Ann Romney: How My Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis Made Me Stronger

As its name implies, at the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases, I’m the front woman. My primary job is to raise awareness of the existence of the center, and the challenges we all face from this array of neurologic enemies, and to emphasize the need for funding. A question that I have been asked by people who have connected my public visibility, my faith, and the center is whether I believe my getting MS was all part of a greater plan to put me in a position to help change countless lives. It is a fair question and it is easy to answer:

No.

I believe life is almost indiscriminate. Life happens. It hits us the way it hits us, and then we can choose to do with that reality whatever we choose. I don’t see it as being part of any Grand Design. I don’t think that God had a hand in this that He reached down and decided, I’m going to make Ann sick and someday she’s going to have a larger impact. But what I do believe is that we each have to play the hand we’re dealt, and that life is a lot nicer for all of us if we help each other tote that heavy bag of rocks. The hope is that each of us can find a small niche in which we can make a difference. My brother Jim was able to see the lovely young life he was able to help save. And the center turned out to be the place where I could do the most to help. Fortunately I went into remission, and because of that I am able to bring people together as a force for good. I have always believed that each person doing a little will add up to a lot of change.

[Read Ann Romney on the Stay-at-Home Mom Business: Being a Mom Was My Job]

Mitt admits he is sometimes astonished to see the shy young girl he fell in love with in high school standing up in front of a large crowd addressing them forcefully. Here’s a little secret: me, too. Several years ago while straightening our house, I found a photograph of me that was taken the first Christmas after I was diagnosed with MS. I’m sitting in a chair. The chair is gray, I’m wearing a gray sweater, my face is gray. My shoulders are hunched, and I seemed to be thoroughly defeated. When I looked at that picture, it brought me right back to how I felt at that time: gray. I was sad InThisTogetherjacketand deeply depressed. My future was bleak. I remembered those horrible feelings. Around me, everyone was getting ready for Christmas, and all I was capable of doing was sitting in that chair. After a few seconds I ripped up that picture. I ripped it into as many pieces as I could, telling myself, I don’t ever want to go back there again. I don’t want to be in that dark place again, ever. I wish now that I hadn’t ripped up that photograph. I wish I could show it to anyone struggling with their burden—as I stand tall and tell them they have a future.

I’m the ultimate late bloomer. I got pushed into places I didn’t want to go, but because of that, I grew. It was when I got put in a very uncomfortable situation that I realized, maybe for the first time, how much strength I had. Certainly because of the roads Mitt and I have followed, I had a public voice. I realized that I had the potential to influence the direction of the research and impact the lives of many people. For many years I had to lean on others, and now I had arrived at a place where they could lean on me.

[Read Maria Shriver’s Most Recent ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ Essay]

I’m strong now, maybe stronger than I have ever been in my life, and I know I can help improve the quality of people’s lives and support their fight against these terrible neurologic diseases. I’m thrilled to be able to get up and speak in front of an audience. I’m warning you, when there are people out there ready to donate money, don’t get between me and a microphone. Where once I was hesitant, now I am ready. I know who I am, my feet are planted solidly on the ground. Nobody intimidates me, nobody.


From IN THIS TOGETHER: My Story by Ann Romney. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

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