I have been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) for thirty-five years. In 2014 I noticed that walking was becoming more difficult and my MS nurse recommended that I contacted Josephs Court, MS-UK’s wellness centre in Colchester, Essex. I attended twice a week to exercise and became a founding member of their Steering Group. Before I was diagnosed with MS, I exercised every weekday walking for 10-15 minutes to the office where I worked in London. At lunchtime I would occasionally go for a 30 minute walk if the weather was kind, and this felt like it was a sufficient form of exercise. However I was unfortunately diagnosed with MS, but nevertheless I continued exercising in the same way for another 13 years until I eventually changed jobs in 1996. By then I commuted to Basildon by car – therefore my exercise regime came to an end.
But now, I visit Josephs Court two mornings a week, for 2-3 hours each time, and use most of the equipment available. I’ve also increased my exercise since the arrival of the latest university students, as one of them has given me some rigorous exercises using the parallel bars.
Now I feel that doing gentle exercise gives me a feeling of “getting one over on my MS” – it isn’t going to stop me from doing something that I enjoy, and there is a social aspect too. We are all suffering with the same disease label yet we don’t talk about it, we just enjoy one another’s company. The social aspect means I now have someone else to talk to, and shows that I needed something to relieve the boredom of not working, as I spent three years applying for jobs with no luck.
Finally, I thoroughly enjoying working with the student physiotherapist Becca, as she has brought new ways of exercising to me. I also find volunteering for MS-UK therapeutic – it is another reason for existing and gives me purpose.
'In 2016, I was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) and decided to find out more about MS-UK’s wellness centre, Josephs Court, especially when it really began to affect my balance. I visited weekly and have found the welcoming atmosphere really helpful to me, especially with things such as discussing treatments, and getting ideas and tips for coping.
'Before my diagnosis, I played table tennis to county level as an under 17 and took qualifications to become a swimming teacher. In my youth, I even became a lifeguard with the Guildford Lifeguards. Many years later I joined a gym with my middle daughter Naomi, and we used to go several times a week.
'Alongside this, we also used to cycle to the school I was teaching in and where Naomi was also a teaching assistant. It really was downhill all the way to school, but uphill all the way back. Naomi was able to cycle all the way home, but I had to walk and push my bike for some of the way. Then in 2007, I moved to Great Totham so cycling to work was no longer an option, just an 80 mile round trip to school and back.
'After diagnosis however, my exercise regime was affected, and I didn’t think that exercise would work for me as it used to. My balance was going and I could no longer ride my bike as a result. I even tried stabilisers, but I continued falling off. Subsequently, I started going to Josephs Court and at first, I couldn’t really see the point of it. I could still walk even though my balance was shaky. However, I kept going and then soon realised just how much I needed what Josephs Court could offer and help me with.
'Following this, I ordered an adult tricycle, and was amazed when I was able to get on and ride it straight away, albeit not very far to begin with. But now two and a half years later, I’m able to ride 4.5 miles most days around my home village of Roxwell. I sometimes book myself in for a six week course of hydrotherapy. I think the feeling of being able to walk across the pool with no sticks or rollator is amazing.
'Because of what services there are for those diagnosed with MS, I can’t value exercise highly enough. I have always been competitive, so Josephs Court and tricycling gave me this challenge.'
I started supporting MS-UK in 2014 when my running buddy and I decided to participate in a running challenge of three marathons in three weeks, with London being the finale of the trio. Having missed out on the ballot we were given the chance of a place with MS-UK, which was a good fit because I’ve had relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis since my late 30s. I was immediately hooked and have been fundraising for the last five years now. I’ve raised a total of £16,372.20 so far!
This year will be my fifth marathon, all of which were charity bond places with MS-UK. Each marathon has been special in its own way; two have been with my buddy Debbie Germain, one was with my husband, last year I ran with my daughter and this year I will be by myself. The trio of marathons was an epic challenge though and a very proud moment.
Without a doubt the end of the race is very special, you are treated like a superstar by the charity and they look after you as though you have just won the gold medal.
When it’s come to raising the funds for each race I’ve organised lots of different events. I have done a quiz night a few times, various raffles, I had race entries donated for me to auction, as well as a private run coaching session with Shane Benzie.
I organise a yearly Halloween and Christmas 5k night run around Greenham Common Air Base, a fantastic spectacle of lights moving around the Common in the pitch black with medals, hot soup or mulled wine at the end.
I have a Rock and Roll Bingo evening next month where you have to guess snippets of songs and cross off bingo numbers, which should be fun.
