Vianna was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006. While devastated, it was the news the mum-of-three needed to end her marriage and create a new life for herself.
To say I was nervous heading to my date with JJ would be an understatement. But I found myself enjoying this tall, gentlemanly guy’s company, and our conversation… Until it turned to Jacqueline du Pre, the world famous cellist.
Over our dinner, JJ proceeded to tell me how she’d died from Multiple Sclerosis at just 42. I felt instant panic. How would I tell him that I had MS myself?
I’d been diagnosed with MS in 2006, when I was 33. Initially, I brushed off the pins and needles as nothing, as just exhaustion from being a midwife on permanent night duty, with three kids. Feeling like a zombie was my normal. But the tingling didn’t go away, so I headed to the doctor.
When I was told I had MS, I felt a mixture of emotions. I was actually relieved to have a diagnosis but devastated and angry I had this unwanted disease. I only had a very basic understanding of MS, but I knew that it was unpredictable. I cried, uncertain what the future would hold. Why me? I screamed silently.
As soon as I left the doctor’s office, I rang my mum. She couldn’t believe it; we were both shocked. I think we envisioned the worst: wheelchairs and a life cut short. It seemed all doom and gloom. I wondered, could I still be a good mother?
I'm a big believer in being upfront with your children, so I sat them down and explained. Their understanding and resilience to this day still amazes me.
Even before I told him, my then-husband was unsupportive and a compulsive gambler. Our marriage was stressful and turbulent. Like many women before me, I thought if I loved and supported him enough we could fix it. But once I had my diagnosis I realised that I needed all my strength to fix myself. For my own health and for my children, I knew it was time to end the marriage.
Being a shift-working single mother with MS was a challenge, to say the least, but I had to stay strong for my kids. And as it turned out, the load was lightened when the stress of a difficult marriage was gone - I like to say that getting divorced was the most beneficial lifestyle change I made!
When my sister, Rochelle, started badgering me to start dating again, I wasn’t sure. I was on the wrong side of 35, I had 3 children and I had MS. Would I find someone who was willing to take on all that baggage? Then they introduced me to JJ.
After the Jacqueline du Pre conversation, I knew I had to tell him about my MS, and I did on our very next date. Like most people, he couldn't believe I had MS. My MS symptoms were mostly hidden. He was understanding and accepting.
Now JJ and I have had a son, who’s three. When you love someone, the right someone, you are willing to risk your health to have a baby - I knew I’d have an increased risk of a postpartum relapse after giving birth, and sadly I did. It was a cruel blow but our love for each other and our little boy saw us through.
These days, my MS is stable - in the MS world it means a lot. My life looks different now. The good side? I have so much love and support. My family is so much closer. But yes, there is some permanent damage; I used to love working out, now I'm lucky if I can walk a kilometre. My right leg fatigues very quickly and I end up having to drag it along.
I used to have greater control over bodily functions, even after three children; MS has reduced that. Worst of all, I loved to feel the softness of my children's faces, and now MS has taken that away. And I can't chase after my energetic 3-year-old, which scares me. So I do grieve the loss of my pre-MS body, but I don't dwell on it. There are children to be raised, a husband to share my life with and a career to continue. I prefer to give my love and energy to those things.
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