Guest post by Julia Nimilowich, MS Walk ambassador
I started dancing when I was five years old. Over many years of hard work, I started competing more and more, especially during high school – I was focused on my studies but my passion was dance. Every day after school, you could find me in the studio rehearsing and training for hours. When I was 18, I got a job working on a cruise ship as a performer, and immediately told my parents that I was “heading off to sea to follow my dreams.”
When I returned, I was right back in the studio training for my next gig – that’s when I noticed something wasn’t quite right. When I jumped I would fall, and my balance was all over the place. I just laughed it off, but my coach didn’t find it funny. She pulled me aside and said, “Julia, something’s going on and we need to get to the bottom of it.”
After many trips to the doctor’s office, I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS at age 19. Although it took a while for the doctors to diagnose me, I was actually relieved—the uncertainty was terrifying. Was I dying? No. I knew a family friend with MS, and she seemed to live a relatively healthy life.
I have made sure to remember this throughout my 13 years of living with MS, and I try not to let the unpredictability of the disease hold me back. I can’t live my life wondering how MS will influence my life as a friend, mother, wife, or daughter. The truth is, something will always come up: that’s the nature of living with MS.
But the fact remains: the day I found out I had MS was the end of my dancing career. Walking away from dance was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but it was one that was necessary for me to move forward.
My life: The next chapter
I re-evaluated my priorities and decided to go to university – a decision I don’t think I would have made before my diagnosis. I ended up getting two degrees, one in sociology and another in marketing and business. Today I work part-time for my husband’s family business, helping out with account receivables, payables, invoicing, and keeping the books up-to-date. It’s not dance but it works, especially with the birth of our son, Matteo, in June 2015. His name means “gift from God” in Italian, and I truly believe that he is my gift. I’m very proud of the handsome, happy, and healthy boy that puts a smile on my face every day.
I do have my days. A big trigger for my MS is stress, so I try to keep it at bay when possible. I make an effort to only surround myself with positive people and try to maintain a positive attitude. We spend most weekends during the summer months at our cabin, which my grandfather purchased in the 80s to ensure our large Italian family had a special spot to come together. This is a place where I come for solitude, and I know I’ll take great joy in watching Matteo grow up to enjoy the space as much as I do.
MS Walk: The event of the year
Throughout my MS journey, one constant has remained – my participation in MS Walk. When I started walking in 2004, I created Team Julia with my family and friends, who have been so supportive ever since I was diagnosed. If I had known how much I would fall in love with the Walk, and fundraising for it, perhaps my team would have picked a more creative name! This will be my 12th year walking, but in 2007 I became the official spokesperson of the Edmonton and St. Albert Walks. During these years I’ve have had the incredible opportunity to see hundreds of people strap on their sneakers to end Canada’s disease, and each year my heart grows even more.
MS is often an invisible disease. You sometimes can’t discern whether or not someone has MS by simply observing them. I’m privileged to have the opportunity to educate people about MS at the Walk and on a day to day basis – even sometimes when I’ve been approached by people who get upset when I park in an accessible parking spot. I want to thank all the participants across Canada who, by walking, are creating awareness about this disease that is so prevalent within Canada. Fundraising really does help, and I truly believe that Canadians are leaders in MS research, MS knowledge and MS supports, and with everyone’s involvement we will end MS.
Julia is an #MSWalk ambassador. She lives in Edmonton with her husband and son, Matteo – who is the light of her life.
As we move into #MSWalk season we will be sharing more stories from other #MSWalk ambassadors across Canada. You can be like Julia and sign up for your local #MSWalk event today at mswalks.ca. Tell us in the comments: who do you walk for?