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Country singer overcomes fear of disease
02:15 - Source: CNN

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. This week we meet Clay Walker. As a teenager, he dreamed of being a country music star. A few years later, he topped the country music charts for the first time; soon he was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. But Walker didn’t let this chronic disease slow his career down.

Story highlights

Clay Walker was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis at 26

He says he's learned to eat a healthy diet and rely on his family

Walker has begun a campaign to educate MS patients

As a country music recording artist, as an entertainer and especially as a husband and father, life can get hectic. I realized early on the importance of having a routine to manage such a busy schedule.

But my body kept giving me “reminders” earlier in my career that something was just not right. In the mid-’90s, I started to experience tingling and numbness on my right side along with facial spasms. I hoped they would pass, but symptoms continued to appear all too frequently.

After a battery of tests, I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, the most common form of multiple sclerosis. My diagnosis came when I was 26. It surprised me to learn that of 400,000 Americans with MS, many are diagnosed between ages 20 and 50, like I was.

I kept wondering, “Why me? Why now?” My career was progressing, and there were many positive things going on in my life: I had just recorded my fourth album and was celebrating the birth of my first child.

So this country boy decided he was not going down without a fight. With support from my family and friends, I realized that I needed to stop dwelling on being diagnosed with a chronic disease, and instead focus on finding a groove. To do that, I had to develop a routine to manage my condition, which helped me look forward for the first time since being diagnosed.

Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis can be tricky to manage because it affects everyone differently. In fact, it took almost a year of working with my neurologist to find the routine that worked best for me.

Living with multiple sclerosis means struggles and triumphs

I’ve learned to eat a healthy diet and keep up a moderate exercise routine, take my medication and rely on love and support from my family to get through the tough times.

Now that I’ve found a routine that works, I stick with it and encourage others with this illness to do the same. I’m proud to help lead the “Stick With It” campaign to educate patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis about the importance of sticking with a routine for the long haul.

Experts agree that patients do better when sticking with a routine that works for them. There’s a lot of information out there that can sometimes be confusing, but I encourage folks to talk to their doctor to find what can work best for them.

“Stick With It” includes national public service announcements to start airing this month, along with a Facebook page that is coming soon. Both will provide tips on how MS patients can work with their doctor.

“Stick With It” is in partnership with Teva Pharmaceuticals and Band Against MS, the charity I founded a decade ago to help provide educational information and fund programs for those with MS.

I didn’t have the information available when I was diagnosed, and I want to make sure others with MS don’t feel as lost in this disease as I once was. Helping others with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis has been close to my heart for some time. It’s all the motivation I need to “Stick With It!”

In addition to being a country music artist, Walker is also an ambassador for the National MS Society and a paid spokesman for Teva Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer of one of nine medications approved for treating relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.