Jamie-Lynn Sigler will be honored with the Medal of Hope Award at the 24th Annual Race to Erase MS Gala on Friday, May 5 in Los Angeles. The 35-year-old actress, who has been battling multiple sclerosis for the past 15 years, first went public with her diagnosis in January 2016 and is now opening up about how lonely her MS battle can be.
"So much of your life, I think when you're living with MS, can feel like tunnel vision, like you're just really in this fight every day and you can't look outside yourself," Sigler expressed ahead of the Race to Erase MS Gala, alongside founder Nancy Davis, who praised the actress for being so strong. "So to hear something like that, that means the world because it just sometimes feels like I'm in my [own] fight. So to feel like I'm in this fight with other people, and I might've helped some other people, it makes it a lot easier."
The former Sopranos star was first diagnosed at the age of 20 and described the news as "a sobering moment," admitting that she "lived in denial for a while."
"At 20 years old your life is just beginning," she explained. "I was in the middle of shooting Sopranos and everything was going great. So to get a diagnosis like this was scary. But once I was diagnosed and started receiving medication, all my symptoms went away."
"So good, bad or indifferent, the way I dealt with it, and the way my family dealt with it, was that we sort of put it aside," she added. "I wasn't feeling it. It wasn't manifesting itself in my life. So, I kind of lived in denial for a while -- or at least as long as I could."
Sigler kept her MS a secret because she "didn't want to accept it" and opening up only meant it was real. She also feared her career would "end" if people knew.
Ultimately, she decided to share her diagnosis because "it was no longer something" she could hide and, while her 3-year-old son, Beau, is too young to understand at the moment, it was something she didn't want to keep from him.
"I want him to believe that he's going to grow up in a world where, no matter what adversities you have, you're still worthy of opportunity, and love, and compassion," she added, getting teary-eyed. "And I think that when I thought about all those things, I thought, 'Why don't I deserve that?'"
Since becoming a mom, Sigler has learned the hard way that in order to take care of her health, she sometimes has to put her needs first. Explaining that MS is all about the management of time, energy and strength, she said she's learned more about "self-care" and giving herself the time to take a break and rest.
"And not feeling bad about it if I need an hour, an afternoon just by myself, just to rest and put my feet up, or go get a massage, or go to physical therapy," Sigler added. "Things like that are really important for me to still be able to live as full of a life as I want and still go forward with my career, and all the things that I want and still being the best mom I can be."