Melissa Bilecky was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on Oct. 8 -- one month and one day after the first time she began to experience symptoms. Bilecky recalls the moment, which took place just five days after she turned 22.
"I was sitting outside on my back deck," Bilecky says. "I tried to move my right arm and it wouldn't move like it should've. I got up and had difficulty walking and then I noticed I couldn't feel anything on my right side. From my head to my toes. My neck, ear, face, torso."
They were all numb and tingly. Bilecky ended up going to the ER and was told to see a neurologist, who sent her for an MRI.
"He told me there are two lesions on the left side of my brain and that I should go to the hospital to start steroids while they do another MRI, a spinal tap and some blood work," she says. "The only way to diagnose MS is to rule out everything else. The blood work for similar diseases like Lyme disease and lupus were negative. My spinal tap was all clear."
She also began developing what she thought was a sore throat. Bilecky, who lives in New Jersey, was discharged from the hospital unable to speak or swallow, and went to her primary care physician, who said it was strep.
"She gave me a shot of antibiotic and she told me to come back the next day for another shot and a prescription and it should clear it right up," Bliecky says. "'Great,' I thought. This started on a Thursday and by Saturday night, I collapsed. My legs gave out on me. I couldn't move my arms. It felt like my head was moving inside my skull. I couldn't feel the bottom half of my body. I was taken back to the ER."
Doctors soon realized Bilecky did not have strep, but they didn't know what was wrong. It took a third MRI to lead them to an MS diagnosis. At this point, even though Bilecky had what she called a love-hate relationship with running, she was determined to keep moving.
"I remember the first time I ran a mile without stopping -- I felt like the world was mine," she says. "I did get pretty good at running and I actually liked it at one point. I would sometimes go for a few months without running but I would always put my shoes back on and try again. Some days were harder than others, but I never gave up. I think this new part of my life is going to be the same way. Running was training for MS."
Bilecky wants to have her diagnosis be a positive thing.
"Ever since I was little I've wanted to change the world, and I believe this is the way I will do it," she says. "MS is extremely under-studied, under-researched and under-funded. Many people don't know what the disease even is. All people know is that people can live with it. Yes, but how well can they live? The National Multiple Sclerosis Society Twitter page only has 35K followers. Most celebrities have more followers than that. And compared to the American Cancer Society that has 511K, and American Heart Association with 135K. So much of this disease just seems unacceptable to me and I want to change that."
Bilecky has her family's support along with friends. She says Twitter has also contributed to outpouring love and support.
"If I were to give advice to anyone out there, it would be to live each day as if it were your last because you think you have time, but you don't," she says. "Life and your health are the two most precious things. It's the most unpredictable thing-- it can change in an instant.
"The way I've been functioning for 22 years is no more. I was a normal 22-year-old reporter one day, and the next day my life completely changed. When a life-changing event like this happens, it opens your eyes to just how precious life is ... and our bodies. They're incredible things: walking, talking, eating, thinking all seem so simple until they're impaired."