In 1994, Joann Dickerson-Smith was in the prime of her life. She was 35 years old and pregnant with her second son. When she received a diagnosis of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, she didn’t know anyone with the condition. She found out about a support group nearby in East Cobb. “Everybody was at least 50 or 60, and they had nurses or aides with them,” she said. “I was coming to the class with a 3-year-old and a new baby.” She called the MS Society back and asked them to help her locate a group of people closer to her in age and race, African-American. The Society asked if she would like to facilitate one. Since she has a background in working with community health groups to help prevent heart disease, obesity and high cholesterol at Emory and CDC, she said yes and started the African American MS Support Group in southwest Atlanta.
“I was medically retired from my previous job, and I felt that leading a self-help group motivated me to not give up on my career and my passion of assisting others.” Joann felt that the MS group helped her stay involved in the community while encouraging people to improve their health through diet and activity. “I felt like I could use what I knew from chronic disease prevention.” Occasionally, Joann invited guest speakers including a neuro-ophthalmologist, workers from social service agencies and therapists to participate in meetings and provide health related information.
Joann is now diagnosed with chronic, progressive MS. She still facilitates the African-American MS support group, and stays very active- participating in wheelchair bowling, swimming, track and field and soccer. As a veteran of the United States Public Health Service, she also participates in the wheelchair games every year.
“I feel I motivate myself when I’m surrounded by likeminded people, and in motivating myself, I think I help to motivate others. I tell our group members that we probably are not a traditional MS support group because our goal is not so much to talk about MS every time we get together.” Instead, Joann encourages members to focus on how they’re living and how they can live a healthier and more fulfilling life.
Joann credits the group for helping her navigate life with MS, and remaining hopeful and active. “I had to surround myself with people living with MS to find out more about MS and the symptoms.” Doing so has helped Joann learn new information and strategies for managing MS which she shares with her group and beyond.
People living with and affected by MS share a wide range of powerful stories and reflections that demonstrate the true power of connecting with others. Every Connection Counts. Contact the Georgia Chapter at (678) 672-1000 or email@example.com
to start a self-help group in your area.