Marci Viland was only 23 years old back in 2007 when doctors told her the reason she was losing vision in her right eye was because she had multiple sclerosis.
She was taken aback, of course. Who wouldn't be after getting hit with the news you now had a chronic and incurable disease?
Maybe it was her young age. Maybe it was her disposition. But early on, Viland decided she was not going to let MS control her future, rather, she'd embrace this new chapter and make it part of her life.
"I told myself, OK, this is my story. Now, what am I going to do with it?"
Turns out, a lot.
Since getting that diagnosis more than a decade ago, Viland became a wife and mother of three, continued a career as a hair stylist and makeup artist and did, indeed, create her own story by writing two books she hopes will help others deal with similar struggles.
The first one, "A Meaningful Life with MS," was self-published in 2011 after she tried unsuccessfully to find books about the disease in libraries or online that did not contain "a lot of scary stuff."
The second, "The Brave Duck Patti Saves the Day," is for children to help them understand the importance of support from family and friends when life becomes extra tough.
Oh, and for the past seven years, Viland has also spearheaded a fundraiser in Hinckley, Ill., – where she lives with husband Nathan, her 5-year-old twin daughters and 2-year-old son – which has raised over $150,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Viland credits much of the success for this annual event – which was held recently at J&K Half Moon on Route 30 in Hinckley – with the support she gets from her loved ones, especially her parents, retired Aurora Police Lt. Patrick Rolison and his wife Donna, who say they are still amazed at how their daughter decided to attack this disease that suddenly began attacking her body.
"Instead of saying 'Why me?' she took on the attitude of 'Why not me?'" and made it her passion to help others with the disease, said Rolison, who is a criminal justice professor at Waubonsee Community College.
"We all know there is no cure for this disease," he added, "but one would never know ... that giving up is an option for Marci."
For Viland, it came down to a simple decision to remain as healthy as possible.
"If I need to live with this disease, then I'm going to live it with no regrets," she insisted. "At least I would give it my best."
More than anything, Viland insists, her diagnosis was a blessing that pushed her in a direction of helping others. And she's gotten stronger over the years. Thanks in large part to a drug called Tysabri, one of more than a dozen medicines now available to help MS patients, the young mom has been able to "keep my MS at bay."
But the cost of the monthly infusion she receives is steep: $10,000 a treatment and climbing, as are many of the MS drugs discovered since her diagnosis.
Which is why she's so passionate about raising as much money as possible for the National Multiple Sclerosis Association, to help others offset the out-of-pocket expenses this disease requires.
"It has given me my life back," she said. "It allowed me to have kids and keep up with them as they grow older."
And, while Viland still struggles with fatigue and must closely monitor the weather and her diet, "there is nothing I can't do," she said.
"I just have to do it differently."
The Beacon-News is a Chicago Tribune publication