Save the date! On October 22, the Can Do Multiple Sclerosis Annual Autumn Benefit will take place at the Metropolitan Club in the Upper East Side. The evening will include a cocktail reception, silent auction, three-course dinner and evening program. A portion of the proceeds from the evening will go towards the Can Do MS organization’s 2016 JUMPSTART® Program, which benefits young professionals with MS living in NYC.
Since its inception in 1985, the Autumn Benefit celebrates the legacy of its founder Jimmie Heuga by honoring an individual in the community who demonstrates the can do spirit, and who has made a significant contribution to improving the lives of others with MS. This year, Courtney Galiano from the show, So You Think You Can Dance, is the honoree and recipient of the Can Do award.
Courtney graciously took some time to answer a few questions for Downtown, talking about living with multiple sclerosis, and the Can Do MS organization.
When did you first learn about your diagnosis?
C: I am THRILLED to be the recipient this year! This disease is extremely unpredictable and certainly can leave you thinking of all of the day-to-day things MS can take away from you. I’m constantly pushing myself to focus on the positive and not let my mind go to such a dark place and I feel that is exactly what Can Do MS focuses on. I am honored to be representing such an empowering organization that focuses on taking action towards a healthy life — a new normal.
What were some challenges you had to overcome in order to get where you are today with your career in dance and acting?
C: None of the challenges I have had to overcome in my career came from any pressure that anyone around me had put on me; it came from the pressure I put on myself. My third relapse, I went blind in my left eye for about a month and it took a while for it to fully recover. I was dancing for Pitbull at VH1’s Divas Live and pretty much said to myself, “Well Court, you have another eyeball that sees just fine, let’s do this.” So I pushed through. Right after, I had been working on a television show on VH1 called Hit The Floor. At first, I didn’t know whether to share that information, I was definitely worried that someone would think I wasn’t able do something or that they would go easier on me because I have MS and it literally would keep me up at night. I couldn’t have been more wrong! My Hit The Floor family couldn’t be more supportive! They are at every MS event, they fundraise, they use social media as a platform to help raise awareness. I love all of them and I couldn’t be more grateful. I have NEVER been treated differently or felt less than in anyway because I surround myself with good people and because I won’t let it happen.
Ignorance is a lack of knowledge and experience. How I battle anyone with ignorant behavior is educate them and if that doesn’t help…good riddance! When I was first diagnosed people would call my mom and say, “Oh my goodness, how devastating! Can she dance? Is she in a wheelchair?” This infuriated my mother, however, I told her although this may sometimes be the nature of the disease, she needs to help them understand.
I think what has helped me most through any adversity is being open, sharing my experiences and not being ashamed of having MS. I’d be lying if I said the future didn’t scare me sometimes, but life is unpredictable for all, not just for people with MS and I always try to keep this in mind. We’re given a choice, we can lay down and die or get up and fight. Sounds like I’m some soldier in the army but personally that’s how I feel sometimes…I feel like damn soldier that I got through a random Monday.
What do you wish more people knew about MS?
C: For those with MS, one of the biggest compliments I ever received throughout all of this was from my neurologist who said, “Wow you’ve really done your research haven’t you? I’m very impressed.” I wish those with MS would be more educated about their individual case of MS, their well being, the progress of medicine, the many benefits of anti-inflammatory foods and exercise. Being in the know really can help you help others understand MS as well as help you.
For those who don’t have MS, I think I wouldn’t be alone if I said I wish people understood how MS fatigue is so different than any normal individual’s level of tired. I wish people new it wasn’t a death sentence, it doesn’t mean everyone with MS will end up in a wheelchair or that my children will be doomed. Raising awareness and being open about your disease will help others understand.
How has the Can Do MS organization helped make a difference in your life and living with MS?
C: Well, first and foremost the people at the organization that I have been in contact with are so kind and it’s always extremely refreshing to meet people who really believe in what they do. I thoroughly enjoy the Can Do Story of the Month. It’s helpful to me as I’m sure it is to many others to read about people who are overcoming the disease like you are. It’s inspirational and I find on difficult days those are the kinds of things that help you get back on track.
What advice would you give to someone who is living with a lifelong illness like MS?
C: I always hope my answer to this question doesn’t make me come off like I’m some MS guru that knows the key to well being because everyone that knows me, knows that at times I push myself way to hard and don’t listen to my body and a day or two later I am ALWAYS paying for it, however….this process of trial and error with medicines and day to day living has taught me more lessons than I even wanted to learn. The most important lesson I have learned, one that I still need to work on, is to slow down and breathe. The whole “blessed to be stressed” thing isn’t a thing at all, it’s an MS nightmare. Surround yourself with good people you trust, people that lift you up. There is only one you and your health is the most important thing in your life.