How A Tingle In Jessica's Hand Changed Her Life Forever

"I am not a quitter, so I don’t allow my disability to define me."

Jessica Romero refuses to let her disability define her.

And she doesn't think anyone else with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) should either.

"I am not a quitter, so I don’t allow my disability to define me," Romero told ten daily.

"It’s just a part of me that is all it is -- no one's disability should define them."

Romero, 31, was diagnosed with MS in 2001 when she was just 13-years-old. The symptoms had been with her for years, a tingle in her hand, or her finger that would subside. She put off going to the doctor then when she did and was diagnosed, after a few months her symptoms subsided but in 2007 she was re-diagnosed with the illness, and this time, it really hit her.

"In 2007,  I was 17 or 18 and that was when I really went through all the stages -- anger, shock, depression and then finally I accepted it," she said. 

"Since diagnosis I have done several courses, I’ve done my Masters in property development -- my MS doesn’t stop me doing anything accept walking long distances but I am working to fix that."

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Romero says her symptoms, including intense nerve pain, difficulty walking, days where she sees in only black, white and grey and something called 'brain fog' where her mind goes blank mid-sentence, do create obstacles each day at work. She said it takes a lot of energy and strategy to function properly while at work with MS.

Romero, a property officer,  is among a growing number of Australians with MS that are staying in the work force according to a new report  commissioned by MS Research Australia and prepared by the Menzies Institute for Medical Research.

Jessica does the MS Walk every year with her family.

The report is the first major investigation into MS in eight years and chief among its findings is that while the number of Australians with MS has risen by 20 percent, the amount of people with the illness at work has also increased.

The increase in diagnosis rate is attributed to a longer life-expectancy of people with the illness and also that more people are developing the disease in the first place.

"But we don't know the exact cause for that," Head of Research for MS Research Australia Lisa Melton told ten daily. 

"There are many factors that people developing MS can have -- it can be genetic but also environmental factors can be involved like smoking, lack of vitamin D, and adolescent obesity … indoor occupations mean people are indoors and this a main driver [of lack of vitamin D]," she said. 

New treatments developed in the last eight-10 years are largely attributed to the growth of people with MS remaining in the work force. Initial treatments available in the 1990s were injectable medications, however now there are more powerful oral choices and infusions that can be taken once every month to once every six months.

The newer medications are more effective for more people.

"People who are on more highly effective medications are happy to stay in jobs. They are able to look after their families and work," Melton said.

People on more effective medications can stay at work longer. Image: Getty Images.

Melton told ten daily there are a number of ways that workplaces can assist people who have MS.

"The answer is going to be different for everyone and the symptoms can vary greatly for each individual and also for an individual over time," she said. 

"There are support services that can provide information on how to create accommodations in the workplace like having toilet facilities close to work facilitates ... like the actual physical work place and looking at temperature sensitivity -- the warmer the room the symptoms [of MS] get worse -- fatigue gets worse with an increase temperature."

Romero says she has help available to her at work, which means she can focus on getting her job done, not on her illness.

"I’m not somebody who asks for help very often, it's just my stubborn nature but when I have got to ask, plenty of people put their hand up," Romero said.

Making changes to work places can help people with MS remain at work. Image: Getty Images.

While things are improving for working Australians with MS, both Melton and Romero acknowledge that more research needs to be done to help find a cure for the disease.

Romero said helping people with MS realise working with the illness is possible is an important message.

"I'm happy I am able to spread the word to encourage people to stay in the workforce," she said.