I’ve been dancing since I was 3 years old—my career really took off when I came in fourth on season 4 of So You Think You Can Dance. A couple of years later, when I was 23 (I’m 33 now), I was performing in arenas across America as an all-star with the SYTYCD national tour, but things started to feel off. I was exhausted all the time. The running joke with the other dancers was that they would always say to me, “Good night, Grandma!” because as soon as we got on the bus, I was out. Other symptoms came on gradually—I felt numbness in my legs, and when I put my chin on my chest I would feel this crazy electrical sensation, like shocks running down my spine. At first I thought I had injured my back, because I’d read that numbness could come from that kind of injury.
I definitely knew something was wrong, but as a professional dancer, you just learn to power through. Even though I sometimes couldn’t feel my legs, I could still move them, so I kept dancing. I really believe it was a mind-over-matter thing, and I wonder now, if I’d known then what was really happening, would I have been able to keep going? Even while I was experiencing all these strange symptoms, I finished out the 40-city tour, doing 10 dances a night, six nights a week!
Finally, I got the test I needed
My symptoms calmed down after a few months. After I finished up a few other dance jobs almost a year later, I finally went to my doctor to get checked out. He sent me to a neurologist in New York, who ordered an MRI, which showed lesions on my brain and plaque on my spinal cord. It turned out all that numbness, tingling, fatigue, and brain fog were symptoms of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
The diagnosis wasn’t a complete shock to me: My grandmother, who passed away in 2020, had multiple sclerosis, though she wasn’t diagnosed until she was around 60 because she was very old-school and never liked to go to the doctor. When I first started experiencing my own symptoms, there was a voice in the back of my mind saying, Could this be the same thing? The first thing I said to my doctor when he told me I had MS was “What does this mean for my dancing?” He said the best thing for me to do was keep moving and keep dancing—and that was really music to my ears. I was worried about my future, but in a weird way I was also relieved that I finally had some sort of clarity. A lot of people, like my grandmother, go undiagnosed for a really long time.
What my life is like today
Working with my team of doctors, I follow a plan that includes taking medication, exercising regularly, and eating healthily. Thankfully, my symptoms are in remission; the biggest issue for me right now is fatigue, and I also feel brain fog when I’m really tired.
Since my diagnosis, so many great things have happened in my life. I met and married my husband, Jonah, and I have a toddler, who really keeps me on my toes. I’ve kept up my dance career, appearing on VH1’s Hit the Floor and Grease Live!, but I definitely have to be more careful about not overdoing things—my husband jokes that I used to say yes to everything and now I’m a “no” person. But I have to do what’s right for me as a mother, a wife, and a dancer. I carefully plan out my activities now so I can rest between them. One thing that has become really important to me is working with MS in Harmony along with my brother-in-law, the actor Ben Platt. We appear in videos doing voice and movement exercises led by board-certified music therapists; they’re designed to help people with multiple sclerosis manage their symptoms. Music has always been a huge part of my life, but I’ve never used it this way before, and it’s really a unique and special thing.
I think it’s so important to keep going and not let MS define who you are. It’s such a powerful thing to learn about your illness and to connect with others who are going through a similar thing. I talk to newly diagnosed people all the time, and I always tell them they’re going to be OK. MS is not the end; it’s just a new normal.
What is multiple sclerosis?
Nearly 1 million Americans are living with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and the spinal cord. MS is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it begins with the immune system attacking the myelin, which is the insulation that protects the part of each brain cell that transmits electrical impulses to the rest of the body, explains Carolina Ionete, M.D., director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at UMass Memorial Medical Center. Women have about three times the risk of developing MS as men, says Dr. Ionete, who adds that MS is a very complex disease, with both genetic and environmental factors coming into play.
With relapsing-remitting MS, symptoms can come and go, with periods of partial or complete recovery; with progressive MS, there is a steady increase in symptoms. While there is no cure for MS, there are effective medications and therapies to slow down the disease and alleviate symptoms. “I have many young patients who are doing fantastically, who can keep their jobs, have families, and have normal lives,” Dr. Ionete says. “There is huge progress in the field, but it is so important to get treatment as early as possible.”
Typical early symptoms of MS
- Numbness in the face, body, arms, or legs A squeezing sensation around the torso
- Fatigue and brain fog
- Stiffness or muscle spasms in the legs
- Vision problems
- Dizziness or the feeling that the room is spinning
- Weakness and trouble walking
- Depression; sudden mood swings
Read more medical mystery and misdiagnosis stories like this one in our column, My Diagnosis, which focuses on stories of real-life medical struggles and journeys to wellness. Have one you’d like to share? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.