Dear Cat

July 1, 2013
 
Dear Cat,
 
Look at you sitting there, tapping your feet and fidgeting with your hands in that cold, grey exam room. You’re moments away from receiving medical confirmation of that little monster that has been haunting you over the last few months, probably years:
 
You have multiple sclerosis.
 
But you already know that. Even so, hearing the diagnosis you feared being stated so casually aloud will cause your tough guy façade to short circuit and you’ll paw frantically at the tissue box offered to you by your new doctor’s assistant.
 
Oh, why didn’t you ask Mom to come with you into the exam room, instead of asking her to wait in the lobby? You need her now.
 
You’re going to get a spinal tap and spend a week on bedrest where you’ll have your first experience with adverse reactions from, what will become over the next few years, a gauntlet of treatment options—most of which will fail you. You’ll bounce between different types of doctors and specialists, all with varying opinions and plans. You’re going to spend countless hours on the phone with specialty pharmacies and insurance companies.
 
Despite your otherwise blemish-free medical history, you’ll never ask, “Why me?” (Smart girl! Why NOT you??), but you will have dark days. You will get discouraged. You will suffer from depression. You will watch your body slowly change.
 
You’ll also watch your relationships change. You will have to turn down invitations. One day, those invitations will likely come along less frequently and, eventually, stop.
 
Your future is bleak.
 
That is, if you allow it to be.
 
Because you see, Cat, you’re going to be humbled by the outpouring of support you will receive—once you decide to accept it. You are going to notice and appreciate the most minute movements your body is able to complete—ones so small and previously unnoticed, you’ve only ever taken them for granted before (like that foot-tapping and hand fidgeting you’re still doing as you wait for your diagnosis).
 
You will learn to listen to your body. You will learn to trust it again.
 
You’re scared, even petrified right now of what may lie ahead and that’s okay. Take a day. Eat some ice cream. Build a pillow fort and be a couch burrito. Wallow. And tomorrow, start kicking this thing’s butt.
 
No, you won’t cure your disease—not even with all of the miracle diets and supplements people will inevitably shower you with—but you will cure yourself. You’re afraid you will be defined, labeled by multiple sclerosis. But you won’t be. No, instead you will stare this thing in its face, grab this disease by its balls and dance with it. You will not allow it to define you. You will redefine what it means to overcome.
 
You will educate people. You will raise thousands of dollars each year to help push research and treatment options forward. You will be an advocate—for yourself and for others. You will form a network and build connections with people all over the world. Yes! It’s true, Cat! You are going to help people!
 
You are strong. You are resilient. Utilize your resources and you will become great.
 
Dry your eyes, kid. You’ve got this.
 
You amazing, fierce warrior, you.
 
Love,
 
Cat (Three Years Later)
 
21 Appreciate this
Cat

Cat Stappas

Cat was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2013 and writes about her experiences in her blog, It's Only A Bruise. She hopes to make the dark corners of the internet a little bit less scary for both the newly and the long-time diagnosed with some honesty, positivity and — sometimes — some tongue-in-cheek humor. You can read her blog here and follow her on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and YouTube.