Carolyn Cannistraro

Aug 1, 2019

Head shot of Carolyn Cannistraro wearing black turtleneck smiling for camera

On a bright sunny spring morning, I woke up and the left side of my body went numb. Then, I lost the vision in my left eye and my ability to write. I felt terrified. But I pushed past it. I could outrun this, I thought. Then, slowly, my symptoms got worse, and I was left no choice but to acknowledge to myself that my body was betraying me.

Seven months later, on a bitter cold December evening, I received a phone call from my neurologist. He brusquely stated that I had multiple sclerosis and hung up. As I stood there, 23 years old in shock and disbelief, I thought that my life was over. However, being the driven person that I am, I knew the show had to go on.

But I made a decision to keep my diagnosis to myself forever. I didn’t want to burden anyone with my fears, and I feared that friends, colleagues, and people in the community would treat me differently. As an employee at a global financial institution, I’ve kept my diagnosis to myself for 12 years—until now.

That ever present question of ‘Why me’ suddenly turned into why NOT me? Wow, that was a powerful thought: why not me? I understood that as I addressed my diagnosis, I had not just a challenge, but also an obligation with my life. Carolyn Cannistraro Assistant VP, Banker , Global Financial Institution

That ever present question of ‘Why me’ suddenly turned into why NOT me? Wow, that was a powerful thought: why not me? I understood that as I addressed my diagnosis, I had not just a challenge, but also an obligation with my life.

I realized that  I could be of service to others, if I bravely shared my story and inspired people to keep on fighting. I knew, though, that the first step was to come clean with myself. I needed to give up blaming myself and feeling ashamed of myself. I needed to stop feeling embarrassed and inferior about having multiple sclerosis. As human beings, we often judge each other by first impressions, and as a result we sometimes miss a lot. By hiding my diagnosis, I was perpetuating many of the myths about people with disabilities. I hope that, by sharing my story, I can help combat them instead.

Carolyn participating in a ballroom dancing competition

Since my diagnosis, I have achieved success in the business world and won professional awards. Currently, I work for a world-renowned financial institution helping clients make their financial dreams come true. In my spare time, I have volunteered mentoring young women and have been a guest speaker on a weekly business radio talk show. During the holiday season, I sang with The New Chorale Society and at Carnegie Hall with Mid-America Productions (I’m a classically trained mezzo-soprano singer). Professionally, to challenge myself even further, I sat for the licensing examinations for the financial services industry and was recruited by a top wall street firm. In addition, I became a certified EMT, established a newsletter, write poetry, have pursued my dream as a ballroom dancer, and recently participated in my first New York Road Runners Race in Central Park, completing the one mile walk in personal record time.

Today, I live joyously, industriously, and vigorously. I wish to be an example through grace, dignity, and equanimity. I arm myself with courage and self-possession. I invite all people, but especially those with disabilities, to embrace the hand we’ve been dealt and to play that hand unapologetically! To refrain from being defined by our circumstances, and create from them a life that inspires. Be unafraid. Be who you are.

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