There were lots of little things, Emma Valentine says, inconsequential in isolation, but when taken together, added up to something far bigger than the sum of its parts.
“I was 24 at the time,leading a normal life, living with my boyfriend, working away, when lots of tiny things started to happen. In isolation they were nothing — tingling, occasional numbness.
“Then there was this thing with my neck. If I pressed my chin against my chest, an electric shock sensation ran down my legs,” Emma says.
She googled the symptoms and came across “Lhermitte’s sign” — which described the electric shock sensation most often reported by people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Emma, from Ballincollig, Co Cork, went to her GP.
“I told her a lot of weird things were happening to me and that I had googled it and I thought it was MS.” Her GP’s advice was to lay off Dr Google and Emma was sent for a series of scans and tests.
“I walked back into her surgery six months later and said: ‘I was right’,” Emma says.
That was 2011. Since then Emma has married her boyfriend, Matt Kelleher, and they have a five-year-old daughter, Rowan. Emma says having Rowan was not a problem, despite her MS. She had been off a strong drug for a couple of months after suffering a bout of pneumonia.
“The drug I was injecting takes four months to wash out, and I was off it three months when I asked my GP if we could try for a baby. She said to go for it.”
The upshot was Rowan. When her baby was 12 weeks old, Emma woke up one morning with double vision and ended up on steroids.
Thankfully the steroid treatment worked and her sight returned to normal. Emma, now aged 33, says she is “fairly well most of the time” and doesn’t allow “small symptoms” interfere with her life. She gave up work last year — a stressful executive customer relations job — to spend time as a stay-at-home mum.
She’s had different treatments over the years, the latest a drug involving five infusions in 2017 and a further three last year, and nothing since. Right now, she’s spreading the word about the upcoming MS Readathon, the largest mass-reading initiative in Ireland, now in its 32nd year.
She’s always been a bookworm, a trait inherited by Rowan, whose school, Gaelscoil an Chaisleáin, Ballincollig, is rowing in behind the Readathon.
“Rowan is a massive bookworm. Her bookcase is jammed with books,” Emma says.
Funds raised by the Readathon directly support vital services eg the MS Ireland Information Line, (one-to-one support for those newly diagnosed), physiotherapy and exercise classes to help people with MS remain independent, and respite care.
To get involved in MS Readathon 2019, which runs from October 11 to November 11, visit msreadathon.ie.
For more information on MS and MS Ireland, visit ms-society.ie, call 1850 233 233 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.