A very special event took place on March 2, 2014, in New York! The objective of this occasion was to increase the awareness and raise funds for programs, services, and on-going research for Multiple Sclerosis. 1500 participants gathered to climb the "66 floors" to the TOP OF THE ROCK OBSERVATION DECK® at ROCKEFELLER CENTER®
The two extraordinary women I referenced in the title of this article were also involved in the event: Janice Dean- On camera personality, and FOX News Channel Meteorologist took center stage as the emcee, and Wendy Booker- World Explorer, lead "stretching exercises" before the trek to the "top of the rock", for the people who would be doing the "66 floor climb"!
I had the opportunity to interview Janice Dean who has MS, and it's with much gratitude that I share this candid interview with Janice as she speaks about her diagnosis, career, family and children's book, Freddy The Frogcaster!
Following Janice's interview, we'll look into the backstory of World Explorer- Wendy Booker and some the amazing accomplishments she has achieved while dealing with MS.
MY INTERVIEW WITH JANICE DEAN:
VICKI : Janice, I was so delighted when given the opportunity to interview you. I'm quite a fan, and watch you a lot on Fox! I was very surprised when I learned about your diagnosis of MS. What were you physically experiencing that got you to a doctor, and how was your MS diagnosed?
JANICE: "I had my first MS episode in 2005 (the formal diagnosis would come later). I remember it well because as a meteorologist working for Fox, we had just come off the most active hurricane season in history. It was the year of Hurricanes Dennis, Emily, Katrina, Rita and Wilma. We had so many storms that year the National Hurricane Center went to the Greek alphabet because we had run out of names.
I was working long hours that fall, and was feeling overwhelmingly tired, stressed and depressed from all the devastation we were seeing on television.
I took time off, and decided to go back to Canada for a week with my boyfriend Sean. The first day of my vacation I woke up to numbness in my feet and parts of my legs. I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed. I went to a doctor in my hometown to see if she could figure it out. She said it could be anything from a slipped disc to Multiple Sclerosis, and told me I should get back to the U.S. to see a neurologist.
I took her advice, and went back to New York and saw a neurologist who gave me MRIs and a spinal tap.
The MRIs showed I had lesions on both my brain and spine. The spinal tap fluid had also shown the protein they look for with MS patients. The doctor then gave me steroids to help with the numbness and tingling, and told me I more than likely had MS.
How I got it was a mystery – and still is. Although, having lived in Canada (countries in the northern latitudes show a have higher frequency of the disease, likely due to less sunlight), and the fact that my father had suffered with acute Rheumatoid Arthritis, may have been factors.
Since that, I’ve had only a couple of flare-ups and my MRIs have been clean, so for whatever reason, the disease has been slow to progress which I’m so thankful for."
VICKI: That had to be quite disconcerting, but it sounds like everything is going in the right direction now. What are some of the lifestyle changes that you needed to confront and adapt to, with MS?
JANICE: "I’ve always been someone who needs my rest. If I get less than 7 hours a night, I cannot function, so I have to be in bed by 9pm. It’s been hard with two children, both 5 and 3, but I have a very understanding husband who lets me rest and nap when I need to. I also watch what I eat, and drink mostly water. I don’t drink a lot of alcohol, and I take vitamin D on a regular basis. Some recent studies are showing that supplementing vitamin D might lessen the frequency and severity of MS symptoms.
I exercise as much as I can – trying to walk everywhere if time permits – I take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. I “listen” to my body much more than I used to. If I’m tired, I don’t over-exert myself.
I also find I am not as stressed out as I used to be before my diagnosis. I think it’s because I realize what’s more important (my family, my health) than some of the other things I used to get anxious about (career goals and aspirations). I also have to be careful not to spend a lot of time outside in the summer months. The heat hits me hard, and makes me feel tired and lethargic within a matter of minutes if it’s very warm out. I can’t be in a hot tub or sauna either. I call the hot weather my “kryptonite” It totally takes everything out of me."
VICKI: It's good to hear that your stress level has gone down, and you're able to"tune in" to your body signals. Being in the media and an on-camera personality on FOX, how do you balance your busy schedule with MS?
JANICE: "I’m fortunate that I have a very supportive husband who is really an incredible source of strength for me. He’s a New York City Firefighter, so his flexible schedule allows him to help out with my two young sons- be it driving them back and forth to school or taking care of them on the weekends (I work on Saturdays and Sundays). We also have a wonderful nanny to help care for our two boys when we’re both working, and she’s become an important part of our family. I realize I am very fortunate to have all of this help, because a lot of people who suffer from chronic illness don’t have as many options as we do.
I’ve also learned the importance of asking for help; I used to be the kind of person who wanted to do everything myself."
VICKI: First, congratulations on your March 2nd participation in the "Climb to the top of the Rock" benefiting MS awareness. Would you share a bit about your experience doing the climb, and if there are any future endeavors you may have planned, or are participating in to continue educating the public about MS?
"Well, I have to first of all admit, that I didn’t actually climb to the top! I was asked to emcee the event, so I didn’t think I had time to do it. Plus, the fact that it was 66 flights of stairs had me a little scared to attempt it without proper training. I was so touched by the amount of people that came out to climb. We had many firefighters (my husband excluded- he was at home with the kids, although he offered to climb!) who did all 66 flights of stairs in their uniforms – complete with equipment that can weigh over 50 pounds!
I do have another big MS charity event coming up in September that I’ve been asked to emcee. It’s hasn’t been officially announced yet, but I will let you know when it happens!
