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Living with MS as a 20-something, part 2

Amanda, Juan and Lizelle have more than a few things in common: they are all unstoppable forces in this world and they’ve all faced the challenges of being a young person affected by MS. They are also all A&W inspirational champions and have worked hard to spread awareness of what it’s like to live with MS across Canada – which Juan will be doing for Burgers to Beat MS on August 25.

We recently got on the phone with them to talk careers, ambitions, obstacles and successes. This is part 2 of the conversation – read the first part here.

LM: I’m 27 years old, and I’m not in a wheelchair like my neurologist said I would be. I’m still as active as I was when I was 18 and able to accomplish the tasks I’ve been presented with. I think I’ve been successful in showing people that I’m just the same “normal” person as everyone else. Also, this summer, my boyfriend and I purchased a house! And that’s something I’m super proud of!

JG/AP: Oh WOW, that’s awesome!!! Congratulations, Lizelle!

AP: It’ll be 10 years this February since I was diagnosed, so I’m honestly most proud of having survived 10 years with MS! There are lots of things that are different about me since I was 17 but the core of me is still the same. I’m really proud that MS has not broken my spirit. Juan, what about you?

JG: I’m proud that I’ve been able to take my experience with MS and find a way to help myself and help others at the same time. I’m a huge extrovert and I talk a lot, and that’s how I help myself, and I guess I’m proud that I’ve been able to do that in a way that hasn’t been annoying. People ask me to talk about MS and want to learn from me! I’ve had a couple friends come to me when someone in their family has been diagnosed, so being able to help myself while helping others — I’m really proud of having taken that opportunity.

AP: That was maybe the most beautiful answer ever! Honestly Juan, when you speak, there’s always substance in what you’re saying. Good for you for talking about MS a lot, because there are still so many people who don’t even know what it is! Which is kind of ridiculous since Canada has the highest rate of MS in the world. I always kind of feel like I need to talk about it because of that person out there who is affected by it and feels afraid to talk about it. I’m so glad you’re out there doing that.

The next question is about obstacles. What are some of the largest career or education obstacles you’ve faced as a result of your MS? Lizelle, you spoke about nursing school … why don’t you go first?

LM: I guess being rejected from nursing school was a huge shock because I’d worked my butt off for two years and dedicated my heart and soul to my studies, and to fail that exam just made it feel like my all wasn’t enough. I fell into a major depression. But then I reached a point where I decided I wanted to find a way to learn from the experience and move forward.

AP: There’s that positive attitude again.

JG: Luckily I haven’t had a ton of obstacles related to my MS; if anything it has motivated me to work really hard to achieve the things I want. I’m going to do as much as I can today because I’m not sure what I’ll be able to do tomorrow. So today I’m going to work my two jobs, and volunteer with the MS Society, and be looking for my next opportunity because I can do that. If anything MS has pushed me to take advantage of my abilities and get the most out of life.

AP: I think the theme of this call is resilience. You guys both turned obstacles into opportunities and I think that’s really cool. I was actually told that I wouldn’t finish school; I had a relapse in my second year. I asked the lady that runs the wardrobe department if I could have permission to go home because I was so tired after my classes, and she looked at me and said, “If you’re sick now, how do you think you’re going to survive the next two years?” I said to her, “The same way I survived the first two years,” and then I went home and took a nap.

Okay so tell me, what’s next for both of you?

LM: For me, finishing nursing school, and really just taking things one day at a time.

JG: What’s up next for me is finding a full-time job once this contract ends. Starting my career in university administration somewhere in Toronto, hopefully. Down the pipeline, I’m hoping for grad school, maybe moving to the States for a bit, but those are long-term plans and obviously depend on my health.

AP: My next big thing is being a part of the Queen’s Park day this year, [making government representatives in Ontario aware of how MS affects people’s lives]!

JG: Oh nice! See you there!

AP: Yay! In a bigger sense, I’m trying to focus on teaching. Things are getting more serious with my boyfriend, and I’m hoping someday we’ll have a family and stuff. So I’m trying to get into a career that will work with having kids, and what better career than teaching? Oh! And another exciting thing is that we’re hoping to do a remount of the play I was in this summer in Toronto this December! So Lizelle, you should make a trip down here for that! But I mean, Juan, we should also just road trip to Winnipeg sometime.

JG: Let’s do it. I’m in!

LM: That would be awesome!!!

JG: I forgot to mention that #BurgersToBeatMS is next week! I’m so excited about that! So that  is literally what’s next for me. It’s kind of all I’m thinking about.

LM: You’re going have so much fun!

AP: Oh man, yeah, it’s a lot of fun. What cities are you doing?

JG: We’re going to St John’s, Sudbury, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Regina, and Cranbrook.

AP: Wicked! Text me when you’re in Toronto! I’d love to meet you there!

LM: And text me when you get to Winnipeg!

JG: Perfect! I’ve got big shoes to fill with you two. I hope I can live up to it.

AP: The energy on this call is awesome. Can we just do this every week?

On August 25, visit your local A&W for a Teen Burger and $1 will be donated to fund MS research in Canada. Since 2009, A&W has raised more than $8 million to support world-class MS research that is bringing us closer to a cure, and programs and services that help Canadians with MS live better lives until a cure is found.

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Senior coordinator, social media and content. Eternal empath, driven by people's personal stories and experiences to keep going in the fight to end MS.

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