CMT's Bayou Billionaires tells the story of the Dowdens of Shreveport, La. -- a hardworking family of modest means who recently discovered their home sits on the fourth largest deposit of natural gas in the United States. Valerie, one of the Dowden daughters, clears the air about an issue that is a hot topic on social media sites.
CMT.com: We have seen that some people have made some harsh comments about you on social media about how you appear in Bayou Billionaires. What do you want people to know?
Valerie: I have Multiple Sclerosis. It's an auto-immune disease, and it affects my spinal cord and my brain.
CMT.com: How did you know you had it?
Valerie: I was diagnosed in 2008, although I think I've had multiple sclerosis a long time, I just never knew what was wrong with me. At first, I went to different doctors who said it was in my head, there's nothing wrong with you, it's stress, it's this and it's that.
I knew something was wrong when my legs, from my knees down on both sides, would go numb, and felt like they were on pins and needles, like the way it feels when your foot goes to sleep. That feeling never went away. I talked to momma about it and she got worried, and I knew in my heart that something was the matter. She took me to the ER and I went to the hospital, and they diagnosed me with MS. I had to take several rounds of a high dose steroid to get it under control.
CMT.com: Do you know if it's hereditary?
Valerie: Some say it is, and some say it isn't. I really hope that it's not hereditary because I don't want my children to grow up and be sick like me. They've suffered enough because of my MS without them actually having to suffer from having the disease themselves.
CMT.com: How does it affect your family?
Valerie: I think it worries everyone. My oldest daughter, she worries about me a lot. My son Devon doesn't say much, but when I have a hard time getting up or moving, he'll come and help me. He's even gone so far as to pick me up and carry me where I need to be.
CMT.com: In the show, do they address the MS issue at all?
Valerie: No, and that was my choice. I didn't want people to feel sorry for me. I don't feel sorry for myself, although I do have days that I get angry, more of a "why me."
CMT.com: It's great you can use the show to raise awareness about MS.
Valerie: I'm in a position now to be able to talk about and raise awareness of MS. I'm going to have a big fundraiser this spring, a benefit concert to raise money for the MS Society. I'll let everyone know as details come together.
CMT.com: Does your family's money help with your treatment? What kinds of expenses are involved?
Valerie: First off, I don't get a gas check like mom and dad do. I work and I support myself and my three kids. If something were to happen to me, my parents would definitely do whatever they could to help, but I pay for my own medicine. I'm grateful to have the support of my family and the people that love me.
CMT.com: How does the MS Society help people with MS?
Valerie: The MS Society is a fantastic organization that works with individuals who suffer from MS, according to their needs. They can help you find the right doctor, help with wheelchairs, a cane, air conditioning and more. I call them anytime I have a question, and they always call back to check on me, days or even weeks later. In the state of Louisiana, you can make a donation to the MS Society right out of your tax refund, which I do.
CMT.com: What else do you want people to know?
Valerie: Don't make fun of people that you don't know because you've never walked in their shoes. There are people who say stuff about me or my family, and they've never walked in my shoes. They have no idea.
I don't do anything that anyone else doesn't do. I'm like a lot of single mommas out there - I roll out of bed every morning, I put my kids on the school bus, I go to work, I work all day, I come home and clean house. I cook dinner, do Girl Scouts, 4-H, tae-kwon-do and hope that I can maybe get in bed by 10 o'clock. That's what I do, it's who I am.
CMT.com: Is there anything else you want to say?
Valerie: I would like to tell my parents how much I love them, and my grandparents, and my kids, and my brothers, and my sisters, and my nephew, and my niece. They mean the world to me.
Visit the official MS Society website.