Nearly 2.3 million people are estimated to be living with multiple sclerosis around the world, but when Montel Williams received his official diagnosis back in 1999, not much was known about the disease.
The television host explained to fellow MS survivors at My MS Second Act how confirmation of his disease came four decades after he first started showing symptoms as a student.
"When I graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1980, three months before my graduation, I went blind in my left eye which stopped me from actually graduating with my class," he said at the event held on Wednesday. "I was one of the only graduates in the history of the United States Naval Academy to walk across the stage, receive the diploma, throw [my] hat in the air and not be commissioned because I had symptoms that started right then that got misdiagnosed over the next 20 years."
Now it's widely known that the disease of the central nervous system, which often presents itself with visual problems, numbing, impaired balance, cognitive issues and fatigue, affects far more than just Caucasian women, as it was initially thought.
But what followed the years of misdiagnosis was increased pain and frustration for Williams, which only furthered his drive for advocacy and research on behalf of those also with MS, including working with the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America and Novartis for My MS Second Act to encourage those living with the disease to share their story.
“As someone who had reported on the stories of others for years, I know how powerful they can be and the importance of being your own advocate,” he said. “I understand firsthand the way MS affects how you think and the way you live, particularly when the disease progresses. I have learned through my personal journey that you own your narrative."