Former FORD supermodel, Camerone Parker, has emerged as the leading powerful celebrity voice in patient advocacy for MS and treatment. Today, she delights audiences nationwide as a highly in-demand speaker, sharing her unbelievable story of being diagnosed with MS and hiding the disease in a highly competitive world of international fashion so that she could earn money to pay for treatment.
Having been featured throughout her storied modeling career in over 350 magazines, the former face of Olay has walked the runways for designers like Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani, and Bagley Mischka, to name a few. She’s been seen on billboards around the country for brands like Ralph Lauren POLO and has made appearances on “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show,” “The View” and more. But while she’s lived a very public life, she’s guarded quite the secret.
While at the highest point of her modeling career, Camerone was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Because of the costs of care-one of her medications was $65,000 a year-she chose to keep her illness a secret and continue working. Now she is passionate about helping find a cure. In that arena, it is without a doubt that she is making a real impact. Camerone has raised millions of dollars for various charities and never charges a speaker’s fee.
Women Fitness sits down with Camerone Parker to bring to you her struggles and journey through MS.
1. When did you first start seeing symptoms of MS?
Actually, I had a handful of symptoms that developed over 18 months or so before diagnosis, they weren’t present all the time and oddly would just happen, and then over time ease up. To me, these “issues” were quite easy for me to “justify”:
– Was I tired or heavily fatigued? YES! Fashion Week shows in New York-London-Milan-Paris are brutal. I was on and off airplanes almost every other day so yes, of course I’m profoundly tired… time to time.
– Did I trip or have issues with balance and/or walking? Seriously? Have you seen some of the crazy shoes I’ve had to wear on a runway?!! Many occasions backstage I’ve wiped out (“that doesn’t count” I would tell myself) Maybe a handful of slight little missteps… always blaming the shoes was my (and every model) go-to explanation.
– Vision issues? Again, easy for me to write off as travel fatigue.
– Numbness? Well yes, a 10+ hour flight… my derrière and long legs were notorious for “falling asleep.”
2. When were you diagnosed with it?
January 1998. I can still hear my Doctor’s voice as he told me, “You have Multiple Sclerosis. There is no cure…and you’ll have this for the rest of your life.”
How could this happen? How DID this happen? My doctor truly had no answers for me. Multiple Sclerosis is both an Autoimmune AND a Neurological Disease. No two patients are alike. My doctor went into great detail about Relapsing-Remitting MS – and what RRMS meant to me. Those symptoms I had excuses for was actually MS in “relapse”. Relapse could/can last anywhere from a week to several months. Our goal from that day forward was to keep the disease in ‘remission’ with the help of a powerful drug-therapy prescription.
3. What treatment do you follow to live with MS?
As I mentioned-no two MS patients are alike. What works for one patient may be disastrous for another. If one was diagnosed with MS prior to 1993, there were ZERO drug therapies available. At the time of my diagnosis – there were three FDA approved prescriptions. Today – MS patients and doctors now have 17 approved therapies with several more in the pipeline! With these positive treatment advances, oneissue still hauntingly remains… a CURE to end MS.
4. What are the day-to-day challenges that you face?
For me… the invisible impact of having MS is tough to describe. I’ve undergone two eye surgeries to save my vision (MS-related Cataracts with Intraocular Lens exchange.) Sadly, the toll of 20+ years on a steady MS drug-therapy has now left me with internal organ damage. As such, my life now depends on a cure. As heavy as all of this sounds… I stay positive and look deep inside the word “challenges.” It’s where I see the message of “heals” and ”heels!!”
5. What would be your motivational advice for someone going through the same?
You either give up…..or you GET UP.
The choice is yours. You may fall down a hundred times….a thousand times. The chance of getting up will always be there! Give up and that chance is forever gone. To get something you never had, you’ve got to DO something you never DID. Having MS, we are faced with a new challenge EVERY day.
I am enormously blessed to love and share life with an extraordinary man. He tells me every day: “Success by the inch is a cinch! By the yard….it’s hard”. It’s those dark days where that one single inch can bring such promise and a break from the storm. There is ALWAYS something rewarding in Getting Up!
6. Which medical or non-medical treatments have helped you to better cope with this condition?
This is such a great question! It actually is a balanced combination of both. My doctors have excellent communication with each other and are committed to what works best for me. Necessary prescriptions taken religiously – I use acupuncture for pain management as I cannot take pain meds. Staying laser-focused in my life walk is key. My husband Robert (McCulloch) is the BEST part of my every day! Finally – the priceless assistance of Michael Kapp. “Coach” is a licensed/certified Expert Lifestyle professional. We have 2.5 hour sessions 2-3 times a week. Workouts tailored made for my body and its varied (and sometimes odd) limitations. You’ll never see me complain about working out, Coach Kapp rounds out the best in my well-being!