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Living with MS, 'I do not have to give up on my dreams'

By Julie Roberts, Special to CNN
updated 8:02 AM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Julie Roberts is a country music singer with multiple sclerosis
  • She worried about how people would react if they knew she had MS
  • May 28 is the 5th World MS Day

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle -- injury, illness or other hardship -- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. May 28 marks the 5th World MS Day, bringing attention to a condition that affects more than 2.3 million living with multiple sclerosis. Country music singer Julie Roberts is one of those people living with MS, but not letting it get in the way of her life.

(CNN) -- Accepting my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis was probably the most difficult part of my MS journey. However, it also helped me retake control of my life.

For years, I was in denial that I had MS. I thought if I didn't focus on my MS, then maybe it would just go away. It took the Nashville flood in May 2010 for me to "wake up" and decide it was time to take responsibility for what is, and what will be, my life with MS. My Mom, my sister and I lost our home and almost everything we owned in the flood. When we were rescued by boat, we were given another chance at life. I realized then that things can be replaced, but life and good health are invaluable.

The stress from the flood brought on a relapse of my MS, which I could no longer ignore. At that point, I decided to accept that MS is part of who I am, and that I needed to learn how to manage it in order to continue living my dreams.

I believe it was God who gave me another chance at life with the flood rescue and I wasn't going to waste it. I was determined to show this disease who was boss and that I would not let MS define my life's journey! I wanted to show the world that MS looks different for everyone and that MS does not mean you have to give up on your dreams. A diagnosis with any disease can be overwhelming, scary and confusing. Before, I, too, was scared and worried about how the world and the music industry would look at me if they knew I had MS.

Would they judge me and stop booking me to sing places?

Would I be able to continue playing shows?

Would the dreams I'd been working toward my entire life be taken from me? If so, what else would I do?

I can't say life is a piece of cake. Occasionally I still get asked whether my MS will interfere with my professional or personal life, but I respond every day by doing what I love.

Can I continue to play my shows? Ask my fans who are there with me when I'm on tour around the world or playing a local nightspot. Can I write my songs? Listen to my current CD. Can I live a full and happy life? Come see the home I rebuilt after the flood.

This doesn't mean I live my life in a haphazard way without a plan. I have developed a strong network of support, starting with my family. After hearing some positive things about my local MS Society chapter, I also reached out to it for information and found a mentor who has grown into a lifelong friend.

I've learned to manage my MS by keeping all my options open. I have a neurologist who helps me control my MS with a disease-modifying therapy and address any symptoms that may appear. I am also much more than my MS and I manage my life through diet, exercise and my faith.

I have learned that I do not have to give up on my dreams.

I do still have the challenge of educating those within my professional field that MS won't stand in the way of performing concerts or being with my fans. It's a challenge I face head-on every day. I will continue to stand up for myself and those with MS and show the world that as people living with MS we can still do what we want to do.

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