Living with MS in the Public Eye: 2 Women’s Stories
Nearly 1 million people in the United States are living with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). And many of them experience symptoms that aren’t noticeable to others, which can put those people with MS in the position of deciding whether or not to reveal their diagnosis.
Because friends, co-workers, and others might not fully understand what it means to have this disease, and could respond in undesirable ways, it’s understandable that some people with MS might choose not to say anything about their condition. For other people with MS, however, sharing their story might turn out to be a truly gratifying experience—one that could even change the way they live for the better.
We talked to two high-profile women about how they decided to tell the world about their multiple sclerosis, what it’s been like to live with MS in the public eye, and how they’ve learned to manage life with the disease.
Janice Dean, Meteorologist
Sixteen years ago, when Fox News senior meteorologist Janice Dean first began experiencing overwhelming fatigue, she chalked it up to her busy schedule and long hours spent covering hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Dean didn’t realize at the time that fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of MS, occurring in about 80% of people with the condition. Nor did she realize that the strange numbness she noticed in her thighs and a loss of sensation in the soles of her feet were also common signs of the disease.
Eventually, Janice made an appointment with her family physician, who referred her to a neurologist. After undergoing a neurological exam, an MRI, and a spinal tap, Janice learned she had relapsing-remitting MS, which meant that while her symptoms might disappear for days, weeks, or months, they would eventually return.
Janice was shocked and dismayed. She admits that she felt sorry for herself. “I really thought MS would be the end of my broadcasting career and that I might never get married or have children,” she says.
But then she began seeking out others who had been diagnosed with MS and found that they not only were optimistic about their future but also seemed to be thriving despite living with a chronic and potentially debilitating illness.
One of Janice’s earliest sources of support was her colleague, anchor Neil Cavuto, who had been diagnosed with MS in 1997.
“Neil was able to calm me down and remind me we were working for a great company that would support us,” Janice says. “Seeing Neil doing so well gave me hope.”
Cavuto also passed on some of what he’d learned about living with MS. He shared with Dean that it was important to read up on her condition, remain optimistic, and find a neurologist who specializes in MS and has compassionate communication skills.
Janice took this advice to heart. “Having a good doctor is really important, and it’s crucial to be your own health advocate and find someone you work well with,” Dean says. “I’ve been seeing my neurologist for over a decade now, and I trust her literally with my life.”
Janice also credits her family, friends, and colleagues for supporting her through the rough times.
“I’ve been so lucky to have such a wonderful family that is always there when I need them the most, and to have a job where I’ve never been afraid to disclose my illness to co-workers or management,” Dean says.
The Importance of Self-Care and Self-Management
“If I don’t get enough sleep, my body will shut down. So [because] I work an early schedule, I will nap during the day,” she says.
In addition to following her treatment plan, there are other ways that Dean has learned to manage her illness and keep it from controlling her life. “I take vitamin D every day,” she says. “Being out in the heat is the worst for my MS and will bring on extreme fatigue, so I have to be extremely careful during the summer.”
Dean went public with her diagnosis in 2017 and says that doing so has allowed her to share both the ups and downs of living with an invisible illness. She reaches out to friends of friends who have recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and works with the NMSS to support research and raise awareness of the disease. Dean has tried to be a source of inspiration and hope for people newly diagnosed with MS.
In 2019, while experiencing a flare-up on set, Dean posted a work selfie on Twitter with this caption: “Looking at this picture would you suspect I’m having a multiple sclerosis flareup? That’s the hardest part of this disease. I feel terrible and am in pain but you’d never know it. Today is one of those days I put on a brave face and will get through this moment by moment.”
Building Awareness and Hope for the Future
Three years ago, Dean published her memoir, Mostly Sunny: How I Learned to Keep Smiling Through the Rainiest Days, which she describes as “the book I would have liked to have read when I was at my lowest points.” She hopes that sharing her dark days with MS will help others keep pushing through.
She also hopes to set an example that people can be open about their MS diagnoses at work—and that they can still excel in their career.
Over the years, she has met hundreds of people who live with MS and says she believes there’s strength in numbers that will help to advance MS treatments—and possibly even find a cure in the years to come.