One of my more notorious fundraisers was with my buddy Debbie. We produced a Naked Runners Calendar, with 12 of our male running friends all tastefully photographed by our photographer friend, they all have appropriately placed props of course! The calendar sold for £10 and proved to be very popular.
I’d definitely encourage anyone who’s been thinking about supporting MS-UK to give them a call. They will support you just as much as you support them.
Another instalment as I am taken by the train to the hallowed turf that is Hammersmith Hospital. This began with an early start at 4.45am. I know, a clock should only see this once a day. Teeth were brushed, the shower was jumped in, the beard was conditioned to an inch of its life, as it has gone really dry and coarse of late. It is feeling soft once again, albeit the purple has faded somewhat. I'll probably colour it again, but will definitely do so before the Chemo in May. Mostly so the dust pan gets to look good as it is swept up.
I am now sat on the train thinking about the need to get home in good time later today, to take the prescribed pills and the magic jab juice. I have been doing all this much closer to lunch time anyway, so I have another 6 hours, give or take before it might affect my current time scales.
As far as the side effects go, I do consider myself lucky as I am taking anti sick pills, with no sickness noted. I must say I have only been taking twice a day as opposed to the instructed three times as advised. If I had the slightest inkling of feeling sick, then I would certainly be taking them as instructed. I was told about the joint aches and pains, at the beginning too. Again this gas been kind too, don't get me wrong, if I am out pottering about town, as I was yesterday treating myself to some new jeans and a shirt. (Pandas breed more frequently than I buy new clothes by the way).
Today I am feeling aches in my left hip, my lower back and my left eye again. I assume the hip and back are from the drugs, as I was informed would be the case, by Naghma, the well informed Nurse at Hammersmith, but the left eye is blind anyway, so as long as is isn't too bad, I'll not worry about it. If it was my good right eye, then it would have my full attention and I'd pop in to hospital about it.
Peterborough hospital eye clinic have always been pretty good at squeezing me in at short notice when needed. I try not to bother them unless I am getting genuinely worried about my right eye. Either way, all the aches and pains are dealt with using paracetamol.
Well, that was close. The silence on the train woke me up...phew! God knows where I might have ended up.
Once awake, and back on my stumbley clumsy feet, I took the usual walk to the Victoria line down stairs on the far side of Kings Cross station, then get off at Oxford Circus, to get on the Central line, looking for White City. From there I get on either the No 72, or the 272 bus towards Hammersmith Hospital. All was so very smooth today in my getting here. I will say though, that I really do need to get some paracetamol. My lower back doesn't half ache. Maybe a combination of the walking a fair bit over the last few days, and my being 4 days in to the stem cell generation, and the achy bones are to be expected.
From speaking to the Nursing staff here, I am now in the prime time for the aches to be really biting down. As the day is slowly moving on, yes, I can feel those aches. Do I sound like I am whinging yet?
My bloods have been taken by Nurse Harry and they have been sent off, as I sit here wondering where I can get those paracetamol tablets, on my way home.
Ok, so I fell asleep as the bloods were sent off, and was told they'd be ready after lunch, and with the time at 10.30 now, off I trot to central London for some nice food and to kill some time. I do pass a chemist, but meh! It'll be reet.
I eventually find myself in Selfridges food hall trying to eat ramen broth, but yes my right hand is still rubbish, so I am forced to eat the long stringy noodle goodness with chopsticks using my left hand. Actually I did well, and got away with it. Now back to Hammersmith, by now I am really flagging and my back is aching a lot more than I gave it credit for. It is, every now and then, a quiet groan-worthy amount of ache. I really regret not getting some paracetamol to scoff.
Eventually I get back to Hammersmith, to be told, all my bloods are exactly where they should be, and to come back on Monday for the big stem cell removal. So I say my thank yous to everyone and make my way home, thinking I knew a sly pocket full of paracetamol wouldn't go a miss right now.
I am on the train thinking, if the aches were anything to worry about, I would have bought some. I do see the aching bones as the Body telling me it is busy generating squillions of big fat juicy stem cells for me. You see, it might be super rubbish at running and tying my shoe laces at the moment, but it can spit out stem cells to order when it needs to. Thank you Body, you ain't that bad after all. Thank you X.
Way back in 2016 MS-UK hosted a team from the School of Sport Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences from the University of Essex here at our headquarters.
The team were running a trial testing the use of an Xbox game specifically designed to support people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Since then, they have been working hard to continue exploring possibilities in this area, and yesterday I had the privilege of being invited to the MS Olympix at the University of Essex.
The day included taking part in three different games that could be played standing up or sitting down.
