Madison Russell

I refuse to let a diagnosis rule my life.
Madison Russell headshot

On a November afternoon during my second year at RIT I received a phone call that changed my life. For over a year I had been in a wheelchair going from specialist to specialist to find out why I couldn’t walk, and now I finally had the answer. I had a rare spinal cord disease, Syringomyelia, characterized by a cyst that grows inside the spinal cord. It caused a permanent spinal cord injury at T5, resulting in sensory and motor deficits from the chest down. Now I had the information I had been searching for, but it was so much worse than anything my family and I had expected.

At first I was angry at the world, angry at myself, and angry at every doctor who misdiagnosed me or said I wasn’t sick. I couldn’t understand how something like this could happen to me.

Ever since I was a child I had loved to dance, but I wondered if I would ever be able to dance again. The following spring I discovered a wheelchair dance program and threw myself into it; taking classes, training daily, and making amazing friends along the way. As I fell in love with dance again I began to wonder if maybe my life was meant to be this way, because I had found an amazing community of women with spinal cord injuries.

Talking with a therapist has helped me focus on what I can and cannot control in my life. I have decided that if I let myself get swept up in the things I can’t control, I’ll never be happy. I am determined to keep moving forward and I refuse to let a diagnosis rule my life. I still struggle with chronic pain and the inaccessibility of the world, but things are looking up and I am genuinely, truly happy.

Madison Russell

RIT 365 Peer Educator