International Day of Persons With Disabilities is a United National resolution that aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and show support for equity and well-being for persons with disabilities. Members of the Full-Time MBA community who have disabilities have been willing to demonstrate how to be better advocates by sharing their stories and experiences and explaining disability etiquette.
In this Q&A, we’ll hear from second-year MBA student Adam Rose about his experience as a person with a disability.
Broad News: Please share your story with us as it relates to how you came into utilizing a wheelchair for mobility.
Rose: I’m always glad to share my story. I was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 4. The type of cancer that I had was common in children ages 4 to 8, called acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Once diagnosed, I had to begin chemotherapy. Whenever you go through chemotherapy, a needle is injected into your spinal cord region for treatment. During chemotherapy, I had a negative reaction to the drugs being used for my treatment. The nerves around my spinal cord were fried or damaged that basically severed the nerve connection, and I was paralyzed just below the waist down. I couldn’t move my legs.
Given that this happened when I was 4 years old and now I’m 28, I don’t have as many memories before that time, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. People I know who are also disabled — most of them got injured in the middle of their lives. They had a life before being disabled. I could only imagine the challenge in that. For me, I think it’s more beneficial that I was diagnosed in early childhood and that I don’t remember a life before losing my ability to move my legs. I think it would have been more difficult to change and adjust to life versus this (being in a wheelchair) is all that I’ve ever known. I’ve always been in a wheelchair and have had to face challenges when dealing with that.
Broad News: Who are your strongest supporters?
Rose: My parents are my greatest supporters and are the reason why I became who I am today.
Broad News: At what point did you or your parents notice a difference/change in your health?
Rose: When dealing with a child, cancer is a very monumental thing. My dad had to make frequent trips to take me to the hospital for treatment. I was going to the University of Michigan Hospital, which has phenomenal doctors and nurses. They literally saved my life.
I remember when the paralysis side of things began to happen right in the middle of my cancer treatments and I began to stumble and not be able to use my legs, and the paralysis eventually affected my upper body. My parents knew immediately that something was wrong, and they took me to the hospital. Doctors immediately stopped the cancer treatment. This was a concern. When you stop cancer treatments, it allows for the cancer to potentially come back, and once cancer comes back, it’s even harder to combat. Harder than the initial treatment.
Broad News: That had to be difficult news for you and your parents. I’m sure those were also tough decisions to make. What did your parents do?
Rose: Yeah, it was pretty scary from my parents’ perspective and at that time I was paralyzed from the neck down. My mom worked at the hospital and was an occupational therapist. After understanding what was going on with my spine, doctors told my parents that there was nothing more that they could do for me. Either I was going to recover or I was not. Doctors asked my mom if she knew CPR in case I stopped breathing and if she could help resuscitate me if needed — that was a really scary moment for my parents. Eventually I did recover in my upper body. However, I basically grew up being in a wheelchair.
Broad News: Having overcome each challenge in your health and transitioning to a different way to be mobile, what would you say kept you motivated?
Rose: There’s still a lot of things that you can do with losing the ability to use your legs and utilizing a wheelchair. Sports were a big thing for me growing up. I played wheelchair basketball and did hand cycling and was very competitive in both of those sports. I played wheelchair basketball in junior high and high school and began competing at a very high level in hand cycling, so much so that I competed in marathons and races.
Broad News: I believe that whenever an attribute, be it physical or social, is disabled or no longer able to be used, a new or enhanced skill set is built. Almost like receiving a new “superpower.” What superpowers have you gained as a result?
Rose: I participated in sports and won the Detroit Free Press Marathon, ultimately developing in me at that time a sense of competition. I’m a highly competitive, highly motivated individual. Sports is what started that, and I learned how to develop that competitive nature.
I can be outwardly competitive with people; however, I learned how to channel it internally, with school being a great example. If I’m doing a test or studying, I’m always competing with myself to achieve. I think it’s important to continue to improve and to continually challenge yourself to set goals.
Broad News: How well are you able to navigate utilizing your wheelchair here at MSU?
Rose: I usually do not have any issues with my wheelchair in the Minksoff Pavilion. This new building, and MSU overall, has done a great job with providing accessible spaces. It’s the older buildings at MSU that may be a bit more of a challenge. I will say that the parking garage across from Minksoff, at times, the elevator doesn’t work and can cause a bit of a problem.
Broad News: What causes are you most passionate about?
Rose: Childhood cancer is a cause that I’m passionate about, from both a parent’s and a child’s perspective. More so from the parent’s perspective. As a child, you really don’t know the significance of what you’re experiencing and how life-threatening the situation really is. It’s tough for a child but it’s really, really challenging from the parent’s perspective because of the amount of awareness of the seriousness of childhood cancer.
Broad News: Lastly, what would you say to someone who may be experiencing a life change and that has transitioned to utilizing a wheelchair for mobility?
Rose: It may be a cliché, but live every day to the fullest, as if it was your last. Your life can change in an instant. It’s hard and it takes a strong mindset to move forward. Overcoming that negative mindset is important. Acknowledge that the feeling or thought is there, but combat those thoughts and focus on what you can do now.
Technology is so amazing today where there have been developments with wheelchairs and what they can do. So, if someone was heavily involved in sports, I would talk with them about the Paralympics or wheelchair basketball. I also think it’s important to surround yourself with positive people. There’s still so much in life that you can do!