Sarah, who was first diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 2007, attended the event...
‘After hearing about the day at a Josephs Court social coffee morning, it sounded really interesting. It is really good fun and some of the games – especially the ones that involve lifting my feet up – really helps my balance and coordination. It’s like playing the Wii at home but more fun!’
Sarah added, ‘the system comes from a background of rehabilitation, so I’d love to see it developed so people like me, living with MS, can use it at home’.
A big thank you to the team for inviting me to join in and we will keep everyone posted on future studies in exergaming!
Laura May, Communications Manager
Those of you who have been following Scott’s story will know that he is letting MS-UK follow his HSCT (Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation) journey to treat his multiple sclerosis (MS). Scott aims to raise awareness of MS and this treatment option, and will be vlogging throughout his treatment giving the MS community a unique insight into what HSCT involves.
Scott was diagnosed with MS 13 years ago and until recently he had lived relatively unaffected by his condition, pursuing his career as an aircraft engineer. When his condition became more active and having tried some of the common MS drugs options, which came with awful side effects, he sought a different approach.
It was his wife Georgia who found and researched HSCT treatment and having considered his options Scott decided that the treatment is the right choice for him.
HSCT is an intense chemotherapy treatment for MS. It aims to wipe out the body’s current faulty immune system and then grow a new one using the body’s own stem cells, which are found in the blood. Although this method cannot cure MS or repair the damage it has already caused, it has been found to halt progression of the condition in a number of people. However, it is also important to note that it does not work for everyone and there is no conclusive evidence to suggest how long it may halt progression for.
Scott knows that the treatment isn’t without risks, but says: “This was a split second decision for me. I am 45 and my boys have seen me work hard to provide for them. When I get home I am tired, I can be irritable.
“It is true that there is a 1 in 50 mortality rate, but if you flip that on its head it is also like being presented with a 98% survival rate. The alternative is a clear and distinct 100% rate of still having MS, and it devouring me. There is no light at the end of that endless tunnel, where you don't know where, or when you get off. All you know is you still have MS and it will not let you go.”
Having met with the team in charge of his upcoming treatment, Scott was informed that it is highly likely that he will lose his hair, including his impressive beard which he is very well known for. So to celebrate his bearded efforts, his upcoming treatment and show his support for MS-UK, he had dyed his beard MS-UK purple!
Want more information about HSCT?
Our helpline is here to listen and offer you all the information and support you need to make your own decisions. Call us free on 0800 783 0518, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or live web chat with us today.
Today is National Non-Smoking Day. Have you ever wondered how smoking can affect multiple sclerosis (MS)? Do you need help quitting? Read on...
Research has shown that the risk of developing MS is three times greater in male smokers compared to male non-smokers, and for women the risk is one and a half times greater. It is thought that smoking may damage the cells which line blood vessels and these damaged cells cause the vessels to leak, allowing the toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke to damage the brain.
In a study researchers found current or former smokers with relapsing remitting MS were three times more likely to develop secondary progressive MS, another phase of MS marked by a steady increase in MS symptoms and disability, compared to non- or past smokers. However, quitting smoking is something that has been shown to slow disability progression.
A study revealed that 62% of the people diagnosed with MS had been exposed to parental smoking as children, compared to 45% of people diagnosed with MS, whose parents did not smoke. The research also pointed to a time-related correlation between the increase in risk of developing MS as an adult and the length of time a child had been exposed to passive smoking.
For people taking the disease modifying drug Tysabri (natalizumab), there is evidence that smoking increases the risk of the body developing neutralising antibodies to the therapy, causing the drug to have little or no therapeutic effect. A study revealed the risk for developing neutralising antibodies was over twice as high in smokers, compared to non-smokers.
Although stress is a well-known MS trigger and it can exacerbate symptoms, smoking does not have therapeutic benefits. Research has shown that people who smoke actually have higher stress levels than those who don’t.
If you need help quitting smoking visit:
What you might not know is that Scott has been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) for 13 years and after recently seeing a worsening in his condition applied and has been accepted for Haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) treatment in London.
Scott has had a coveted career as an aircraft engineer in the Royal Air Force and was diagnosed with MS in 2006. With an MRI scan his neurologist identified that he has significant lesions to confirm he has MS.
He tried the disease modifying therapies approach and gave beta interferons a try, but they didn’t agree with him. So he decided to take the no-drug route for 13 years before his MS became more active in recent years.
