Ashley Contino, age 21, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at just 15 years of age. Although at first she was relieved to hear that her condition wasn't fatal (she had fatigue, eye pain, and numbness on one side of the body), she became depressed after learning more about multiple sclerosis. However, after fundraising—nearly $100,000 in all—and working to educate others, she has a more positive attitude. She has had only one relapse since her initial diagnosis.
My diagnosis with multiple sclerosis all happened in about two weeks. About six years ago, when I was 15 and in ninth grade, I started getting really tired. I was playing high school volleyball and junior Olympic ball and I thought I was just overdoing it. For about a week, I started sleeping from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. Then, one day, I was fine in the morning but began getting an awful pain behind my eyes during school. I told one of my teachers and was sent to the nurse.
On the way to the nurses office, I was walking through the halls and my whole side went numb. I could actually feel my face drooping like when you take Novocaine at the dentist's office. It was the scariest time in my life because I had never felt anything like it before. Then, before I reached the nurses office, I passed out.
Someone got me to her office and my blood pressure was really high. My father came and picked me up and took me to the hospital. There, they did a CT scan and the doctor told me I was having migraines and was going to send me home. I looked him right in the face and said, ‘This is no migraine.' They did another brain scan and saw that there was something on my brain. I was sent to a neurologist who had me get an MRI done just two days after I left the hospital. A few days later, I went to see him and he said he thought it was Lyme disease and not to worry because it was treatable. The next day, they did a spinal tap and a couple of days later, I went to his office and he told me I had MS.
I took it really well when he told me. I was sitting in his office and he said, you have to learn to grow up at 15. I thought, ‘Its not killing me, so whatever.'
Then I got home and my parents were freaking out. I sat down with my mom and started researching it. After that, I went into a deep depression and didn't eat or come out of my room for three days. All I could think, was, ‘What did I do to deserve this?' But I am a Christian, and eventually I realized I was given this for a reason; I wasn't going to be given anything that I couldn't handle. I was given it to make a difference.
I decided to go out and talk with people to help them understand the disease and tell people who have no clue what MS is. I want to make people understand that they can be diagnosed young and they need to get treatment so it wont progress. I speak at events and do my own fund-raising efforts.
I do a walk every year with the Western Pennsylvania MS Society. The first year, I sent out letters telling people my story and asking for small donations. I raised a ton of money. Then I started doing fundraising dinners and I have done rubber duck races and silent auctions. And I do the MS walk each year and always have the biggest team and I am always the biggest fund-raiser in the area. I have raised almost $100,000 overall.
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Im a marketing major at school and I know that you have to make things fun so that people will want to come and take part. And these are fun events; people see it as a way to get out and socialize while learning about something.
After my initial diagnosis, I had one episode about a year after and haven't had any others since. A year ago, I was put on Tysabri and the disease hasn't progressed since I was put on it. After I was diagnosed, I still went out and played volleyball and did everything I would normally do. Fatigue is really the only symptom that ever hits me. I struggle to get out of bed sometimes.
One of the first MS events I went to, people all had wheelchairs and walkers and that was a big reality check for me. But MS is different for every personI know a lot who are like me and don't have any problems.
I met a girl once whose father committed suicide over his diagnosis of MS. I don't want people to give up and have it take over their lives. You may have to change your life around MS, but it doesn't have to take you over. I think that if I keep a positive attitude, it wont get worse. If I think Im going to get worse, I will get worse. If it happens, Ill deal with it then.
My motto is that life is like a deck of cards, you have to deal with the hand you are dealt. You cant ask why this happened to me, you have to take it and run with it. I have been through a lot—parents who divorced and a grandfather who passed away. But if I keep a positive attitude and look forward, life will go right. If you have a positive attitude, it really affects your life.
As told to Tammy Worth