THIS time last year, 30-year-old Maria Stone was getting on with her life. Thriving, embracing life at work and with her partner, Patrick... all seemed rosy in the garden for the young couple.
“We’d lived and worked in the UK for four years and we were both happy to be coming home to Ireland in 2016, looking forward to our future,” says Maria, who works in Janssen Sciences, Ringaskiddy.
But Maria was worried about the subtle symptoms that she was experiencing that culminated in a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.
The disease, which affects approximately 8,000 people In Ireland, and 2.5 million people world-wide, can be tricky to diagnose, mimicking the ailments of other autoimmune diseases.
“I was diagnosed with MS on June 29 last year,” says Maria.
Did that come as a shock to the active young woman?
“Looking back, I had some of the symptoms of MS when I lived in the UK,” says Maria.
She came up against a brick wall.
“Even though the professionals there were aware of the symptoms, no-one helped me,” says Maria. “When I think about that, it makes me feel upset and angry.”
How was she feeling prior to the confirmation of her MS diagnosis last June?
“I was complaining of feeling more tired than usual for a long time,” recalls Maria. “Especially first thing in the morning.
“I left home to drive to Ringaskiddy for work at 5.30am every morning. This was never a problem for me before. But I felt drained.”
As well as the crushing fatigue other symptoms kicked in.
“I actually lost my hearing,” she says.
“I woke up one morning and I couldn’t hear the radio. In the canteen at work I couldn’t hear the conversation going on around me.”
Maria, worried about her hearing, went to a GP.
“My balance felt slightly off as well,” she says.
“The doctor prescribed a two-week course of antibiotics for an ear infection. She said it’ll be fine.”
But it wasn’t fine.
“During those two weeks, I woke up one morning and I looked in the mirror,” says Maria, recalling that anxious period before she was diagnosed with MS.
“My right eye appeared to be turned in. I looked cross-eyed. Driving down the Cork to Ringaskiddy motorway I could see three traffic lanes instead of two. I was seeing fields beyond the hard shoulder instead of the road in front of me. I was relying on just one eye to drive.”
Maria decided to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist to check out her blurred vision and her disturbing eye symptoms.
“I thought there had to be something wrong with my eye,” she says.
“I was told my eye was fine. But it got worse. So I went back to my GP. She sent me to A&E straight away, which was a bit of a shock. I didn’t think there was anything seriously wrong. MS certainly wasn’t going through my head.”
Maria went through a series of scans, returning to hospital later in the week for an MRI.
“The MRI detected lesions on the left hand side of my brain that were present since I was younger,” says Maria.
“I remembered symptoms that I had in college. They went away and they re-occurred again. Alarm bells rang.”
When Maria was told she had MS, she got a shock. But knowing that treatments today are effective for relapsing, remitting MS, and with the support of the MS Ireland, she was confident she could continue living a full, active, healthy life.
“Treatments for MS have evolved and progressed in 20 years,” says Maria.
“Once, I would be thinking, I’ll be in a wheelchair in 10 years time. But you have to be positive. The idea of having a chronic illness forever could frighten me. But once I continue to fight it and keep it at bay, I am always positive. It could be worse. It could be better.”
Knowledge is power.
“I went online to find out more about MS,” says Maria.
“I didn’t know a whole lot about it. MS Ireland is a very helpful source for information. When I was first diagnosed in hospital, Aideen, a nurse from MS Ireland, came to meet me.
“We had a good chat, which I found very helpful. I wasn’t sure what to tell people at work. Aideen knew how to broach the subject and she reassured me. Her support was invaluable.
“In the beginning, I was on steroids for five days. MS can affect people a lot emotionally. My family were all shell-shocked when I told them about my condition.”
Maria’s loved ones rallied around her.
“My family were all there for me. Patrick is great support to me.”
Maria, with a positive attitude and armed with the motivation to be strong in mind and body, found ways to maintain full participation in home life, work life, and leisure pursuits.
“When I first joined the gym in Ballincollig, I used to get vertigo,” she says.
“When I tried doing squats and lunges, my balance was off. The guys began saying to me; ‘you’re improving!’ Now I’m flying it. My body is strong.
“I ran my first half-marathon in October. I take part in regular park runs in Ballincollig.
“I try and eat a healthy balanced diet which is important.”
Maria’s positive attitude is important.
“MS didn’t ruin my life. I’m still me.”
Everybody has good days and bad days.
“My work is the same,” she says.
“I can still do everything. Some days I’m more tired. I don’t have the same energy. And I still get pain in my eye sometimes.
“On those days my colleagues at work look out for me.
“I’ve learned to pace myself. I have MS infusion treatment every 28 days.”
Maria, living her life to the full, undertook another challenge to support MS Ireland.
“I held my first bake sale to generate some fund for the Association.”
Maria says the symptoms of MS can vary from person to person.
“The MRI scan detected my MS,” she says.
“But you know, it’s not the end of the world. All is good. It is true, we all have good and bad days.”
Ireland’s annual opportunity to help ‘Kiss Goodbye’ to MS will run throughout the month of May with local and national events and activities.
The campaign, run by Multiple Sclerosis Ireland, calls on individuals, workplaces and groups to ‘Wear’, ‘Dare’ and ‘Share’ to fund research and provide services for the more than 9,000 people in Ireland with MS.
WEAR red or hold a ‘red day’ to work.
DARE to get sponsored for an MS Ireland sky dive or take part in the 9,000 steps for MS event
SHARE with friends and family to spread the word.
The campaign takes place in 15 countries who collectively aim to raise more than € 1.2 million to fund research into the cause and cure of Multiple Sclerosis. In Ireland, supporters can text KISS to 50300 to donate €4 and nominate others to take part.
MS is the most common debilitating neurological condition affecting young adults in Ireland.
Multiple Sclerosis, meaning ‘many scars’, affects the motor, sensory and cognitive functioning of the body and is usually diagnosed between 20 and 40 years of age.
The impct of it on individuals, their families and the community can undermine the resilience that is needed for individuals to remain purposeful and in control of their lives.
Three times more women than men are diagnosed with MS.
There is no cause or cure.
Among other services, MS Ireland uses the funds raised to provide vital service that reduce the impact of MS including physiotherapy, general support services, and newly diagnosed seminars.
The MS information help- line open Monday to Friday, 10am to 2pm, contact 1850 233 233 or email email@example.com