to answer questions from people who are newly diagnosed. “Being diagnosed with MS does not mean your life ends or that you can’t push forward,” she tells them. “Your attitude helps direct your health. A positive attitude goes really far. I know there are things you can’t control, but if you try to eat right and exercise, positive things happen. It doesn’t have to be about the disease all the time. The disease doesn’t change who you are. I was afraid and took the fear and turned it into positive things.”
These days, Nicole’s health is stable, although she has a number of symptoms: pain in her left hand, heat sensitivity, foot drop, peripheral vision problems and physical instability. “I compensate,” she said. “I refuse to allow MS to become a disability. It can be a challenge, but not a disability.”