Most people who have multiple sclerosis are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. Briana Landis was just four years old.
It all started with a series of headaches. “She started saying that she had headaches,” her mom, Kathi Landis, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We took to her to the pediatrician, who noticed that her optic nerve was inflamed.” Briana’s pediatrician recommended that she get a CT scan. At that time she was “in so much pain, she couldn’t put weight on her legs,” Kathi recalls. “I was afraid she’d never be able to walk again. I was really, really terrified.”
Briana was also given an MRI, which revealed that she had several lesions on her brain, a classic sign of MS. But Briana struggled to find care because many neurologists wouldn’t take her on as a patient. “They didn’t believe that a child could have MS,” Briana, who recently graduated from college, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Briana was candid about her diagnosis. “I told everyone that I had MS because I wanted to make sure that everyone knew what it was,” she says. She also became an MS activist. “We started fundraising and giving speeches right away, at age 5,” Briana says. “My goal was to say, ‘Hey—kids do get MS.”
Briana kept up that advocacy as she got older. She’s participated in several MS walks and has spoken in front of Congress about her disease twice. “I’m still meeting amazing people through MS,” she says.
An inspired career path
Briana was a biology major in college and hopes to become a doctor, a goal she says she’s had since she was little. “I used to say, ‘When I grow up, MS is going to be cured,’” she says. Briana says that it’s “sad” that MS isn’t cured yet, but she’ll “hopefully be a part of that.” Briana has already participated in undergraduate research for MS at Meredith College, which she calls “the most exciting experience ever.”
Good days and bad days
While Briana lives a largely normal life, she says she has good and bad days. “A good day with MS is a day that I don’t remember I have MS,” she says. “A bad day with MS would probably be one where I’m so tired that I don’t want to wake up or I get a bad headache.” However, she says, “most of the symptoms of a bad day can be controlled with different medications.”
Both Kathi and Briana stress that it’s possible to live a healthy, normal life with MS. “When I meet the parent of a child who has MS, I encourage them to try to set their own fears aside and to encourage their child to do whatever it is that they want to do and not to let their disease limit them,” Kathi says.
“You can have a normal life,” Briana says. “You can do everything that any other little kid can do. I’m standing here and I have MS, so you can do anything.”