Dean is excited about the potential of an MS vaccine, a result of the breakthrough technology being used to vaccinate against COVID-19. While studies are still in early stages, Dean feels encouraged about progress being made in the fight against MS.
“An MS vaccine would be tremendous, and the MS therapies have gotten so much better since my diagnosis back in 2005,” she says. “We know much more about the illness, and the puzzle pieces are starting to come together to try and stop the progression of the disease. I really do believe we will see incredible advancements in the next few years.”
Life Beyond MS
Today, at the age of 51, Dean is thriving. She married New York City firefighter Sean Newman in 2007, and the couple have two sons: Matthew, 13, and Theodore, 11. Her career is still going strong.
Looking back, Dean says she’s gained a lot of perspective—something she wants to pass along to others who receive a diagnosis of MS. “I wish I had known then that my life wasn’t over. In fact, it was just beginning, with incredible moments along the way.”
Julie Roberts, Country Music Singer
Country singer Julie Roberts, 43, was diagnosed with MS in 2005 while recording her second album, Men & Mascara. The news hit Roberts hard: She worried that she wouldn’t be able to follow her dreams of traveling, playing music for a living, and getting married and having a family.
“As a result of those fears, I lived in denial for five years before telling anyone I had been diagnosed,” Roberts says. She kept her illness a secret from everyone she knew.
When Roberts decided to go public with her diagnosis, the decision changed her life, as well as the course of her illness. It was then that she started disease-modifying therapy, medication that alters the way MS affects the body. Roberts has now been in remission for the past several years.
“I think if I had met someone living with MS early on, after my diagnosis, and heard their story about how they lived with the disease, I would’ve been inspired sooner to begin therapy and take charge of my own health,” Roberts says. “I know now that there are many therapies available to help us live our dreams.”
Roberts married her husband, Matt Baugher, in 2018, and the couple had a son, Jackson, in August 2021 after Roberts underwent three cycles of in vitro fertilization.
Roberts is now fully out in the open about her illness. In 2018, she published Beauty in the Breakdown: Choosing to Overcome, a memoir that details her journey with MS and shares the strategies she uses to keep her symptoms at bay. She often speaks at MS support groups and performs music at MS fundraising events.
As someone who has chosen to live with MS in the public eye, Roberts says she tries to show others that the disease doesn’t define who you are or stop you from pursuing your dreams.
Roberts credits her remission to the disease-modifying therapy that reduces the activity and progression of MS, but she’s also made lifestyle modifications that she says have made a big difference.
Discovering that stress can exacerbate MS symptoms, Roberts has worked to make self-care a priority, as well as her faith.
“I attend a Bible study fellowship led by women where we are all dealing with our own life stresses,” Roberts says. “These women keep me grounded in Scripture, which helps me tremendously.”
She also carves out time to exercise in a semiprivate weight-training group at a gym in Nashville, Tennessee, four to five times a week.
“I go to the gym really early in the morning so that I’m home by the time my husband heads to work,” Roberts says. “It’s a team effort now that we have our sweet boy, but we both know exercise has always helped me with MS, so we do what we can to make that possible.”
On warmer days, Roberts also loves getting outside and pushing the stroller for a couple of miles.
“It’s a nice break in my days, it’s bonding time with Jackson, and I can get natural vitamin D, which is also important for my MS,” Roberts says.
Roberts has found ways to work in both exercise and rest around Jackson’s schedule.
“Sometimes, all I need to help me with stress is a good nap,” she says. “It’s hard to find the time with a new baby, but I’ve started putting some work on hold and grabbing a 30-minute nap when Jackson is napping. Most of the time, I wake up not only with more energy but a new focus on whatever was stressing me out.”
Roberts says that some of her favorite wellness strategies involve spending time with her husband and son and finding joy in their company.
“Jackson has given me a new perspective in life,” Roberts says. “Many of the things that used to stress me out take a back seat in my life now. His sweet little smile reminds me every single day of what’s important in life and that I want to stay in remission so that I can be available to him for many years to come.”
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