Cathy Chester | An Empowered Spirit

Changing The Face Of Disability Into The Face Of Ability And How Hollywood Helped Us Change It

I have never been invisible.  Not before my diagnosis or after.  I have a voice.  I have opinions.  And these days my dance card is as full as ever.

dreams and aspirations

I want to use my voice to make a difference in the world.  I want to change the face of disability into the face of ability.

Anyone with an illness, from asthma to cancer to every ailment in between, is the same person they were before their diagnosis.  Our dreams, aspirations, hopes and ideas remain unchanged.

The only difference is how we make our dreams come true.

Having an illness doesn’t change who we are.  Seconds before our diagnosis and moments afterward only changes the physical part of us.  It will not, and should not, change the core of what makes us uniquely who we are.

Research. Learn. Rail against mediocrity in all forms, and against anyone trying to tell us that we can no longer be the person we once were.

We must now be our own best advocates, and our own best friends.

map of the world

We must trust our instincts and hold tight to our dreams, because together they will point the way toward achieving a life that still matters.  The map may look  different, but the destination is the same.

We must always remember to keep our eye on the prize.

I recently began watching the serial drama “The West Wing” that originally aired on television from 1999 – 2006.  Primarily set in the West Wing of The White House, it gives us an inside look at the day-to-day operations of the President of the United States and his senior staff.

It was the first time a main character of a popular weekly program had the same affliction I have, and the first time it was accurately portrayed.

Hollywood finally got it right.

Josiah Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen) was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis.  His wife, chief of staff and physician quietly managed his grueling, stressful schedule to stave off any exacerbations from his MS.

This fictional character portraying the most powerful man in the free world had a disability.  He was a brilliant, vibrant and compassionate character, and although he was fictional, an important message was conveyed to audiences about having a disability:

Living with a disability is not the sum total of who you are.  It is what you do with your abilities that define you and brings value to you and to the world. 

My road map has changed many times over the years.  I’ve been bruised, battered and kicked around by my illness.  And every time I was knocked down, I became stronger with a new resolve to do the best I can within my abilities.

Like Josiah Bartlet, I choose to bring value to myself and to the world.

I write about the roadblocks I’ve encountered and overcome as a way of empowering others to do the same.  Together, we will change the face of disability into the face of ability by doing what we do best – being ourselves.

We are not invisible.  We have opinions. And our dance cards will be always be filled.

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31 thoughts on “Changing The Face Of Disability Into The Face Of Ability And How Hollywood Helped Us Change It

  1. Helene Cohen Bludman

    This is a conversation that needs to continue, and you as the messenger have a powerful voice, Cathy. Your positive attitude is so inspirational and relevant to all of us, beacause who doesn’t have a disability of some sort- physical, emotional, social, etc.? Proud to be your friend and so grateful for the lessons you have taught me.

    1. Post author

      Thanks, Helene. We all have something at some time in our lives that affects us physically or emotionally. Unfortunately we can’t escape it. You are so right in saying finding our abilities is relevant to everyone. Everyone.

      I am equally proud to be your friend, Helene. You are always an inspiration in WHO you are!


    1. Post author


      Wow! Thanks so much for that lovely comment.

      I hope you know I feel the same about you. I am very proud to be your friend!

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I love hearing from you.


    1. Post author

      Oh, I love that Pat! It does not define us but refines us. (Very poetic, too!)

      Thanks for sharing that with me. I am so glad you enjoyed my post.


  2. Estelle Sobel Erasmus

    Just beautiful. I love this “We must now be our own best advocates”. I believe that is so true in life, whether one has a disability or not. Keep using your voice so that others may gain their own.

    1. Post author

      Absolutely true, Estelle. Everyone has to be their own best advocate because, in life, we all have something physically or emotionally that we must pay attention to. We have to advocate for our children, and for ourselves. Always.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with me. I sincerely appreciate it.


  3. Walker Thornton

    Wonderful summation of what it must mean to live with a chronic illness or disability. I loved West Wing and watched eagerly, wondering how the MS would be handled, knowing my husband had similar struggles.
    One of the most powerful things my ex said about his disease was that it would not define him. He was not his disease and though that thinking could feel extreme at times, it gave him power over his condition and allowed him to continue in that career and lifestyle.
    Thank you for sharing your story, I know it helps others to see your truly empowered spirit and journey.
    Walker Thornton recently posted…The Brave New World of Sex Education and Sex BloggingMy Profile

    1. Post author

      ,Thanks for sharing what I am sure is a painful memory, Walker. But I am glad you and your ex enjoyed the TV show and that he found his own strength to not allow MS to define him. Wonderful inner strength.

      Thanks for sharing your story with me. It is very meaningful.


  4. Maritza Martinez

    Cathy, you will never stop surprising me! You are a gifted writer because you draw your reader in and hold him or her there until you’ve said what needs to be said. Even though I was apparently okay with my own diagnosis of Myasthenia Gravis, you have no idea how inspired I’ve become after reading your articles over and over. Thanks and blessings for all your abilities and for the disability that made them shine the way they do.