Like many people’s HSCT stories, Scott didn’t know anything about the treatment until his wife found information online. He has since been accepted for HSCT treatment in London and wants to raise awareness and share his experience exclusively with MS-UK and its followers. This is the first of a number of vlogs Scott will be sharing with us, so please do follow his journey with us.
Scott thought it was important to express that he is no way an expert and MS affects everyone differently, but hopes that sharing his story will give everyone an idea of what’s involved in the process and what to expect. Please do share your thoughts and comments with Scott via our social media pages and his own @goggle_beard.
Caution: Please be aware that some of the language used in this video may cause offence.
2016 and 2017 was a momentous time for supermarkets here in the UK; ASDA, Sainsburys, Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons announced they had removed the stigma of people with invisible illnesses from being called out for looking ‘normal’ when using their stores.
In an act of moving with the times, when the big five supermarkets specifically addressed the issue of hidden disabilities by displaying ‘not every disability is visible’ signs in their stores, I was greatly heartened to hear about this act of awareness.
And not a moment too soon. After all, from a personal perspective having to validate my MS to complete strangers has at times been humiliating, particularly whenever I’ve found a disabled parking space.
While not exactly a burning bush moment, by raising an awareness on their premises it was a positive step against discrimination. But then again, was it really something to celebrate or was it nothing more than a misguided publicity stunt?
Despite the desperate need for a parking space hidden disability awareness sign, shamefully I later discovered it was only Sainsburys who have displayed it beneath the wheelchair logo in their parking bays. As for the others, their nod towards helping people only extends as far as their accessible toilets.
Without wishing to sound ungrateful I’m at a loss to understand why both needs were not given equal consideration but then again, I have nothing to be grateful for. None of us do. Yet given all the free PR and advertising, the cynic in me questions what kind of tokenism was deemed more acceptable by supermarket focus groups.
If ASDA, Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons can put up signs in their store toilets raising awareness of 'hidden disabilities' that doesn’t extend to parking, they clearly have no idea what going shopping is like for some with MS, faced with fear of confrontation outside on the superstore concourse.
Never more has supermarket lip service been so opportunist. They should be shamed, not celebrated, for their penny-pinching attempt for basking in gold-plated publicity. I can only assume they chose to do this because of cost. And yet all is not lost. Redemption is at their fingertips.
On Amazon, it’s possible to buy ‘not all disabilities are visible stickers’ to give away free to customers. The cost to them is less than £2 notwithstanding discount for a bulk order.
Every little helps, as they say.
If you would like any information about accessibility or parking, please email our helpline with your questions.
Adjusting to being diagnosed with an invisible illness can be really tough. I have bad days, but with the help of amazing family and friends it’s a whole lot easier. If you know someone with an invisible illness, you can help. The problem is, sometimes it’s difficult to know what to say or do. So here are my top tips!
If someone confides in you that they have a condition, they’re giving you a licence to talk about it. Thank them for being open and then ask them how it affects them. It means a lot when someone asks questions to understand the condition more, rather than just trying to avoid the subject. Find out from them what they need from you to help them day to day. Chances are they don’t want to be treated any differently, but there might be something that you can do to make their day easier.
2. Check in!
I go totally off grid when I’m struggling to cope with my condition. I become withdrawn and you won’t hear from me for days. At some point, someone will notice that this is a bit out of character for me and check in. I’ll admit that I’ve not been ok and they’ll tell me that they are always there for me if I need to have a moan or sound off. Thing is, when you’re in that space, it doesn’t always occur to you to do that. Make sure you drop your friend a regular text to let them know you’re thinking of them.
3. Cut some slack
It’s typical that someone with a chronic condition suffers with some degree of fatigue. That means that even the best laid plans can go wrong if they’re just too tired to function. Be forgiving if they’ve cancelled that night out for the third time in a row.
4. Don’t assume
Every day with a chronic condition is different. Some days you can take on the world and on others you can’t get out of bed. Avoid making assumptions about what your friend or family member can do. Don’t stop letting them make their own choices and keep on inviting them to social occasions. Sometimes they will accept and other times they might politely decline. But they will always be grateful that you have let them make their own choices.
5. You don’t have to find a solution
With all the best intention in the world, we want to solve people’s problems. But if the top doctors can’t find a cure for the condition, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to provide a solution yourself. If they want you to give a solution, they’ll ask for your opinion.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do is make sure that person feels loved and cared for. They need to still feel like a person, and sometimes the best way of doing that is by doing absolutely nothing differently. Nobody with a chronic condition will manage day to day in the same way. The only way to find out, is to ask.
If you would like more information about living with multiple sclerosis (MS) you can download our Choices leaflets for free.