On Friday morning I set off to the University of Warwick to attend the annual MS National Therapy Centre Conference.
MS National Therapy Centres (MSNTC) is a charity which represents individual therapy centres across England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. These centres provide treatments, therapies, help and support to some 15,000 peop
le living with multiple sclerosis (MS) every week.
The annual conference and AGM is a chance for therapy centres to come together, share best practice and learn from each other. The conference, which was hosted by Frank Sudlow, Chair of the charity, ran over two days and included workshops, speakers and lots of updates about the world of MS.
I was particularly keen to hear Dr Dawn Langdon speak about cognition and MS and I wasn’t disappointed. Dr Langdon is Professor of Neuropsychology at Royal Holloway University of London. Her talk included an update on what research is being carried out to discover the impact of cognition difficulties for people living with MS as well as some useful insights about how people can improve their cognition by stretching their brains. It gave me a lot of food for thought!
The conference was also a chance for me to meet up with other CEOs from the national charities… David from the MS Trust and Nick from the MS Society. It was great to be able to talk to them about their work and how they are supporting people affected by MS as well as updating them on what MS-UK is doing. I hope that we can work together in the future to reach even more people and let them know we are all here to help in any way we can.
I wanted to say a big thank you to the MS National Therapy Centres for inviting us – see you next year!
Amy Woolf, CEO
This week, 13-19 May, is Mental Health Awareness week. People affected by MS can often experience associating effects on their mental health too. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand what somebody means when they talk about mental health issues, and this is why Mental Health Awareness week exists. They aim to make discussions of mental health clearer and a foundation stronger support networks. By supporting Mental Health Awareness week, we can pave the way for greater openness when it comes to mental health, and strive to help those that are further affected by other conditions too.
We can all experience guilt, like any other emotion within our daily lives. Some people experience it occasionally, whilst others may experience it more frequently. Guilt can be a difficult emotion to identify and can often be disguised by feelings of anger or resentment. The feeling can often rear its head when we identify and perceive we have caused ourselves or somebody else a wrongdoing or harm. Guilt can leave us feeling pretty rubbish!
People living with a long-term health condition can experience the grieving process, which is not linked to the death of a loved one. Guilt can be a part of the grieving process where the person is seeking to try and find the answers to their questions of why something is happening to them and the impact that has on others.
People living with MS may experience this feeling for a number of reasons, some of which are discussed below
Most people will experience feelings of guilt at some point in their life. However, if you notice that you are constantly apologising to yourself or others this could be a telling sign that you may be experiencing feelings of guilt. Communication is key to challenging these feelings. Communicating with somebody you trust such as a family member, friend, colleague or health professional can help you to start alleviating these feelings.
If we do not recognise and process feelings of guilt this can potentially affect our mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes people may want to talk with an experienced mental health professional about their feelings of guilt in a safe, supportive and non-judgemental setting. This could be through:
Counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
This can provide space for the person to explore and examine their thoughts and feelings. Counselling can help the person identify new ways of thinking and behaving which can improve the way they feel.
Relationship or family therapy
The whole family may want to access counselling. This may help family members understand when it might be MS that they perceive to be the ‘problem’ or ‘worry’ and when it is something else.
Mindfulness and meditation
Can help the person to be aware of the present moment where they can calmly recognise and accept their thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations without judgement. This can be a very powerful tool in helping to alleviate feelings of guilt.
You may have read this article and relate to some of what was shared. Others may be thinking that it isn’t relevant at all. As individuals we respond differently to feelings of guilt but what is important to remember is that one of the best ways to cope with feelings of guilt is to try and be as compassionate towards yourself as you would be to somebody else.
This extract was taken from issue 113 of New Pathways magazine, the MS magazine for people with MS, by people with MS.
'Before I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), I was very keen on sport and was always very active participating in sports teams, such as when I joined Colchester Ladies Hockey Club and later on, a Colchester badminton team. I also started playing golf in my mid-thirties and was a very active gardener as I got older.
'However, pre-diagnosis, I had an unexplained ‘attack’ which left me very fatigued with a tendency to quickly hit a ‘fatigue wall’ during any physical exercise, even just walking to the shop. This meant that my very active lifestyle came to something of an abrupt end, even though my mind still thought of myself as fit and active. Suddenly, I just couldn’t do the things that I used to do. Despite my mind telling my legs to run, jump or whatever, my muscles just weren’t able to comply. The messages from my brain just weren’t getting through. It was a very scary time and I began to get scared of trying to carry on doing any physical activity.
