Victoria Graham has been living with invisible illness since she was eleven years old. Diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis, Chiari Malformation, Mast Cell Activation Disorder and Dysautonomia she has had to face multiple challenges regarding her health. Although Victoria clearly has multiple struggles in her life, she has not let them stand in her way. Fighting through her battle fearlessly. Victoria has maintained a positive attitude and does not feel sorry for herself. She adheres to the mindset that no matter how bad things become, at least she is not living in a bubble;
“Around the age of 11, my standout physical therapist was my one source of support and hope in the medical community. After a particularly sour and mis-educated doctor told me to cease all physical aspects of my life because he didn’t know what was wrong with me, I was extremely upset. Steve, my PT reasoned with me and said “it beats a bubble” – IT being living my life. And so, since then, I have lived by life to the very best of my abilities because it beats living in a bubble!”
Throughout the years, Victoria has remained content that she can do whatever it is she wants to do and that her invisible illnesses will never limit her.
“I refuse to let anything stand in the way of what I have decided, chosen to do. I – WE – are capable of everything.”
It is this pure determination and willpower that has gotten Victoria to accomplish so much. Victoria is more than just a pageant girl and receiving the Miss Oak 2016 crown was more than just a crown. Her title was an opportunity to spread awareness and speak up for all the others suffering from invisible illness. Victoria did not surrender to Ehlers Danlos Syndrome when she was 11 years old and her doctor told her to stop all of her physical activity because he “didn’t know what was wrong with her.” Instead she kept going and kept fighting. Today, Victoria Graham is a superhero to many suffering from invisible illness. She has provided hope and awareness for a community that had been lacking hope and awareness.
Growing up with invisible illness was more than a difficult struggle and it lead Victoria to realize that invisible illness is extremely misunderstood and neglected by society. Invisible illness is so difficult to understand because you cannot see it. People cannot possibly know that you are sick when you look perfectly normal on the outside. “Every day you are fighting a battle nobody can see.” Victoria hopes to help with the lacking education throughout society, by providing education about invisible illness.
“Invisible illnesses affect over 138 million Americans – that is a lot and no one is talking about it. Since realizing this and recognizing that someone needs to begin providing a network to support and link people around the world, I created The Zebra Network. For my 22nd birthday, I decided to create a non-profit organization. Currently The Zebra Network focuses on those with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, but as we grow, I hope to incorporate the other “zebra” illnesses in the world, in order to create a better life for those patients.”
Although Victoria has more struggles than most twenty-two year olds, she has accomplished far more than most. More than just a pageant girl, she has made her voice, along with the voice of so many more that suffer from invisible illnesses, heard. Her message to people recently diagnosed with an invisible illness is
“Never lose hope in yourself, in the quality of your life, in the abilities that rest inside you. YOU are more than a diagnosis. YOU are more than the harsh words that misunderstood people say. YOU are more than an illness. and YOU can accomplish anything, never let anyone tell you otherwise.”