As President of the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance , I want to introduce you to Janice MacGregor, International Ms Canada 2018, who has epilepsy. In keeping with our agency’s 20th anniversary we wanted to highlight individual stories this year. We hope this story will inspire you and remind you that epilepsy need not stand in the way of achievement.
My name is Janice MacGregor and I am International Ms. Canada 2018. I live in a small town just outside of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and I have epilepsy. I had my first grand mal seizure when I was 18. I was in my first year of university at the U of S and it happened in the cafeteria. I just remember feeling dizzy. The next thing I remember was waking up on the floor with two paramedics around me. I don’t remember my second, third, fourth, etc. seizures because after a while they all blur together. I had my last major seizure a few months ago and I have petite mal seizures daily. My neurologist and epileptologist have tried several medications and combinations of medications and we’re still working to find something that will work. I’m optimistic!
I feel it is important for people with epilepsy to live as full a life as is possible. I understand that there are some difficulties that come with epilepsy. I lost my driver’s license, for example, when I was diagnosed. The prescription medications leave me exhausted. And there are extra considerations regarding family planning that women using anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) have to keep in mind that other women don’t have to worry about. I’m not complaining- I realize how blessed I am to have access to AEDs in the first place. But we have to play the hand we’re dealt in life. I didn’t let my situation prevent me from graduating from university with High Honours. I was on the Dean’s List and I had an academic scholarship. I earned life-time membership in the Golden Key International Honors Society.
When I was in university I was considering becoming a pilot but after I lost my driver’s license I realized that realistically I would never get a pilot’s license. I eventually found my way in to a career that I love! I love the model and talent industry and I am so blessed to be a part of it. I come alive when I am acting on stage or in front of a camera! Being able to entertain people, take them to an alternate place away from real life, and being able to inspire discourse is rewarding. I’m a pageant girl. I was Miss Saskatchewan (I placed in the Top 15 in Miss Canada International 2007) and I was a national finalist in Miss World Canada 2008. Eleven years later I still have Pageant Fever! I’m competing in the International Ms. 2019 Pageant in Manhattan this August. I am trying to use my position as International Ms. Canada 2018 to raise epilepsy awareness and to draw attention to other causes that are dear to me such as the school in Tanzania where I am a volunteer teacher.
I feel that it is so important to NOT let a diagnosis limit our goals. People with epilepsy and parents of children with epilepsy can’t focus on limitations; rather, we should focus on potential and on finding jobs and hobbies that we enjoy and find fulfilling. I think that when people with epilepsy live full lives and strive for their goals it will help tear down the stigma and ignorance surrounding epilepsy. I’ve lost modelling and acting jobs when the client found out I have epilepsy. A couple years ago I had a national level pageant title and the night after I was crowned a pageant official said that the pageant would not send me to an international pageant since I would “just go falling down everywhere” because I have epilepsy. That was a couple years ago but this summer I will be competing in the #1 ranked Ms-division pageant in the world! I have the privilege of representing Canada in the International Ms. Pageant where I am welcome, epilepsy and all. I feel this pageant sees me as a complete person and recognizes that I am an individual with strengths and a personality and not just a diagnosis. I’ve had the pageant as well as fellow delegates Like my social media posts about epilepsy or message me their support or thank me for talking about this subject as they have a relative who also has epilepsy. There are some fantastic people in the world and I have the opportunity of meeting some of them through pageants! Sometimes people don’t recognize us as the intelligent and capable individuals that we are and they just slap the label “Epileptic” on us. But we are so much more than a diagnosis! I’ve experienced the discrimination that comes with having this chronic illness and I am fighting against it. But we need to do this together. We need to strive for our personal best in everything we do from school, work, sports, music, arts, and so forth to show our best selves. I still do have a general apprehension about how the “E-word” could influence what happens in my acting, modelling, and pageant career. Will clients assume I can’t keep up with a demanding gig? Will a pageant judge assume I would have to take more sick days than any other delegate would? Will a judge assume that I can’t manage a national or international pageant title and will they low score me? Will a director assume that my epilepsy will somehow cause production delays if they cast me? Will people assume I can’t pull my own weight during filming or a photo shoot? But I’m not going to lie about having epilepsy. I have nothing for which to be ashamed nor have I done anything for which I should be ashamed. Epilepsy just happened.
I want to end with the message saying “Never give up!” Yes, you will meet ignorant people. Try to educate them but realize that if they don’t want to be educated about epilepsy you can’t force them to learn. Never let any one make you feel inferior or like you are less of a person because you have epilepsy. And don’t waste your time asking “why me?” You have epilepsy, accept it and learn to adapt. Questioning why you have epilepsy won’t get you anywhere. I often wonder “Why NOT me?” I live in a country with socialized health care AND I have an amazing insurance package. I have a determined and persevering spirit that won’t let anything get in the way of my goals. I’d rather it be me who has epilepsy than someone who doesn’t have access to medication or someone who will simply roll over in the face of adversity. I know why I have epilepsy: God knows that I can handle this with His help and with my support system. I have epilepsy because He knows that I will be vocal epilepsy advocate. That’s my personal answer to “Why me?” And regardless of whether you believe in God, you will never be given more than you can handle. You can handle this. Find friends and family members who will support you through the tribulations that are a part of having epilepsy. And set realistic goals to which you can aspire. Accept that if you aren’t allowed to drive a car you likely won’t be racing in Daytona 500 or flying a plane. Now find something that you can be equally passionate about. You WILL find something you love. You’re future is waiting for you to find it!