Montel Williams’ View from Both Sides of the Caregiver Divide
Advocacy The beloved television personality shares his struggle with multiple sclerosis, reflecting on the friends and family that he cares for.
Montel Williams knows a lot about being a caregiver — and a patient. An author of several best-selling books concerned with taking control of your health, Montel is also an accomplished philanthropist, working with Partner Prescription Assistance to get free or nearly-free medicine to millions of Americans who can’t afford it.
Becoming a resource
While living with multiple sclerosis (MS), Montel has also become the go-to person in his circle of friends and family in regards to tackling serious illness. “It’s not unusual for me to get that phone call on any given week,” says Williams. “[Whatever illness they’re struggling with], I will find the doctor that they need to be in touch with.”
Williams’ middle daughter battled (and defeated) lymphoma – twice. In the process, he moved her to New York and was able to find her the best care. “Because of the Affordable Care Act, [my daughter] could be under my insurance,” he explains. “She was 26. If she was 28, she would have bankrupted herself, and me.”
“'There’s what you let people see, and what you don’t let people see. That last one is what the caregiver is responsible for.'"
But because his daughter was on his insurance, Montel was able to come with on health care visits — something he did with great zeal. The most important thing a caregiver can do for their loved ones in the room is: ask questions. Williams bemoans how Americans tend to relegate their medical decisions to whatever their doctor says. “If you’re paying a doctor for service,” he adds, “I don’t care what he says — he needs to make sure you’re satisfied.”
In Orlando, Williams spoke recently before 10,000 nurses at the National Association of Nurses. And he was struck by the feeling of hope in the room. He also realized that caregivers are of no use if they aren’t paying attention to themselves.
“You have to be a little selfish once a day,” says Williams. “Make sure you’re on track. Remember to eat well and rest. You have to maintain yourself.”
He adds that his long road with MS has made him a better caregiver. “My initial, diagnosable symptoms were extreme neuropathy. It’s been that understanding of pain that’s made me more compassionate — period — on any issue. [Pain] evokes an immediate response from me,” says Williams. “Emotional pain, too.”
Remembering a “thank you”
Montel’s wife Tara has cared for him during the darkest moments of his MS. “There’s what you let people see,” he says, “and what you don’t let people see. That last one is what the caregiver is responsible for. People only see me in the brightest moments, but if not for [my wife], I’m not sure I could have survived.”
His wife supports his care in other ways. If he’s investigating a new raw diet to help ease his symptoms, she’ll eat raw with him. “I wish everyone had that same support,” Williams says. “I was having ambulatory issues 4 to 5 years ago. At the time, she had to help me through restaurants."
Montel’s symptoms have abated for the time being, but he wants caregivers to remember: “Even if the ‘thank you’ doesn’t come, know it’s there.”