I do hope that by making my MS diagnosis public I can make others feel like they aren’t alone, and take away some of the stigma that is attached to those of us that live with a chronic illness. A special thank you to Biogen Idec and NMSS (National MS Society) these two groups make so many great tools available if someone gets a diagnoses of having MS."
VICKI: Oh Janice, I should have realized that with you being the emcee of the "Climb to the Top of the Rock" event, time wise , it would almost have been impossible for you to actually do the climb, as well.... Sorry about that :-D It sounds like it was a great day, though , especially with so many people participating in "the climb". What fun it must have been for you to emcee the event!
It's tremendous that you shared your MS diagnosis publicly. I believe it's very encouraging to others with MS to see a television personality, as yourself, active, doing well, and moving forward each day with your family life and career. I know it must gives others with MS much comfort and reassurance.
Now, before our interview is over, I'd love to have you tell us all about your children’s book and when you had the time to write this book?
JANICE: "Thank you so much for asking! I am so proud of this Children’s Book. It’s called Freddy the Frogcaster, and it introduces kids to weather concepts. Over the years colleagues and friends have come up to me and asked my recommendations for books about weather to give to their kids for Christmas and Birthdays. I did my homework, and found out there really isn’t a lot out there for children that have a fun story line along with information about the atmosphere and the weather that affects our daily lives. Freddy didn’t come out of nowhere, though. I’ve had an idea of a children’s book with a weather theme for years. Many of the characters and the story line came to me while I rocked my youngest boy Theodore to sleep at night.
Getting “Freddy the Frogcaster” published was no easy feat. It took me several years and many storylines until I finally got it right.
And, since Freddy was so successful, I’ve already written 2 sequels that will be published this fall and next year (2015). The next book is called Freddy the Frogcaster and the Big Blizzard. The story line has Freddy forecasting a big winter storm coming through his lily pad. And then the following book will focus on a hurricane. I think Freddy can be a great teaching tool along with parents and teachers to explain why this type of weather happens, what to do and how to be prepared."
VICKI: Many thanks to you, Janice for taking time from your busy schedule for this interview. It certainly has been a real joy ! Freddy the Frogcaster, and his upcoming sequels sound like a wonderful series of books that are not only fun to read, but educational, as well. I encourage ALL of the readers to visit the link above to find out more about Freddy the Frogcaster, and be able to purchase the book. Wishing you wellness, all of the best, ongoing success, and I look forward to all of your great weather reports on the Fox New Channel.
Wendy Booker is another extraordinary woman who's adventuresome perseverance is captivating!
Wendy was diagnosed with "relapsing-remitting" MS in 1998. Her first diagnosis was overwhelming, but she was able to do a turnaround and what had been her "hobby" of "casual running" turned into an ongoing quest that rewarded her with ten completed marathons, and her most recent accomplishment…the New York Marathon !
This non-stop adventurer's next escapade was mountain climbing, and in 2004 at 48 years old, claimed the honor of being the first person with MS to stand on top of the highest peak in North America…Denali!
Forging forward, Wendy became the first person with MS to reach the top of six of the Summits, and after two valiant efforts attempting to reach the top of Mt. Everest in 2009 and 2010, her MS presented a challenge. Wendy accepted her accomplishment and found fulfillment in climbing 6 1/2 of the Seven Summits.
Wendy's current aspiration is The Polar Trilogy ~ the North Pole, South Pole, and across Greenland! Wendy's mission, "is to always educate, motivate and encourage anyone facing a challenge in life to push through and climb on - the view from the top of the world is breathtaking." She certainly leads as a great example, and in 2011 became the first person with MS to reach the North Pole along with her team of valiant sled dogs, and in 2012 she accomplished her expedition to the South Pole!
Kudos to you Wendy for your perseverance in "seizing each moment", and taking on ventures that most of us would never dream to attempt. Congratulations for all of your successes to date, and for those that are yet to come! Health and happiness in all your explorations!
About Multiple Sclerosis: Though very aware of MS, I'd like to share some pertinent information that I received regarding this "unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system".
•"A diagnosis in most people occurs "between the ages of 20 and 50."
•"Women are diagnosed two to three times more than men."
•" Over "2.3 million people are affected with MS, worldwide."
Find out more information about :
• The New York City - Southern New York Chapter of the National MS Society-http://www.MSnyc.org
• The National MS Society- http://www.nationalMS society.org
I'd like to leave you with some thoughts from Jonathan Howard, MD when asked: "It seems that over the years, MS has become more manageable and people with MS are surviving, thriving, working and living productive lives with fewer limitations, such as eventual wheelchair confinement... as they were years ago. Would you be able to share some of the advancements that have been made to bring about a miracle such as this?"
Jonathan Howard, MD replied: "While it would not be fair to say a miracle has occurred in the field of MS, there are many new treatment options than there were several years ago. Three oral medications have been approved by the FDA and several of the older injectable therapies have been made less frequent and easier to use.
The medication Tysabri is considered the most powerful medication to slow down the course of the disease and offers an alternative for those with aggressive disease. It comes with potentially very serious side effects, but the ability to determine patients' risk for those side effects has increased dramatically. This allows patients and doctors to make more informed choices on the subject."
Jonathan Howard MD, Assistant professor of neurology and psychiatry, NYU Langone Medical Center, Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center
(•Quoted and Paraphrased information in this article was obtained from provided PR-Fact Sheets, along with images to be posted .
•Much gratitude to Janice Dean for the wonderful answers to my questions, and taking the time for this interview!
•Thanks to sponsors of the "Climb to the Top of the Rock Event"- Biogen Idec, Delta, Genentech, Genzyme, Tishman Speyer, & Top of the Rock.)