MS is only one part of my whole life, says Cork mum

EMMA CONNOLLY talks to a Ballincollig mum who is one of 9,000 people in Ireland living with MS. Three times more women than men are diagnosed with the neurological condition.
MS is only one part of my whole life, says Cork mum

Emma Valentine with daughter Rowan KELLEHER and husband Matt Kelleher.

MULTIPLE sclerosis (MS) is just one part of my busy life, but it’s not at the front and centre.

That’s the positive outlook of Ballincollig woman Emma Valentine, who is confident of a breakthrough in treating the neurological condition.

Emma said: “Who knows, in another 20 years’ time, MS mightn’t even be ‘a thing’ any more.”

That’s why she’s urging people to support the 33rd MS Ireland READaTHON, which has gone online due to Covid-19 and which runs for the entire month of November.

The charity is expecting a decrease of fund-raised income of over €1m this year, and the thousands of people they support around the country are depending on their flagship event more than ever to continue to provide the same level of service next year.

Emma, a 34-year-old mum of one, was formally diagnosed with the condition, for which there’s currently no cure, back in September, 2011. But the astute young woman had known since she had walked into her doctor’s surgery six months earlier what was coming down the tracks.

Several small things had been niggling at her, including persistent numbness and tingling of her fingers and the soles of her feet, as well as a strange electric shock sensation down the back of her legs when she pressed her chin to her chest.

“It was these tiny things, which, if it hadn’t been for them all together, I mightn’t have had them investigated at all. And to be honest I think I went to the doctor for something else and just mentioned to her that I felt I had MS,” said Emma.

Emma Valentine with her daughter Rowan at Gaelscoil an Chaisleáin, Ballincollig who are organising the MS Readathon at the school, included are Máire Ui Shé, principal and Leonard O'Conchuir, teacher .
Emma Valentine with her daughter Rowan at Gaelscoil an Chaisleáin, Ballincollig who are organising the MS Readathon at the school, included are Máire Ui Shé, principal and Leonard O'Conchuir, teacher .

She was sent for an MRI and says she was lucky to get her diagnosis very quickly, aged 25.

“I was ready for it because I had been thinking about it since that April. The hardest part was telling my mum and two younger sisters but it was also a relief as I had been holding the secret for a while.”

Emma was offered four similar type treatments at that point and opted for a daily injection which she continued for four years.

After the birth of her daughter Rowan (now six), she changed to a daily tablet and as advances were made, she changed again in 2017 to a new hospital administered infusion.

“But I haven’t had anything since I completed that in April, 2018,” she said, explaining that except for an occasional relapse, her condition is very manageable.

When she talks about her daughter her voice lights up, but pregnancy brings its own risks for MS sufferers.

“Three months after birth there’s a heighted chance of a relapse. And sure enough, the day Rowan turned 12 weeks I had a scare with my vision,” she remembers.

And while her condition isn’t the deciding factor in herself and husband Matt Kelleher growing their family, she says it’s “one more thing to consider”.

Emma worked for Amazon for 13 years, including for a period after her diagnosis, in a highly stressful corporate role.

“It was manic and there were long hours which I can’t say I miss!” she said.

Now, after a period of being a stay at home mum, which she loved, admitting she must have had the ‘best version’ of lockdown, she’s taken on a new role as secretary in her daughter’s school, Gaelscoil an Chaisleáin, Ballincollig. And even though she’s living with MS, she doesn’t consider herself to be in the ‘at risk’ category when it comes to Covid-19.

“I might have been before my treatment ended but not now, so I’m not nervous at all really,” she said.

“Covid hasn’t changed anything either in terms of my treatment. A nurse comes to me every month for a blood and urine test, and the only difference now is that she’s masked up.”

Just like there’s no cure for MS, there’s no cause either and Emma thinks she was “just unfortunate”.

“But I have been so lucky that my condition is easily managed. MS consumed me for a while, especially in the lead up and after my diagnosis, but it’s only one part of my whole life now. I’m good at compartmentalising things, and besides, I’ve lots of other things going on with a rewarding job and my daughter. I don’t worry about it, and whether that’s a deliberate thing or not, it’s alright!”

For the month of November, she’s looking forward to being part of the the MS Ireland READaTHON with Rowan.

“As children we were really into it ourselves without having any concept of the charity part of it. Now, Rowan is the biggest book worm ever — she eats books and could read before she even went to school. Recently I find I’m frantically reading books to see if they’re suitable, before handing them over to her!”

Emma Valentine and Rowan.
Emma Valentine and Rowan.

Emma says she’d read anything herself, but she does have a huge appetite for American politics, after doing a course in UCC last year on ‘US Foreign Policy in the age of Trump’. She describes her self as a US political junkie, and calls Donald Trump “the worst thing in the world”. She predicts a win for Joe Biden, adding: “But Trump won’t concede for weeks.”

But regardless of that outcome, she’s urging anyone with any niggling health issues, MS related or not, to get them checked out.

“If it turns out to be something you can deal with it; but if you don’t know, you’ll always be worrying. I feel most confident when I’m fully informed — I need to know things.”

You can contact the MS Information Line on 1850 233 233. Open Monday-Friday, 10am-2pm.


The MS READaTHON will run for the month of November. MS Ireland have launched a brand new interactive website as the fundraiser goes virtual for the first time in its 33-year history at

Thousands of readers young and old will take part in raising awareness and vital funds to support the 9,000 people living with MS, the most common debilitating neurological condition affecting young adults in Ireland.

It was originally launched by Roald Dahl in 1988 and has grown ever since. This year the campaign takes on new importance for MS Ireland, due to the economic impact of Covid-19, fund-raised income is expected to be down 38% on previous years. Traditionally, the campaign has been popular amongst the schoolchildren of Ireland, but this year MS Ireland is encouraging ‘grown up’ readers to take part and get their offices, clubs and families to rediscover their love of reading.

Ava Battles, Chief Executive of MS Ireland, said: “Young readers, parents, teachers and schools have continued to support the MS community, reading and raising funds to help people living with MS and their families. This is greatly appreciated and as each annual MS READaTHON comes around, we want to acknowledge their efforts and we look forward to readers young and old rediscovering their love of reading.”

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Multiple Sclerosis — meaning ‘many scars’ — is the most common debilitating neurological condition affecting young adults in Ireland.

It affects the motor, sensory and cognitive functioning of the body and is usually diagnosed between 20 and 40 years of age.

The impact of MS 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 services that reduce the impact of MS, including physiotherapy, general support services, and newly diagnosed seminars.

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