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Multiple Sclerosis

Changing Cultural Narratives Around Chronic Illness: Rosa Yanez

Meet Rosa Yanez: A Tenacious MS Patient With a Deep Love for Her Community

Rosa Yanez experienced symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) for more than twenty years before she was officially diagnosed with the unpredictable disease in February 2021.  

What began as tingling in Rosa’s limbs soon grew to feel like an all-over vibration, and she soon noticed an increase in dizziness, finding herself in and out of hospitals on a regular basis. Still, with Rosa’s upbringing as a resilient Mexican American woman, none of this was intense enough to warrant alarm. Until, one day, it was.  

“I was sitting down for dinner, had finished eating, and I tried to get up but my legs were completely numb. I couldn’t move them and I couldn’t get myself up,” she said. “I just started screaming for my husband, saying ‘I can’t get up’ and freaking out because nothing like this had happened to me before.”  

After only a few physical, informal tests, the emergency room physician told Rosa that it was only sciatica, and that she could head home.  

“I had never stood up to a doctor before, but I told her no. I told her you need to do more,” Rosa said. “I didn’t know why, but I felt like it was something in my head, so I asked for a CT scan. The doctor acted very bothered by this, like I was crazy, but then she told me the test came out fine.”  

Only a few hours later, Rosa received a phone call from a neurologist. After looking over her CT scan, he had found some concerning lesions, and he wanted her to come back in for an MRI.  

“I was waiting for hours because the doctor was trying to fit my MRI in between a lot of others. While I waited, I was on my phone, Googling what ‘lesions’ meant, along with my symptoms,” she said. “I saw a description of MS and I read about its symptoms and I said, ‘Oh my god, this is me.’ It was my whole life described, right there.”  

By the time the doctors took her back for the MRI, Rosa’s nervousness had evaporated. Shortly after, she officially learned that she had MS, and that the MRI showed lesions on her brain, neck, and spine. Her lack of reaction to this news surprised the physician, but Rosa was simply relieved. She finally had an answer, after so many years of battling symptoms.  

Rosa turned to social media – namely Facebook groups and the MS Society’s Instagram page – to look for other people living with MS. However, she began to notice a concerning pattern.  

“I didn’t see any Hispanic people whatsoever, and I didn’t see anyone posting in Spanish. I began to think that maybe it’s because of our culture, because we’re taught to minimize things, to be tough, to ignore smaller symptoms,” she said. “So I made my own separate Instagram where I write about being an MS patient and being a Hispanic woman. On my regular Instagram, I see friends and family posting about good times; when I go onto my MS Instagram, I feel a little more normal because I see other people having the same daily struggles that I have.”  

Today, Rosa alternates between using a cane and a wheelchair as mobility aids. As she puts it, she has her “bad days” and she has her “worse days,” when it comes to MS symptoms. Despite these challenges, she still imagines a world where doctors and nurses are better educated in treating MS patients so that others don’t have to go through such long, arduous diagnosis journeys.  

“Because of the things that we go through, depression is very common in MS patients, and depression is something that’s not acceptable whatsoever within the Mexican community. I was raised to believe that it’s in your head, you’re fine, you’re just being lazy,” she said. “I do want to be able to talk about that part more, and to break down the belief that says it’s attention seeking to be honest about being depressed.”  

At 37-years-old, Rosa still enjoys going to Los Angeles’ car shows with her husband, but she’s also found a unique sense of belonging at annual Walk MS events.  

“It’s this world where I feel like I belong,” she said. “Every other day, I feel like I have to navigate my illness through everybody else’s world. But that day – and only that day – I feel like I can bring everybody else into my world.”  

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