'Please, Santa, I just want to SEE'
Despite a rocky start, Claire has refused to let being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis defeat her. Instead, it has taught her to appreciate the finer things in life and to make the most of every day. A true inspiration. We worked together to get her story published in the biggest selling women's weekly magazine, Take a Break.
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I got into bed and curled into a ball. My boyfriend and I had just split up.
He wanted to settle down and have a family, but I’d just quit my job to start studying at university.
I pulled the duvet over me and cried all night.
After two hours sleep, I woke up with puffy eyes and everything was blurry.
It’s just from crying, I thought.
But later, during a lecture, the vision in my right eye suddenly went cloudy. It was like looking through a steamed-up window.
I had poor eyesight in my other eye, so I was left virtually blind.
I phoned my mum Maureen.
‘It’s probably due to stress,’ I said.
‘You must get it checked,’ she replied.
I went to hospital and was told I had optic neuritis, my optic nerve had become inflamed. I was referred for a brain scan and prescribed steroids.
After that, I spent my days fumbling my way around and studying using audio books. It was terrifying, not knowing if my sight would return.
Eventually though, I noticed the writing on my jar of coffee was getting clearer each morning until finally, after five weeks, I could see again.
As I drove home for Christmas, past the hills wearing blankets of snow and the hedgerows glistening with frost, a lump rose in my throat. Being able to see was the best gift I could have asked for.
Back home, three days before Christmas, I went to hospital for my brain scan results. I travelled through streets lined with twinkling lights and impressive festive displays in people’s front gardens.
I was sure my results would be clear and was more concerned with the Christmas shopping I still needed to do.
But the consultant told me: ‘The MRI scan shows scarring around the optic nerve. This is indicative of Multiple Sclerosis.’
‘Are you saying I have MS?’ I asked.
‘It’s not for me to determine,’ he said. ‘I want to refer you to a neurologist.’
‘You’ve got my results mixed up with someone else’s,’ I said.
I went home, convinced it was a mistake.
On Christmas day, I pushed it to the back of my mind and opened presents with my family, tucked into turkey with all the trimmings, and watched Home Alone while eating far too many chocolates.
But in the New Year, I started reading online about MS.
Numbness and tingling.
I’d had a worrying number of its symptoms.
I returned to hospital for a lumbar puncture and further brain scans. Then came the news I was dreading.
I did have Multiple Sclerosis.
I broke down in tears.
‘My life’s over’, I said.
‘No it’s not,’ Mum said.
I was forced to overcome a phobia of needles and inject myself once a week, and I couldn’t help worrying that one day I’d wake up blind or unable to walk.
But after a while, I realised Mum was right. My life wasn’t over, it had simply changed.
Now it’s been 10 years since my diagnosis and I’m feeling good. MS has taught me to appreciate the simple things, like drinking that first coffee of the day or reading a good book.
I want to ban misconceptions about MS. It doesn’t have to mean the end. I’m the proof.
What is it?
A condition that affects your brain and spinal cord. The coating that protects your nerves (myelin) is damaged, which causes symptoms.
Who gets it? More than 100,000 people in the UK have it and people are most likely to be diagnosed in their 40s and 50s. It affects almost three times as many women as men.
What’s the treatment? There’s currently no cure but if you have relapses, there are drugs that can reduce them called disease modifying therapies (DMTs).
Where can I find out more? Visit mssociety.org.uk