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Lakes area native thrives despite MS diagnosis

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Emma Palm is not the kind of person to let a little unexpected life-change get her down.

She’s tough. And she can prove it.

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Palm, 22, just completed her third year at North Dakota State University (NDSU) while carrying a full load of classes as a dietician major with a minor in psychology.

She also a captain for the university’s competitive dance team — a commitment that comes with practice six days a week, seven months out of the year.

“Yeah, I guess I’m pretty busy,” Palm said.

Oh, and Palm also has multiple sclerosis.

Palm was diagnosed with the disease in December 2011 after suffering some minor eye pain. An MRI showed Palm showed an abnormality that her doctor thought could have been a possible brain malformation, Lyme Disease or MS.

“It was the scariest thing — just not knowing,” Palm said.

On Christmas Eve 2011, Palm received her official diagnosis.

“It was surprising,” she said. “But looking back I recognize all of the symptoms.”

Palm believes her symptoms may have been present since she was about 13 or 14 years old.

Multiple sclerosis tends to present neurological symptoms that affect vision, balance, speech and other issues such as chronic pain but Palm said currently her diagnosis doesn’t affect her life too much. “Everyone is so different,” she said. Palm said her doctors don’t believe her MS is the aggressive form — it’s the relax and remitting form.

Even with her diagnosis, Palm made the decision to continue dancing — something she has done for most of her life. Palm said her mom, Donna, knew she would be a dancer from the very beginning.

“She said I was always dancing around the house,” Palm laughed. “I guess she was right.”

Palm said she has always enjoyed being active.

“I tried swimming and basketball and track,” she said. “Dance is what I stuck with.”

After graduating from Brainerd High School in 2009, Palm attended St. Thomas University before transferring to NDSU and eventually trying out for the university’s dance team — the university’s national championship winning dance team.

“I didn’t even know if I want to try out,” Palm recalled. “I saw it more as cheerleading.”

Cheerleading it is not, Palm said of her three years as a Bison dancer. “These are some of the hardest working girls I know,” she said.

The team competes in local and national competition and this year brought home a first place division one title, beating out much larger schools from around the country. “Coming from North Dakota, people think we won’t be a force to be reckoned with,” Palm said. “I think we surprise a lot of people.”

Palm said she experienced her first MS relapse last fall and found herself face to face with her potentially debilitating illness.

“The hardest thing was the emotional aspect,” she said, mentioning that the reaction of others learning of her diagnosis was one of the more difficult things she has faced.

“People just looked at me,” she said. “The just didn’t know what to say.”

Palm said her underwent steroid fusion treatment to get her symptoms under control. It was her time doing treatment that helped her bring things into perspective.

“It could be so much worse,” she said. “I have a pretty positive outlook on it — I’m healthy. I’m active.

“I’ll probably end up in a wheelchair from dancing anyway, so who cares.”

Palm’s strength comes at no surprise to her family. Her sister, 18-year-old Molly, said she is proud of her sister’s courage to live as usual despite her diagnosis.

“That’s just her style,” Molly said. “She knows she can’t do anything about it so she just does the best she can ... to stay positive and keep moving forward.”

Palm said after graduation next year she hopes to specialize her dietician career in pediatric nutrition. She said she considered studying pre-med over dietetics but decided that wasn’t for her.

“I didn’t want to be fixing things,” she said. “I wanted to be on the preventative side.”

Palm said she someday hopes to move back to the Brainerd area.

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at sarah.nelsonkatzenberger@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5879.

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