Neither down, nor out
Genentech’s Greg Orlick has multiple sclerosis but has made it a positive influence in his life
He has been forced to make quite a few life decisions because of multiple sclerosis (MS). But they haven’t led him to give up or appreciate the joys that leading a full life bring with it. He doesn’t let his disease prevent him from living his life and preparing for the future. All of this has helped him become a better human being. It has driven him to reach out and work with other patients and help them overcome fears and doubts that he had to grapple with, and still does, along the way.
Meet Greg Orlick. He works as Thought Leader Liaison (BioOncology) in Genentech. Fifteen years ago, at just 29, he was told that he had multiple sclerosis. “My engagement fell apart a month before the wedding. I tried to carry on with my life but the stress was overwhelming. A few months later in a business meeting, I realized I was writing things on the board that were barely legible. That evening, I had problems signing the hotel ledger,” he recalls.
Getting the diagnosis
On getting home, a neighbor pointed out that the right side of his face was drooping and he rushed to the hospital. Three days later, after a series of scans and tests, he got the results. “There were cloudy spots in an image of my brain. The doctor did not confirm the diagnosis of MS until six months later when my hands started to tingle and went numb with my second relapse,” Greg says.
In the past 16 years, he has experienced many of the symptoms described in medical textbooks. From muscle spasms to going blind in one eye during a relapse and ankle pain that lasted years to very sensitive hearing that caused pain, he has been through it all.
But the symptom that he’s had to manage nearly every day is fatigue. “It is not just tiredness. It is debilitating exhaustion.” He adds that fear of being judged at work and at home forces many people to try and hide their fatigue. However, he has found ways to cope. One way he tries to combat fatigue is by staying cool, as heat can worsen MS symptoms.
Greg does not want to be reliant on others, so he’s made a few life decisions based on the progressive nature of MS. For instance, he bought a one-story house and paved the driveway because he knows most people with MS eventually need to use a walker or mobility device.
So what encourages him to move forward in life? In addition to a positive attitude, one of his biggest strengths today is his wife Sonya. Together they spend hours volunteering and supporting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Greg has worked as a patient consultant, talking to people with MS about all aspects of their illness. His work and interactions with other MS patients have been a big boon in his life. “I feel less alone and more connected. I want to help others feel connected as well.”
Greg tells myRoche that he looks at MS as the “best thing that happened to me. I’m a better husband, son and friend because MS made me appreciate all the good things that ever happened to me.”