Sharon Elliott, a MS Advocate, Actress, Real Estate Broker, Engineer, and Executive Director spent years working her way up the ranks of Corporate America, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a MBA in Marketing, Finance, and Entrepreneurship.
Sharon was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 29 years old. At first, Sharon attributed her fatigue to a full workload as a manager in the corporate arena in New York, and a busy personal life. She experienced a lot of pain in the beginning, when doctors didn’t recognize pain as a symptom of MS.
Sharon eventually moved back home to Chicago for what she thought would be a short stay, in order to be close to relatives. Needless to say, Sharon has remained in the Chicagoland area, where she receives much-needed support from her family. “When I left New York I had three more classes remaining to fulfill my MBA requirements,” she says in an interview with the National MS Society. “The plan was not to stay in Chicago. My plan was to be here a little while and then leave to utilize my MBA, you know, climb that corporate ladder.”
However, her plans were not realized. Sharon’s first attack was optic neuritis –loss of eyesight– in her left eye. The symptoms began with the feeling like something was in her eye all the time, then it became painful. At first, she believed that something had fallen in her eye in the distribution center, where she had been working. “I didn’t know what was going on. I went to a doctor, and they didn’t know either. They told me I needed new eyeglasses. I already wore glasses – it was not a symptom of that. I thought, ‘I’m going blind at the age of 28? That was very scary.”
She eventually developed other symptoms. But, her spinal tap came back inconclusive, leading both her and her neurologist not to conclude that it was MS. She was then told to visit a MS Specialist. In 1999 she was officially diagnosed by a MS Specialist, after experiencing other unexplained symptoms.
In 2003, Sharon started the nonprofit, Women Standing in the Gap (WSITG), which was born from her personal journey and her understanding that many people may need help. “I am very outgoing, but there are a lot of people who are not. Some people are timid, want to sit back at home, and not reach out to others,” she says. “It has been a process that I am going through. It consists of happy days, sad days, confusing days…. It has been a roller coaster ride. God told me that I needed to help people who may go through that journey, so they don’t feel like they are all alone. Thus, WSITG was born in 2003, to Educate, Encourage, Inspire, Motivate, and Uplift people affected by Multiple Sclerosis and other chronic illnesses. “We are standing in the gap to ease the transition of ones initial diagnosis. “
Sharon is a passionate actress and has been acting since the 90s. Over the years, she’s had lead roles in commercials, plays, internet web series, and films. Her aspirations are to one day act in a Tyler Perry Production, and with her favorite actor, Samuel Jackson. Sharon wants people to understand that MS has a mind of its own; it’s different day-to-day and it is impossible to know how someone is really doing if you only see them on their good days. With this in mind, Sharon wrote, produced, co-directed, and is an Actor, in her Monologue show about Multiple Sclerosis called, “My Story Monologues”.
“I wrote my story, my show, to give people a visual perspective of what someone goes through living with a chronic disease such as MS.” During the show, Sharon does a very personal monologue that she wrote called. “I’m Invisible”, in which she embodies the voice of multiple sclerosis. “I’m invisible, they can’t see me with the naked eye…they say they understand but sometimes I am more apparent than at other times, and sometimes they cannot see me at all.”
Multiple sclerosis has led Sharon to look at life differently, and to appreciate the simple things more, “You know, I can still take a walk today – you know, I can walk! Those are things you take for granted when you’re fine, when everything is ok. It also taught me to be careful of how you treat people, because you never know what they’re going through.”
Sharon’s message for people to live their best lives after the diagnosis of MS, is to define and fulfill what makes you happy. “Once you define what makes you happy, don’t let anyone take that away from you and figure out how to obtain your goals with the resources you have. The National MS Society provides a lot of support and resources to help you reach your goals.”
For more information on Sharon visit www.wsitg.org or www.sharonmelliott.com