Blair’s rumba performance in week three, which she did with a blindfold on, is a particularly “great example of how MS can be so overwhelming on our senses,” Murray said. Blair told People that the blindfold helped “buffer” the sensory overload from her surroundings as she focused on the movements and choreography.
The week prior, Blair performed a jive during which she lost control of her left leg toward the end, she said in an Instagram post in September. “I cried for a moment after with frustration because I was so prepared. I know the dance!” Blair wrote. “But my body did what bodies can do (especially with MS) and the show went on.”
“No one sees the focus it takes for her to maintain the balance or coordination when dancing, not to mention the energy it uses,” Murray said. “Multiple sclerosis is an invisible illness, and the fact she has brought so much attention and understanding to an illness most people don’t know much about — we will never as a community be able to thank her enough.”
Murray continued: “I’m glad she put herself and her body first. As sad as it is that she had to drop out of the competition, she will always be a winner to us.”
Blair’s DWTS journey meant a lot to Heather Peterson, 35, and Rebecca Johnson, 42, both of whom were dancers before the onset of their MS.
Johnson, who lives in Spain and was diagnosed with MS in 2016, told BuzzFeed News that the last time she “danced all night like [her] old self” she was bedridden for a week in excruciating pain. “The body always has the last word. … That was how I learned to respect my MS.”
“People with MS constantly have to juggle their hopes and intentions with their limitations,” Johnson said. “Selma’s decision to leave the show is as brave as her decision to join it — it shows just how strong the impact of the condition can be, which helps to spread awareness.”
While MS is treatable, it can’t be cured. The cause is unknown, but evidence so far suggests there may be certain genetic, environmental, and infectious factors that can increase the risk of the condition. For example, low vitamin D levels, smoking, obesity, geographic location, and infections with germs like the Epstein-Barr virus have been associated with greater risks of developing MS. Anyone can get MS, but it’s three times more common in women than men and is most often diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.
Like many autoimmune conditions, symptoms may flare up and subside. There are several different types of MS, but many people have times when symptoms worsen followed by relatively stable periods.
Treatments such as injectable and oral medications, as well as physical therapy, are available to help speed recovery from attacks, slow the progression of the disease, and manage symptoms.
Gena Hyde, associate vice president of communications at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, told us that Blair sharing her story on a national stage helps increase awareness and understanding of MS, “which makes the world a better place for everyone affected by the disease.”
And “the more we shine a light on the challenges of MS, the faster we can move toward a cure,” Hyde added.
“While every person’s experience with MS is different, Selma showed that MS doesn’t always have to get in the way of doing the things you love,” Hyde said. “She left us moved and inspired and we continue to root for her — both on and off the dance floor.”