My name is Lizelle Mendoza. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis or MS in 2007.
MS is an autoimmune disease that attacks your myelin sheath – the protective covering of your nerves – in your central nervous system; which composes your brain and spinal cord. When the myelin is attacked, damage is left, known as plaques. This damage can be anything from effecting speech, cognition, mobility, etc. It is not known what causes MS, but anyone can be affected.
I was only 11 years old when I experienced my first symptoms – 7 years later diagnosed as MS. I grew up as a cautious child as these types of symptoms or flare ups would come and go. These symptoms would stop me from trying new things because I was afraid that my vision would blur and stay like that forever.
Eventually my symptoms worsened to numbness in my leg where I needed assistance just to walk. For many years my family and I had no idea what was going on.
When I turned 18, I thought, I finally received an answer to all my questions. The moment the doctor said, “You have MS”, I thought my life was over. I was 18—my life should have felt like it was only beginning, but for me it felt like the end. I am born and raised in Winnipeg, and my parents emigrated from the Philippines. MS is not known to be very common in Asian cultures, and my family had a large learning curve as we came to understand what this disease meant for us. As I got older, I learned more about the treatment options available to me and decided to take control of my life again.
My Journey with the MS society started in 2009 as Team Captain of Team faith, first with a group of my girlfriends and then my team expanded to my family. None of my friends initially knew why we were walking because I had told them it was in support of a family member.
Within 2 years into walking, I felt I needed to do more. Mainly to learn more about the disease and potentially meet young people like me affected by the disease.
Early in my diagnosis, I started chatting with a woman from the programs & services team at the MS Society. I then started volunteering with the MS society in hopes that I could learn more about myself and the disease. I eventually became an MS ambassador, helping with educating and advocating for people about MS in many different ways. All of a sudden I was travelling to different schools and businesses, helping out with support groups, and telling my story to government representatives who could really effect change for people living with disabilities. My life went in directions I never could have dreamed of.
In the summer of 2015, I was chosen as the A&W inspirational champion and was given the opportunity to travel across Canada to visit the top fundraising stores for the Cruisin to End MS campaign. In 2016 I was nominated as the Divisional Inspirational Champion. This year on June 11 2017, we are also holding our 2nd annual “Heart of it” Conference, where young people between the ages of 20 – 35 are welcome to join us on a fun day of interaction.
I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t scared sometimes. I worry about my career. I worry that when I have kids, I won’t be able to care for them the way my mom has cared for me. But that’s how I learned to live life without boundaries. I look at my experiences with the MS community as a map for the other areas of my life – if I can turn a teenage diagnosis into a strength and share it with others, maybe I can do the same thing with my future.
Its fundraisers like the walk for MS that really hits home for me. I’ve learned that with the help of huge fundraising, advances have been made in research, medicine, and community support. I’ve learned that thanks to the right resources and education, we have come a long way in this country to help support people living with disabilities.
Now I’m 28. This year marks my 10th year relapse free. I’ve learned to cope in my own way – to work through, around and with my MS. To take things one day at a time. Every year, I get more hopeful. I may have MS, but MS doesn’t have me.