    Maritza Martinez recently posted…FootstepsMy Profile

    1. Post author


      You couldn’t have said anything nicer to me. What a lovely thing to say about my writing. Your opinion means a lot.

      Myasthenia Gravis is difficult, as any diagnosis is. I am glad you are finding inspiration in my words. That is exactly what I want to do – paying it forward to others. I hope you are doing and feeling well, and that you are finding peace within yourself.

      Blessings to you as well and the way you also shine through your words.


    1. Post author

      Thanks, Haralee. I was so glad they got it right this time! The writers and actors did a fabulous job.

      Thanks for leaving your comment.


    1. Post author

      Thanks for the lovely compliment, Connie. I am loving “The West Wing” and enjoy watching the “inside” story of The White House. Some of the writers, like DeDe Myers and Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr. served on the staff in The White House, so you know it’s based on facts. Fascinating.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.


  5. Sheryl

    Cathy – I applaud you for speaking out. People need voices like yours. My opinion differs a bit; I think an illness/disability DOES change a person…but not in a bad way. It makes a person more resolute, more grateful, more passionate and more aware. And in a way, it makes many people better than who they were before, if you’re able to learn the ‘right’ things from challenges.

    1. Post author

      That is what I meant, Sheryl, when I said my resolve is stronger each time I get knocked down. Just as yours is. It makes us stronger, more compassionate, and more aware of each other’s frailties.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me. I always love reading what you have to say.


    1. Post author

      Thanks, Lois. Here’s a virtual toast to us always keeping our dance cards full!

      (If anyone asks me what a dance card is, I’ll know they ARE young!)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts~

  6. Lisa_GrandmasBriefs

    This is really interesting. I’ve never watched West Wing and had no idea Martin Sheen’s character had the same kind of MS as us. Hmmm…! I may watch an episode or two now.

    I have to admit that MS *did* change me, but only in that it made me more determined to accomplish things others might think I may be unable to accomplish because of the disease. And it made me stop being a perfectionist (well, on most things). So it did change me, but for the better, I think.

    Great post. Got me thinking.
    Lisa_GrandmasBriefs recently posted…My grandson the hypnotistMy Profile

    1. Post author


      Yes, it changed you for the better. To be more determined now that you ever were for your sake, and for your husband, kids and grandchildren. You bet, Lisa, that you have changed for the better. (And you were pretty darn good, I am SURE, before you had it!)

      You should watch “The West Wing”, but, of course, I love politics so I love watching it.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


  7. Pingback: Gimpy Days | The Musings of a Digital Vagabond

  8. Ms. CrankyPants

    Hi, Cathy — I really enjoyed your guest post on Stumbling in Flats and wanted to pop by your blog. Loving it!

    I never knew there was a character with MS on The West Wing; I’ll have to check it out! It’s always nice to see Hollywood “get it right,” as you noted.

    1. Post author

      I am so glad you enjoyed my post enough to jump on over here. I hate to first meet you and call you Ms. Cranky Pants, so I’ll just say welcome!

      I’ve been watching “The West Wing” on Instant on Netflix. You should check it out. I also love politics (though not politicians) so I love the “feel” of being inside The White House.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  9. KymberlyFunFit

    One of my longest and dearest friends has MS. She has had some serious downs and challenges. And she has won a national sports competition, been named an nspirational leader for an organization that covers 82 countries, and managed to be a loving mom and wife. Highs and lows. Highs and lows. Kind of sounds like life regardless of ability status, eh? Keep it up Cathy as you are helping those who come behind, alongside, and ahead!
    KymberlyFunFit recently posted…Exercising with FibromyalgiaMy Profile

    1. Post author

      Thanks you so much for sharing that with me, Kymberly. She sounds like an amazing person and so inspirational.

      Yes, MS, like life, is ups and downs; downs and ups.

      Thank you for what you said, Kymberly. Your thoughts mean a great deal to me.

      Best to you always~

    1. Post author

      What a lovely thing to say, Elin. I sincerely appreciate it, and I thank you for reading my post.

      Have a wonderful weekend~

  10. Amanda Fox

    You are one of the most positive, uplifting people I know. I am glad to call my friend. Someday we shall meet in person, and I shall hug you, and say,”Cathy, how did you get so damn smart?”

    Hugs to you. Keep doing what you do. 🙂
    Amanda Fox recently posted…Dancing For His DinnerMy Profile

    1. Post author

      Oh, Amanda, you just made my day! Thank you so much for your kind words. When you hug me, I’ll be hugging you right back. But since you’re in better shape than me….

      I hope we do meet someday, eh? We live clear across the country (and then some up to Canada) so I hope we can make that happen!

      Thanks for reading my blog, my friend,

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