Lizelle Mendoza: Young, Vibrant & Living Life to the Fullest
Imagine waking up one day with a large black spot in your eye. For many living with MS, this is a familiar experience. However, for Lizelle Mendoza, it was a little bit different; she was only 11 years old when it happened to her.
For years, Lizelle and her family had no idea what was wrong. Her blurry vision would stop her from playing sports; she was timid and cautious. “As I kid, I wouldn’t try new things because I thought my vision would blur and stay like that forever,” she says.
It wasn’t until she turned 18 that they finally received an answer for her symptoms: relapsing-remitting MS. “The moment someone said ‘you have MS’ I thought my life was over,” she recalls. “I was 18. This was supposed to be the time when you get to know yourself; this is when you’re supposed to find yourself.”
Lizelle has always lived in Winnipeg, but her parents immigrated from the Philippines prior to raising their family. MS is not very common in the Asian culture, and Lizelle’s family did not have any other family members living with MS. Plus, MS research for children wasn’t as robust as it is now. Therefore, the learning curve for her entire family to understand this disease was quite large. At the beginning, there was a lot of denial about the disease and reinforcement of the limitations she thought she had. “The traditional Filipino culture does not believe in Western medicine,” Lizelle says. “My mom is very spiritual and didn’t trust it.”
Also on the heels of the diagnosis, came the feeling of being tied down. “Everyone, myself included, said ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that,” she says. But then something changed. As she grew into herself, Lizelle started making more of her own decisions and taking control of her own health. Her family learned about MS medication alongside her, and they became knowledgeable together. They now wholeheartedly support Lizelle’s decision to take disease modifying therapies and encourage her to live her life with no limits. “My family and friends basically said that I was doing fine before the doctors said anything,” says Lizelle. “They encouraged me to live my life the way I always had, and I agreed. I refused to let this diagnosis stop me.”
Due to the relapsing-remitting cycle of her MS, Lizelle often forgets that she even lives with the disease. However, there are moments when she is reminded. “When I’m working out, there’s a split second where, all of a sudden, my eyes will blur, but then it will clear up,” she says. “My body is telling me to slow down, so I do – and then I get right back up again.”
Now 26 years old, Lizelle is in her second year of nursing, a career choice that directly stems from living with multiple sclerosis. “I’ve been in the hospital more times than anyone else in my family,” she says. “The care that the nurses give me and the knowledge that they have inspires me.”
Lizelle describes herself as the essential “girly-girl.” She loves movies and make up, but most of all, she loves to laugh. Anyone who meets her would also describe her like this. She always has a smile on her face and radiates positive energy. When asked what her secret is, she says that she treats every day like a gift. “You never know what’s going to happen,” she says. “So, just go with it.”
She didn’t always feel this way though; Lizelle had to learn it herself. “MS was a blessing in disguise,” she says. “Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t know what I’m capable of and I wouldn’t be as close to my family.”
Through her journey with MS, Lizelle has become an active volunteer with the MS Society. When she was first diagnosed, she didn’t want to admit that she was living with MS. However, with the help of the Society, she slowly opened up. She created an MS Walk team, Team Faith, and also began volunteering. In 2011, Lizelle became an MS Amassador and in 2012, she became a member of the Newly Diagnosed support group. “The MS Society has helped me become more confident,” she says. “I’m learning new things about MS, about the Society, and about myself.”
At the beginning of her journey with MS, Lizelle was self- conscious about the stigmas attached to the disease. However, with new research, more education and media, she feels that’s changing. It’s been five years since her diagnosis, and she no longer worries about stereotypes. “Just because someone puts a label on you doesn’t mean you can’t be who you are,” she says. “Live your life with no limitations. Persevere, be honest with yourself, and good things will happen.”