Saturday, December 7, 2002 Posted: 12:02 PM EST (1702 GMT)
By Kat Carney
CNN Headline News
Talk-show host, actor and director Montel Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. Faced with a debilitating disease, Williams found strength to turn a misfortune into something positive.
For 11 years Williams has challenged his viewers to see life from a different point of view...And then in 1999, he came face-to-face with one of the biggest challenges of his life.
"I probably started having my initial symptoms back when I was in the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, back in 1980," he recalls. "Then after that, every year, every two years, I would cycle through some really weird severe pain in my feet, in my shins, and sometimes in the back of my leg."
Williams is describing what would later be diagnosed as relapsing, remitting multiple sclerosis -- an autoimmune disease in which the body's defense system attacks the protective layers of fatty tissue surrounding nerve fibers. The damage can then result in scarring or sclerosis.
There is no cure for MS but that hasn't discouraged Montel Williams. In 1999, he formed the Montel Williams MS Foundation, which is sponsored in part by a manufacturer of multiple sclerosis medications. He later filmed several public service announcements to bring awareness to the disease.
Williams admits that the decision to go public with his disease was not actually his own. "I would not have become public had I not known that there was an unscrupulous person working in the medical industry who was prepared to sell information about me to a tabloid that probably would have put it on the front cover."
"It was tough," he continues, "I was very much afraid that by coming forward it was going to affect my career. That's what I was worried about. And that's exactly what happened."
Williams says that this was due to many misconceptions about people with multiple sclerosis. "Not every person with MS is disabled to the point where they can't communicate or function. I'd like to try and start making people think differently about is that when they hear someone has MS they don't automatically stereotype them into some picture."
One thing is for sure -- Montel Williams certainly doesn't fit the stereotypes. In addition to his talk show, Williams is an actor, author, film director and athlete. He also never misses a chance to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis. In addition to keeping up with his guests and audience of his nationally syndicated, daily talk show, the Montel MS Foundation is No. 1 on his agenda.
Montel says he always feels like he's, "on the campaign trail, but that's
what it's about."
© 2002 Cable News Network LP, LLLP