Up-and-coming Detroit rhythm and blues artist Danielle Davis felt like she was on top of the world last summer before a sudden medical diagnosis derailed her momentum and changed her life.
“I got an MRI back and the lady came and told me not only do I have multiple sclerosis (MS), I have a really rare form of it,” said Davis, during a phone interview with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “It’s called tumefactive multiple sclerosis. She basically said it’s the biggest lesion she’s ever seen. It looked like a huge hurricane.” Tumefactive multiple sclerosis and brain tumors share symptoms.
The two that eventually led Davis to an emergency room in August 2021 were trouble speaking and “cog fog,” short for cognitive fog.
“I was on a Zoom call with my sisters, and I stop and say, ‘Guys, does my speech sound weird? It feels like I’m tongue-tied or something,’” Davis recalled. “And they said, ‘You’re fine.’ So, I thought, ‘Yeah I’m fine.’”
Davis initially brushed off the incident, but difficulty talking became a recurring issue for the 37-year-old singer, songwriter, and guitarist. About a week after that Zoom call, Davis experienced another scary, slurred speech episode, this time at a place Davis normally feels freest and happiest: On stage.
“I had a show at the Show Bar, and I go to meet with the band right before the show,” she recalled. “We set up, we’re practicing, and I go up to the mic and, it was so crazy. The words weren’t coming out right. The sound wasn’t even coming out right. It sounded like I was having a stroke.”
With some adjustments, Davis, and her band, “Dani Darling,” managed to get through their performance. But that same night she admitted herself to University of Michigan Medical Center in her hometown of Ann Arbor where Davis eventually underwent five days of intense steroid treatment.
She tapered off her dosage but continued the steroid treatment when she returned home about a week later to treat her case of manageable but incurable MS. Davis’ doctor then advised her to undergo a stronger form of Disease Modifying Therapy (DMT) to prevent future relapses and potential brain damage.
“He put me on OCREVUS, which I think is the strongest infusion you can get,” Davis said. OCREVUS, which Davis compared to chemotherapy, is a twice-a-year prescription infusion for people with relapsing or primary progressive forms of MS. OCREVUS is also approved for active secondary progressive disease.
Mentally, Davis said she reached her lowest point around this time because her former insurance carrier denied coverage for her OCREVUS treatment. By pure happenstance, Davis was transitioning into a new day job around this time in the fall of 2021, where she wound up swapping out her former carrier for a Blue Care Network (BCN) plan.
“It wasn’t until my insurance switched over in November and within a week, a week and a half, Blue Care Network had me approved and I had my infusion scheduled,” Davis said. “So, that really made the difference. Blue Cross was amazing.”
Davis is now scheduled out through 2026 for bi-annual OCREVUS infusions. She said her speaking issues have vanished since her initial treatment, but she does still experience “cog fog,” which she said can include trouble concentrating, forgetfulness and a lack of mental clarity.
In early 2022, Davis proclaimed she was “back to being Danielle” and has since returned to making music.
Before coming down with the symptoms that led to her MS diagnosis, Davis said her music career was really beginning to take off in Detroit. She was touring the state with Dani Darling, writing songs, doing radio interviews, and regularly receiving write-ups in Detroit area music and entertainment publications.
Her band even released an album, titled “The Future,” literally days before Davis’ symptoms made their untimely debut.
“After finding out about my multiple sclerosis, I decided to take a break,” she said. “I was just overwhelmed. My mental health wasn’t great. It felt like I was on top of the world and then just dropped. It was almost laughable how happy I was, how great everything was going. And then ‘boom,’ everything just stopped.”
Davis' medical bout has given her new perspective and a jolt of artistic inspiration. As things slowly started to trend in a positive direction for her at the turn of the year, Davis received the good kind of unexpected news in February when it was announced that Dani Darling was nominated for a 2022 Detroit Music Award in the “Outstanding R&B Recording” category.
“I would not have thought they would think of me,” Davis said, upon hearing the news. “…It just was such a beautiful thing, especially after what I went through. It was reassuring, because that first show back, I remember thinking, ‘Do we still have it?’ Because taking that kind of break when the whole idea is to keep building momentum, I was worried. I stopped paying attention to all my social media and all my marketing fell off completely. So, the nomination, it felt like validation.”
Though she’s had her low points, Davis credits her spirituality, meditation, changes to her diet and a strong support system for the positive mental attitude she strives to keep. And, her music, of course.
“Music is therapy,” she said. “When we wrote ‘The Future,’ that was the therapy of needing a release from 2020. This next one will be music therapy that I wrote for myself during this tough time.”
For others grappling with MS, Davis said it’s important for people to listen closely to their neurologist. She also advised against going down “rabbit holes” online that could lead to inaccurate or unverified information.
“Keep the faith,” she said. “Every case is very different. The main thing is to try and keep your mental health, ‘cause that’s the first thing that’s going to be tested when you have MS. So, if that falls apart, then everything else will, too."
Anti-inflammatory foods to help with MS
Since incorporating the following foods into her diet, Davis said symptoms of her condition have softened:
- Fresh raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries
- Steel cut oatmeal
Photo credit: Danielle Davis