“If she can do it, I can do it.”
To 27-year-old Grafton Pritchartt, Ann Romney is an inspiration.
Like Romney, Pritchartt was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a relatively unexplained neurological condition in which the immune system attacks healthy nerve-cell coverings.
She got the news last November, when she was 26. Her form of the disease, like Romney’s, currently is in remission.
“You think, ‘She was diagnosed, she had a family, she was supporting a husband with huge aspirations, she traveled the nation doing a campaign,’” Pritchartt, deputy director of a political action committee in Washington, D.C., said.
This week, she got to meet Romney in Arlington, Va., at a book signing for “In This Together,” a book Romney says is intended for those who are suffering.
“In This Together” marks Romney’s third foray into publishing. She previously released “Whatever You Want to Be,” a book of advice for young men and women, and “The Romney Family Table,” an anecdote-filled cookbook.
Neither work takes readers deep into the “very dark, very lonely” days right before and directly after Romney’s MS diagnosis, nor her decades of work to stay healthy and raise money for a disease that threatened her ability to get out of bed in the morning.
“I wanted the book to be as honest as I could make it so that [readers] would be able to understand how difficult this is to go through,” Romney says, referring to her 1998 diagnosis. “And so I intentionally, you know, bared my soul a little bit.”
Bare her soul she did: the book covers everything from the moment directly after his wife’s diagnosis that a devastated Mitt Romney asked doctors how the pair might remain intimate to the angst caused by a Christmas season with her children and grandchildren that Ann—who describes forgoing a career to be the ultimate stay-at-home mom—essentially had to skip out on due to exhaustion.
“[I want people to know] it’s OK to go through those feelings. It’s OK to feel the despair and the discouragement,” she says. “But then you have to realize that we are all in this together, and there is hope.”
Romney began writing the memoir after the 2012 election season, when husband and Republican nominee Mitt lost a second attempt at securing the presidency.
“The book takes you through the years I struggled to get more energy. I am strong now and I’m well now and that is the reason I’m doing this. You don’t have to think that you’re going to be permanently that way. You can fight though these things,” Romney says.
Since her diagnosis, Romney has been treated by some of the pre-eminent neurologists in the country, including Boston’s Howard Weiner, slowly discovering and blending together a mix of scientific and alternative therapies, including horseback riding, that work for her.
She details that journey in her memoir, acknowledging how fortunate she believes she is to have regained feeling in her torso and left leg after an aggressive steroid treatment caused her MS attack to retreat.
“Everyone is carrying a burden, and we can’t always see it,” Romney says. “MS was a cruel teacher, and it’s not like I’m grateful I had it, you’re never grateful for that, but I have to say that it taught me a lot. You have to recognize that life has challenges and none of us can escape those challenges.”
Last October, Romney announced the creation of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases, which will open at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston in 2016. The center will research treatments for diseases like MS in addition to more aggressive, untreatable diseases like Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) and Alzheimer’s.
Romney calls both diseases “horrible” and “a death sentence” when compared to MS.
Still, she knows her body could turn on her again.
“There are advances being made all the time and that’s encouraging for someone like me that is a little fearful of when that shoe will drop again,” Romney says, acknowledging that her disease could grow more aggressive at any time. “It’s still important to try to fund and help promote the research.”
While she intends to finish her book tour, which next stops in Winchester, Mass., and stay active in the fight for funding for neurological disease research, there’s one fight she’s happy to be out of: the 2016 election.
Asked if they have any reservations about choosing to forgo a third campaign, she remains firm.
“Mitt and I are really grateful for the opportunity that we had, to see the country and to have been involved, and we’re still involved and watching it carefully, but every day we are so grateful that we are not in this race,” she says. “We know we made the right decision not to get in.”