'I remember one time when I was still just able to trot a bit and I was walking across a field to our campervan, and it began to rain. I started to ‘run’ towards the van for shelter and took a big tumble which twisted my ankle, wrenched my back and gave me big bruises and muddy clothes. Luckily, I’d fallen on grass but as I’d not fallen over since I was a toddler according to my Mum, it gave me a big shock! This episode really dented my confidence and my physical activity reduced considerably after that.
'Once I received my MS diagnosis, I was overwhelmed by so many fears, worries and confusion. I found it difficult to take in and understand all the advice and information I was given. I didn’t ask about physical exercise or about many other things related to MS because I didn’t know enough to know what to ask, my mind was in a spin. All I remember was being told that ‘overdoing it’ could bring on a relapse, and to rest and pace myself or I would ‘pay for it’. This made me very worried about doing any physical exercise in case it brought on a relapse.
'After my diagnosis, I now exercise twice a week at MS-UK’s wellness centre Josephs Court on a Therabike and on the Vibeplate. I joined Josephs Court two years ago and have been aiming to strengthen my arm and leg muscles to help compensate for my severe fatigue and to reduce the risk of falls. I’m really pleased with my progress and I’m now able to do a lot more than I was able to do before I hit my ‘fatigue wall’. I’ve also learned how to pace myself better through the excellent coaching at Josephs Court and the MS-UK Mindfulness training.
'I now appreciate doing the exercise as it enables me to garden regularly, as long as I’m strict with my pacing! Now I have four grandchildren under the age of four and another on the way, and I have begun to feel that I would be missing out on enjoying family time together, but my increasing fitness and activity has meant that while I still find it very tiring to play with the three year olds, alongside looking after the one year old twins, I’ve been able to find ways to cope with them all and enjoy them without exhausting myself.
'I also have advice to those who are affected by MS and are nervous about exercising. I would say that I feel that good information is the key to living positively with MS. When I was first diagnosed 13 years ago, I didn’t ask questions. I was in denial for about 10 years before I finally plucked up the courage to go to Josephs Court. By then my fitness and strength had deteriorated massively impacting negatively on my general health and wellbeing, so I wish I had been able to ask the questions I needed to earlier in my diagnosis. I have found in the last two years that mental and physical wellbeing, with keeping yourself as fit and healthy as possible, are so important if you’re living with MS, or a similar chronic condition. When I started exercising at Josephs Court, I hit my fatigue wall almost immediately but with the help and encouragement of my Wellness Coach, Jay, I was able to slowly improve.
'Another benefit that I found with exercising is the social part of it. I loved meeting other clients, something I was very nervous about to start with. But chatting with other clients, comparing notes and encouraging others has been a lovely but unexpected bonus, and has really helped me look much more positively on myself with MS. Also, joining the social group and attending social events such as the regular coffee mornings, has been a very enjoyable revelation for me, and helps me to think so much more positively about MS.
'Finally, I find the exercising therapeutic, I feel really well after an exercise session – I am more relaxed and subsequently sleep better; and by the next morning my back and leg pain and spasticity are very much reduced. It improves my strength and stamina and increases my sense of wellbeing. Now, I can also enjoy time with my family and friends without constantly feeling exhausted. “I don’t feel ‘ill’ anymore!"'
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.
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
Issue 114 of New Pathways magazine is out now. In this jam-packed edition, we take a look at the recent changes that could affect those of you who take CBD oil, on page 12. We also ask ourselves “Am I having a relapse?” Whether you’re newly diagnosed or have been living with MS for years, there will come a time when you will ask yourself this question, to find out more turn to page 39.
Page 21 offers some helpful advice to those who have found themselves caring for a friend or loved one and don’t know where to start when it comes to finding support.
Louise Willis MS-UK Counsellor talks about managing fatigue and how spoon theory can help you manage and explain it to others on page 28.
MSer and feature writer Ian Cook investigates if magnets can help multiple sclerosis in Cook’s Report Revisited on page 19.
Mary Wilson, #5 Para-Badminton player in the world, reveals her hopes of representing Team GB in Tokyo 2020 Paralympics on page 24, and discover how music therapy could help your MS on page 23.
