How Cisco Stepped Up When I was Diagnosed with MS

    You never know when life will throw you a curveball. Two and a half years ago, I had just started a new role at Cisco and was getting off a plane in Denver, Colorado to meet my new team at an offsite. It was a time of change and excitement.

    There was just one inconvenient concern. Before the trip, I had experienced vision problems in my right eye — first blurriness, then double vision. A visit to the optometrist had proven inconclusive.

    According to the optometrist, I had 20/20 vision and was fine. I wasn’t convinced.

    I pushed for the optometrist to let me see an ophthalmologist, who did a more thorough evaluation and recommended an MRI. But there was no time to schedule the MRI before my trip to Colorado.

    I Didn’t See It Coming

    Once I landed in Denver, full of excitement for my first offsite with my team, my vision suddenly got worse – I couldn’t even see in front of me.

    I knew at once something was seriously wrong and headed straight to the ER. The doctor suspected neurological damage — caused by either a tumor or multiple sclerosis (MS).

    It was in that Denver ER that I was diagnosed with MS and my life changed forever.

    The Cisco Family Steps Up

    Initially, I thought I could finish the offsite, but the ER doctor sent me to see a neurologist in my hometown of San Jose. When I messaged my new manager to say I couldn’t attend the offsite, not knowing what to expect – I got my first taste of the incredible support my Cisco family would give in the ensuing months.

    My new manager dropped everything and showed up at the ER with her fiancé and a bag filled with snacks.

    That support continued back in San Jose. A fellow employee who had been diagnosed with MS years earlier gave me invaluable advice. A former team member sent out an email offering support, copying directors and vice presidents on the message.

    Later, I also met Cisco’s Crystal Hawks, Executive Communications Manager, who also teaches meditation and yoga to people in 12-step addiction recovery programs. Crystal encouraged me to share my story further  after recently writing her “We Are Cisco” story about homelessness.

    Seeing the selfless support from my Cisco family and my own family was tremendously comforting at that time. I’m pleased to say I’ve continued working at Cisco since my diagnosis.

    The Mindfulness Factor

    Many people living with MS have found their quality of life enhanced by factors such as diet, exercise, and healthy behaviors and relationships. Spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being have also proved to be essential.

    MS is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the mind and body.

    In particular, it attacks what’s called the myelin sheath, a protective layer that surrounds nerve fibers. It’s like when your cellphone cord gets damaged — it can lead to faulty signals that result in optic or mobility issues.

    My diagnosis has driven me to do a better job of managing my mental health, cardiovascular health and stress. In particular, I’ve found “mindfulness practices” such as meditation to be helpful.

    Mindfulness can be as simple as pausing when taking a walk or before a meal. It’s about moment-to-moment awareness and the practice of being present. I still get caught up in stress at times, but there’s more awareness now. I don’t get sucked into the external elements as easily.

    Rallying Behind Bike MS

    I wasn’t going to let my diagnosis define me, and have since decided to volunteer and raise awareness and funds for research into MS.

    I am co-captain of Cisco’s Bike MS team in San Jose and am trying to build ridership for the Sonoma Valley ride this September. The ride comprises loops of various distances — from 20 miles to 40, 80, and 100 miles. This is something all Cisco employees can help to support too!

    You don’t even have to ride a bike to help. Volunteers can also raise funds as virtual cyclists or can help set up team tents and so on.

    Even more so, the cause is close to Chuck’s heart. He has tweeted in support of Bike MS in the past.

    An Invisible Disease

    Although the cause of MS remains a mystery, much has been learned about the disease as well as treatment options. MS is different for everybody and does not always manifest in ways that are obvious or visible. Just because you’re not physically disabled doesn’t mean you’re not dealing with chronic issues such as fatigue, numbness, and brain fog.

    That’s why it’s important to cultivate empathy with one’s peers. People suffering from MS, or other debilitating diseases, need to be able to share without fear of discrimination. For that, an environment of trust and understanding is key – and I know I’ve found that here at Cisco.

    There’s a saying about how to handle unpredictable events: When life throws you a curveball, grab a bat and swing! I’ve been swinging since I got my diagnosis — and I’ve hit a couple of home runs.

    I’ve been able to get a much better handle on aspects of my well-being that I previously neglected. In that sense, this diagnosis has been a blessing in disguise. A large part of that is thanks to the support I’ve received from family, friends, and my co-workers at Cisco.

    Want to join a company that cares? We’re hiring. Apply now.

    Want to volunteer with our Cisco Bike MS team? Please email [email protected].


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