Meteorologist Janice Dean is known for her upbeat personality on Fox and Friends, but in her new book she reveals hardships that have tested her, including a “devastating” multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2005.
“When I was first diagnosed I looked for books that were hopeful about this illness, and I could not find very many of them,” Dean, 48, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview about her book, Mostly Sunny, out Tuesday. “So I wanted this book to be sort of a love letter to people who have a chronic illness, or have MS, and say, ‘You know what? It can be hopeful. There is hope.’ “
In addition to sharing her health journey, Dean also gets candid in Mostly Sunny about experiencing weight insecurities as a girl, being sexually harassed throughout her career and falling in love with her husband Sean, a New York City firefighter. While Dean considers herself an optimist, she is honest about the multiple steps — and therapy sessions — it took to make peace with some of her struggles.
She describes in detail what it was like to learn she had MS, including early signs like extreme exhaustion.
“My first big exacerbation or flare up [happened after] I had gone through the 2005 hurricane season,” Dean explains. “That was the year of Katrina. I was working a lot of hours. I was tired. Really, abnormally tired. I felt like I could sleep for days. At points, I couldn’t even get out of bed and I didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
Then one morning she woke up and couldn’t feel the bottoms of her feet and experienced a “tingly sensation” on her thighs, fingers and toes. After speaking to various doctors and going through a series of tests, she learned she had MS.
“I believe I was lucky, because some people can go through minor exacerbations and [don’t go] through with some of the tests, the battery of tests that I went through,” Dean explains.
Selma Blair Walks Emotional First Red Carpet Since MS Diagnosis with a Cane: ‘There Are Angels’
“I was reading recently about Selma Blair,” she continued. “She said that she kept getting misdiagnosed. And that’s so sad to me… I was thankfully able to go to doctors who did the battery of tests that I needed to go through, to give me an early diagnosis. And that’s why I think now 15 years later, I’m doing okay, because I’ve been on therapies for this.”
Though Dean still requires a lot of sleep (she goes to sleep before her sons, Matthew and Theodore) and has to avoid exposure to heat (which is like her “kryptonite”), she is able to go long periods of time without “flare ups.”
But managing the disease wasn’t the only difficulty Dean faced after her diagnosis. She also feared she would be fired once news of her condition got out.
“Up until that moment, [my career] was sort of number one in my life,” she says. “I [got] a lot of self-esteem from climbing a ladder, going from Ottawa, Canada to New York City and working for Fox.”
Dean admits there was a period of time where she didn’t have much hope. “I was very depressed and feeling bad about myself, and saw a wheelchair in my future.” Thankfully, her coworker Neil Cavuto, who also has MS, was informative and supportive. But a year after her diagnosis, Dean experienced another low when her boss rejected her news story pitch on MS. But she didn’t let that stop her — instead she approached another supervisor who ultimately approved the pitch.
“My lesson is, if you really feel strongly about something and you think it’s the right thing to do, then you need to take risks,” she says. “Follow your moral compass.”
Dean hopes that by sharing her story, she’ll help others who may be looking for information and support.
“There really could be a day that I wake up and I can’t walk, or my vision will go, or I might not feel like I can function that day,” she says. “Sometimes when you have an illness, like a chronic illness, that’s a constant reminder that every day is a gift.”