In addition, don’t forget to read all the latest news and real life stories from MSers living life to the full and why not give our tasty free recipe a try!
About New Pathways
New Pathways magazine is a truly community led publication written by people with MS for people with MS. Each issue offers a variety of information on drugs, complementary therapies and symptom management, plus all the latest news and research and your amazing real life stories.
To subscribe, visit www.ms-uk.org/NewPathways, or call 0800 783 0518. Audio, plain text and digital versions of the magazine are available on request, simply call 01206 226500 and let us know your requirements.
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.
To find out more information about how smoking can impact multiple sclerosis, read or download our Choices booklet.
If you need help quitting smoking visit:
In January 2016 I had a very frightening experience when my eyesight in one eye deteriorated quite quickly to the extent that I wasn't able to continue my work as a dentist. Over the next year and numerous tests I was no further forward and my eye made some recovery. Following a second episode with my other eye in 2017 I had further scans and a lumbar puncture which finally led to the diagnosis of RRMS or relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis.
I started to learn about treatments, being a medic I was sure I would follow the disease modifying therapies (DMTs) or daily injections of immunosuppressants, but I was encouraged to try another approach. My own GP put me in touch with a friend of hers who had been managing his own MS through diet and exercise, Alan Caldwell. Alan was a great inspiration to me and when I first met him he had just successfully completed the Virgin Money London Marathon running for MS-UK. This was exactly what I needed to hear at this time, I was in shock with an MS diagnosis and scared for the future. As we know no one can yet predict the outcome of your MS and indeed, it affects everyone differently, so to know that Alan was doing so well following the Best Bet Diet, an exercise regime and supplements meant I was going to look at all this first.
I embarked on the Best Bet Diet which I thought would be so difficult at first, particularly cutting out all dairy and gluten but I did it and haven’t looked back. My neurology team have also been supportive of my choices which again is encouraging.
During all the uncertainty with my health and before I had received an MS diagnosis I decided to start running. I joined local Five Star Active group based in Auchterarder and puffed and panted my way through 2 minute runs!! I was a complete beginner and whilst an outdoorsy type I had never run before. I remember the elation I felt when eventually running one dark Friday night we realised we had run for 12 minutes non-stop!!
From there I ran a 5k then a 10k. With news in December 2017 that I may be facing MS I decided to sign up for a Half Marathon as I was terrified if I didn't do it then it may never happen. So in May 2018 a month after my confirmed diagnosis I proudly completed Loch Leven Half in 2 hrs 17 minutes.
During the rest of 2018 I tried to keep my miles up and my fitness level as I started to come to terms with having this chronic disease. I was learning (and still am) when to push my body, and when to rest, how to fuel and which foods keep me healthy.
I had dark days and towards the end of 2018 my GP suggested I needed some counselling which I have received both privately and from MS-UK. The services MS-UK provide have been a source of great help for me so I am therefore delighted to be able to raise funds for MS-UK.
I was dubious about entering the Virgin Money London Marathon as I was concerned it may be too much for my MS but I have gone from strength to strength over the last year, I don't know what the future holds, none of us do, but I run and keep as healthy as possible and stay in the moment as much as possible.
In January several of my running club buddies were starting their training for the London Marathon, we have nine from our club heading south for the run, and I thought if I’m going to do it, it’s now or never. I sent a message to Jenny at MS-UK to find out if there was a chance my waiting list place would come up and after a very excitable phone call, she offered me a place.
If I had a doubt about the marathon it was dispelled that day with my overwhelming excitement about it and also how delighted my friends, family and running buddies were too.
The training is so far on track, we have a wonderful coach who has put a great programme together for me. She knows about my MS and together we monitor it, she insists on two days rest after my long run and I never run consecutive days. Having other running buddies makes it easier to motivate yourself and the MS-UK runners have also been great, we interact in a Facebook group and follow each other on Strava.
I have some fundraising events planned but most of my target has been met from my initial post on Facebook sharing my story and my JustGiving page. I was overwhelmed by the amount of support I received. Many people did not know what I was going through and the messages I received when I finally told the world gave me a huge boost.
I am excited for London and delighted to be part of Team Purple, see you at the finish!!
Find out all about fundraising and becoming part of #TeamPurple on our website today!