The Invisible Disease

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MS has no cure but a bad attitude does.”

— Zoë Sundberg

A Girl’s experience with MS and the lessons it taught her

As Zoë Sundberg steps out of her car she hears an unfamiliar man’s voice in the distance.

“Don’t you feel weird parking here when you look fine?” he says, pointing to a handicap sign.

Her eyes meet the sign as she nudges the door closed. Ignoring the comment she slowly walks away.

Former Pierce College running start student, Sundberg, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) at 16, spoke of the challenges she faced from having MS and encouraged those with and without disabilities to persevere through adversity.

When Sundberg was diagnosed she realized she couldn’t control the situation and she’d need to persevere or give up.  “It’s not the end of your life and treating every day like it’s a curse to wake up in the morning is going to make everything 100 times harder,” Sundberg said. “MS has no cure but a bad attitude does.”

Sundberg said that MS is often times called the invisible disease. “I don’t have some huge indicator that I have a disability which is probably one of the hardest things at times because people would be a little bit more understanding when I’m struggling.”

There was literally no way that I could control my circumstance, so why am I going to give it more power by submitting myself to a life that is less than I want?”

— Zoë Sundberg

Pierce College’s Event coordinator, Eli Ellis, had an aunt with MS and after hearing Sundbergs’ story, he said that Pierce students should hear a fellow classmate’s experience. “Not many people know about MS, but they should be informed. If people don’t see it (MS) and don’t necessarily know that it’s happening, you could just be more observative of what’s going on and be more understanding.”

Before Sundberg was diagnosed, she had lost feeling in the left side of her body and as time went on had become more fatigued. Suffering from severe vertigo and vision loss in her left eye, she said: “I couldn’t walk through the halls in my school without feeling like I was in a vortex.”

After noticing the symptoms, she went to the doctor who found several lesions on her brain and spinal cord. She then received a spinal tap. “Let me tell you, That was horrible! 10-out-of-10 would not recommend it.”

Sundberg decided not to let her disability hold her back from achieving her goals. She graduated high school and college at the same time with American honors and served as student body president at Fort Steilacoom. “There was literally no way that I could control my circumstance, so why am I going to give it more power by submitting myself to a life that is less than I want?”

Sophiya Galanesi

During this time, she tested every MS medicine on the market. After, many trials and errors, she now only goes through infusions every six months, which she said is much better than the shots she once had to give herself daily.

Sundbergs’ disability meant she had to stop playing sports and have a modified schedule at school. She would leave earlier than the other students and because of this, her social life faded. “Everyone made me feel more disabled than I actually was,” she said. “Yes, I know I had issues, and I know people were just trying to help me, but in my eyes, I was still as capable as everybody else.”

Despite the diagnosis, she still decided to do full time Running Start against the advice of her counselors. “They think they’re telling you what’s going to be best for you, but the only person that can truly make that assessment is you.”

Andrey Symchuk, a Pierce student who attended the event, had an aunt with a severe case of MS. Andrey said that he struggled with approaching his aunt because he didn’t know enough about her disease. “I always had to help her walk, and I could tell it made her uncomfortable but it was weird for me too.” He said that because of Sundbergs’ speech, he was encouraged to stay informed and treat his aunt normally.

Sundberg hopes her effort in bringing awareness isn’t only for disabilities but all challenges that people may face. “MS is a rare disease, so it doesn’t affect everyone, but what I try to spread awareness about can be applied to any adversity because literally, everyone has a challenge one way or another regardless if it is health.”