While zombies invaded the Panther Trail on Oct. 26 for the 5K Zombie Run, Elyse Banovic was standing on the sidelines, holding back tears.
She’s not normally an emotional person, but when she heard the race she spearheaded to raise money for multiple sclerosis, a disease with which Banovic has been dealing for more than three years, had raised more than $2,000 -- double the amount of their original goal -- she almost broke down.
“I kind of wanted to cry when I got the word about how much money we raised,” she said. “It was a pretty emotional moment.”
It’s hard for Banovic, a senior management major and member of the women’s golf team, not to be passionate about fundraising to put an end to something that she has been fighting since even before her time at Eastern.
Banovic’s first attack with multiple sclerosis, a progressive disease most commonly characterized by the weakening of muscles, happened during her senior year of high school.
During her attack, which lasted for two months, her entire body was fatigued. She had to miss multiple days of school, and she would fall asleep while trying to do her homework. Her eyes also became red and would randomly twitch. Then, one morning, Banovic woke up to see herself cross-eyed -- and it didn’t go away for more than three months. Her eyes became so sensitive to light, it was like her “eye muscles gave out,” she said, and it forced her to wear dark-tinted sunglasses any time she went out.
The rest of her muscles didn’t get better either. When Banovic graduated from Staunton High School in May 2010, she had trouble walking to the podium during the ceremony.
“Getting to my seat was very difficult,” she said. “That was a big challenge for me.”
About a month later when Banovic came to Charleston for her summer orientation session, she could barely walk around campus. For her Panther Card picture, she still had her eyes covered and had lost so much weight that her face looked sunken in.
As her condition progressively worsened during the summer, she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to play golf, which was one of the biggest reasons she chose Eastern.
“I could hardly stand, let alone hold a golf club,” she said.
The whole time she was going through this medical nightmare, Banovic never knew what exactly was wrong with her body.
After multiple visits with doctors at Saint Louis University Hospital, she was referred to the Mayo Clinic in October 2010 for myasthenia gravis treatment, but, after an MRI of her spine, the doctors at Mayo Clinic discovered lesions on her spine -- a sign of multiple sclerosis.
Even though Banovic soon learned multiple sclerosis had no cure, she said it was almost a relief because now she could put a name to her symptoms and take steps to be preventative as possible.
“I think it’s worse not knowing, where you kind of feel like ‘I don’t know what to do,’ whereas (when) you get a diagnosis, you know what you're getting into.”
Since her diagnosis, Banovic has been on several medications, always in search of the one that will relieve her symptoms the most. After having to give herself injections every two to three days, which were painful for her and caused the injection site to swell so badly that she still has marks on her skin today, she’s now on recently-released oral medication Tecfidera. She said this medication has helped her feel the best she has since her diagnosis and could be the closest thing to a cure for MS.
“I think they’re making a lot of headway,” she said.
After long afternoon practices and all-day golf tournaments, walking around outside, especially in the heat, can take its toll on Banovic.
To keep herself cool and prevent an attack, she sometimes had to strap ice packs on herself or have her coach escort her from hole to hole in a golf cart.
Banovic said she takes “pride in just being normal,” but, sometimes, that’s simply not an option.
“I don’t try to bring it up to people, but it will come up eventually, like, ‘Why are you riding in a golf cart?’” she said.
Some of her doctors recommended her to stay inside, but her MS doctor actually encourages Banovic to continue with golf and stay active. Banovic doesn’t object.
“I’m not going to stop something I love.”
Living with MS
Now, living with MS has gotten a little easier for Banovic. She hasn’t had any attacks since her original one in high school. That hasn’t completely eased her mind, but, if anything, it makes her more acutely aware of any possible signs of an oncoming attack.
“Since it’s been three years now, it’s more in my mind, ‘Is it going to happen soon, or is it going to happen 10 years from now, or will it happen at all?’” she said.
Even if it does ever happen again, Banovic said she’s well-prepared.
“I know what it is now, so my attack won’t be as long as it was my senior year,” she said.
She’s determined to stay on her medication, stay active and still find time to look on the bright side of a situation by which most people would be defeated.
“I know (it) sounds weird, but I’m grateful to have MS because it gives me a different outlook on life. I honestly think it makes me stronger -- obviously not physical strength, but inner strength.”