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Member Spotlight: Michele Tamayo

A Resilient Mother's Journey Through Life and Loss

As we approach Mother’s Day, we are reminded of the incredible strength and resilience embodied by mothers like Michele Tamayo, a cherished member of our Adapt community since 2018, whose life narrative intertwines the challenges of motherhood with the complexities of living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

A woman with MS doing physical therapy with her trainer

Michele's life was on a high trajectory in 1986, filled with professional successes and personal joys. At 28, she had a promising and fast-paced career in management consulting and executive development, traveling across the United States to grow her business. However, life’s unpredictable nature revealed itself when Michele experienced the onset of MS symptoms on an ordinary yet fateful morning—the same date as her wedding anniversary with her husband Mario. What began as a subtle drop of a coffee cup escalated into an inability to move, marked by the terrifying grip of the "MS Hug," a symptom of MS where one feels an intense squeezing around one's torso. This incident would mark a profound realignment of her priorities, placing her health and well-being at the forefront.

The diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS soon followed, but Michele’s response to her condition was nothing short of remarkable. Initially overwhelmed, she found solace and strength in meditation and visualization techniques. Remarkably, after a tough six-month battle with her initial symptoms, Michele found herself symptom-free for the next 25 years. During this period of remission, Michele revisited her life’s priorities, shifting her focus from relentless professional pursuits to personal well-being and family.

A woman with MS and her family on vacation

Family life brought new joys and challenges. Michele, once reluctant to embrace motherhood, found her heart changed by the possibility of adoption. The arrival of Geoffrey, a joyous yet premature baby, transformed Michele and Mario's lives. They dedicated themselves fully to his early care, strengthening their bonds through countless hours in the NICU. Geoffrey grew up to be a vibrant and compassionate young man, excelling in baseball and forming a deep connection with his community through activities like his leadership roles at Jewish day camp. Michele and Mario filled Geoffrey's life with adventure, love, and support, fostering his passions and celebrating his achievements at every given moment. 

However, life presented new challenges when Michele began experiencing a flare-up of her MS symptoms as Geoffrey turned 18. Now in the midst of secondary progressive MS, she faced her difficulties with courage, managing her symptoms while maintaining a brave front for her son. Despite her efforts to mask her struggles, the reality of her condition became increasingly hard to conceal, especially after a fall during a routine run. Geoffrey was a source of positive energy for his Mom during this time, occasionally attending her therapy sessions at Adapt to cheer her on. 

A woman with MS and her family visiting college

Tragically, the Tamayo family faced an unimaginable loss when Geoffrey passed away in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, a victim of fentanyl poisoning. Michele’s grief was palpable, yet she transformed it into a force for change. Embracing her role as a mother in its broadest sense, Michele became a pillar of support for other parents enduring the pain of loss. Michele’s advocacy includes educating others about the lifesaving potential of NARCAN, driven by her deep desire to prevent other families from experiencing similar heartbreak. She turned her son’s celebration of life into a powerful message about the dangers of fentanyl, ensuring each attendee left with life-saving NARCAN kits—a testament to her commitment to preventing further tragedies.

A woman with MS and her son on ski patrol

Today, Michele embodies the role of a mother not just through memories but in her everyday actions. She continues to honor Geoffrey's legacy by living with intention and love, supporting his friends who still consider her 'Mom'. Her involvement at Adapt, where she trains twice weekly, is not just about managing her MS; it's a statement of her determination to live fully and healthily. Her joy in life now also comes from her role as an Auntie, playing with her nephews' young children, cherishing every moment of togetherness, and using them as motivation to stay nimble!

A woman with MS training at Adapt

This Mother’s Day, as we reflect on what it means to be a mother, Michele Tamayo reminds us of the unbreakable bond of love - a bond that transcends the challenges of health, the trials of life, and the grief of loss. Michele’s life reassures us that through love and resilience, one can navigate the darkest waters and emerge with a spirit unbroken. As we celebrate World MS Day later this month, her story also stands as a powerful tribute to all who live with MS and continue to fight every day.
A mother with MS and her young adoptive son

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) disproportionately affects women more than men, with studies showing that women are up to three times more likely to develop this chronic and potentially debilitating disease. The reasons behind this gender disparity remain under investigation, but they underscore the unique health challenges that women face. It is particularly poignant that World MS Day falls in the same month as Mother’s Day, a time when we celebrate the strength and resilience of mothers worldwide. This alignment highlights not only the personal battles that many mothers endure but also their extraordinary capacity to nurture and inspire, even while managing their own health challenges. This shared timing serves as a reminder of the critical support networks needed for those living with MS and the incredible role that mothers, who may also be fighting this illness, play in fostering hope and resilience within their families and communities.

A young man playing baseball

Geoffrey David Tamayo

8/10/95 - 10/9/20

"Bonded by Love, Connected for Life"

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