In this Friends in the Fight Series, we feature amazing warriors from around the world who have experienced health setbacks. This month, we are featuring Ashley Cecere.
Please tell us a bit about yourself (not related to your illness).
I am a full-time assistant project manager for a government contractor, a part-time student in a masters program, and also a wellness blogger. My husband is a law enforcement officer and works a lot, so I have had to find ways to keep myself occupied.
What is your illness? When did you find out?
Chronic migraine and fibromyalgia. I was diagnosed with chronic migraine when I was in high school and had my first hemiplegic migraine when I was in my early 20s. After that first one, the nerve pain started and never went away.
What was the first thing you did after you were diagnosed?
Initially, the neurologist I was seeing thought that I had MS. I thought my life as I knew it was over. It wasn’t like I was a champion athlete, but I love hiking. The first thing I did honestly was spent some time feeling sorry for myself in bed watching Netflix. There was a lot of weakness on my right side, and I allowed it to defeat me for a while.
What were your biggest fears? What challenges did you experience?
My biggest fear was to not be able to continue working and ultimately not be able to continue doing basic things that I was used to such as hiking, swimming, running my side business, etc. The biggest challenge was overwhelming fatigue and weakness on my right side. It seemed like it was never going to go away and that as another source of fear.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I did improve over time and that helped get me out of that low point of my life. I have gotten hurt a few times trying to push my physical limits, so now I know to focus on low-impact exercise and to listen to my body. I think listening to my body was the answer.
How did your friends and family help you?
A lot of friends didn’t, and some still do not, really understand what I was going through and some felt that I was dramatizing my experience. Apart from my mother, my family felt similarly. I didn’t have cancer and ultimately they ruled out MS, so some didn’t understand why I was still down. My mother has had her own health battles and was much more empathetic and supportive.
What’s your best advice for fellow Friend in the Fight?
Your experience is your experience. Do not base your pain or your challenges on someone else. Do not tell yourself that someone else has it worse so you should not complain about the pain.
This is not an excuse to whine or to sit on the sidelines of life, but rather, to understand that your feelings are valid and you need to take care of yourself. Others may not understand so the responsibility falls on you to listen to your body and make judgment calls without fear that others may think you are making it up.
Do your best to challenge yourself, but never hurt yourself to save face. Finally, give your friends who have not had any serious health concerns some grace when they don’t understand what you’re going through. You may save some valuable friendships that way. (This was a lot, but I really wish someone had told me all of this about 4 years ago.)
Want to connect with our community and share your story? Join us in our Friends in the Fight Group.