A year ago, Sidney Sterling’s life changed dramatically. The Palmetto High School senior was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The MS Society describes it as an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body.
Sterling found out about the disease when she went to a competitive cheerleading event in Orlando and the whole right side of her body went numb. She went to Baptist Hospital, where the bad news was delivered. Since then, she has been accepted into the MS program at the University of Miami. “I’m really lucky to be a patient at UM, not everyone gets in,” she says. “I don’t go numb any more.
I’m on a great medication and it’s really amazing.”
Looking back, Sterling says she thinks that heat brought on the MS symptoms.
“When I’m in extreme heat, I feel extreme fatigue,” she says.
Initially, doctors at Baptist Hospital told her she would have to give up cheerleading.
“It was really hard because I’ve been cheerleading since I was six,” she says, adding that she has been cheering competitively at Top Gun. “I said I’m not going to let this get me down. I’m not going to stop.”
However, the doctors at the UM clinic encouraged her to continue cheering.
“I was able to keep cheering at Top Gun and Palmetto; I feel better when I’m cheering,” she says. “I haven’t had any flare-ups. I’ve never been in a better physical and emotional state.”
This year Sterling is the cheer team captain at Palmetto. She has been on the World’s Team at Top Gun and has a championship ring to prove it. Her goal is to cheer in college.
“My dream is to cheer at a great school with sports and a Jewish population,” she says.
In college, she plans to major in social relations/communication, combining social media and journalism. She says she would love to attend her dad’s alma mater, the University of Texas in Austin. She also plans to apply to the University of Florida, Wisconsin, Indiana University, the University of Georgia and the University of Miami. Her interest in a more modern form of journalism stems from being the Internet copy editor for the school paper.
“I’m in charge of editing the online stories and the social media,” she says.
Outside of school, Sterling volunteers with the UM MS program to help raise awareness about MS and to help draw in younger people to the fundraising efforts.
“I climbed on board six months ago; it took me a while to get into the mindset that I want to help people,” she says. “This disease wasn’t meant to be a disability, but a chance given to me to help people and make a difference in this community. Being one of the youngest cases in Miami, I can really inspire other people. I have my whole life ahead of me with this disease and I’m not going to let it define me.”
Currently, Sterling is organizing a dinner event scheduled for Nov. 19 at Saks Fifth Avenue when she will give a speech.
“I’m the spokesperson for the pediatric unit. I help them with ideas,” she says. “It’s a group effort. They have let me in. It’s preparing me for the future when I have a job like that when I’ll be coordinating events.”
Sterling says she is able to do it all with the support of her parents.
“It’s been hard on them,” she says.
By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld