DAILY life with Multiple Sclerosis is like having the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head - you never know when this 'cruel disease' may strike.
However, unlike the mythical character, people with the condition face their situation with fortitude and the hope that one day a cure will be found.
Sadly, that may be some time off as at the moment precious little is known about MS, the most common disabling neurological condition affecting young adults, with about 85,000 sufferers in the UK.
It is an autoimmune condition, meaning that the body's immune system attacks its own tissues. In MS, the immune system attacks and strips off myelin - a protective sheath surrounding nerve fibres of the central nervous system.
This damage disrupts messages travelling between the brain and other parts of the body or prevents them getting through at all. For some, the condition is characterised by periods of relapse and remission, for others it has a progressive pattern of accumulated disability; but for everyone, life is unpredictable.
Maybe the most alarming thing about MS is the fact that experts are still in the dark as to its causes. It is believed that the condition is caused in part by something in the environment, perhaps a bacteria or virus, combined with genetic factors, though it must be noted that it is not hereditary.
Peter Weeden, of North Drive, Rudheath, was diagnosed with MS seven years ago, but as in many cases, the complexity and uncertainty of the condition means that he may have been living with it for a number of years beforehand.
Peter, 35, experienced severe numbness, tingles and physical weakness and had to retire from his job as a vehicle technician as his mobility and eyesight deteriorated.
'Doctors can miss MS when it first comes about,' he said. 'It's quite normal for people to have aching joints or numbness; you need at least two major attacks before the doctors can definitely say you've got MS.
'Every individual is different. With me, it comes and goes and I've not really had a bad attack for virtually two years, touch wood. I can drive again but if I get very stressed or tired I get very blurry vision in one eye.'
It is hard for people with MS not to get stressed as the condition can cause great frustration and upset in the way it changes their lifestyles.
Depression is a common off-shoot as shock turns into denial and anger.
Peter said: 'When I was first diagnosed I didn't know anything about MS; it was not a very recognised illness and it's in the last few years it's been publicised more.
'I didn't want to give into it and lose my job, but it got that bad that I had to and when I finished work I was lost - I'm not a couch potato but I was left with nothing to do.'
For Peter, the key to coming through his dark period was making contact with the Vale Royal branch of the MS Society, based in Weaverham.
The society is the only nationwide organisation dedicated to supporting people with MS, providing the care and information they need in their everyday lives - it transformed Peter's life.
He said: 'Now I have many friends and we share our experiences and have a laugh, joking about it. Saying you got up this morning and your legs didn't work sounds nasty but if you share it with fellow sufferers, it helps to get over things.'
Society on hand for support
THE Vale Royal branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Society has being supporting people with the condition for more than 20 years.
The branch, covering Northwich, Winsford and Middlewich, is one of 365 across the UK and provides vital information and practical support to people affected by MS.
It currently has about 30 volunteers and 176 members and offers help to all people affected by MS, not just those with the condition but their partners, carers, family and friends and those whose work brings them into contact with MS.
Branches offer a range of services known as the 'The Essentials' and these include providing appropriate, high-quality information on MS such as managing the condition and welfare/benefits advice, holding up-to-date information on other local services, communicating via a regular newsletter, providing a trained person to offer information and support to people who are newly-diagnosed and financial support where this is needed but unavailable through other sources.
June Oliver, the welfare/support officer at the Vale Royal branch, in Weaverham, has been involved with the MS Society for more than a decade and, in a cruel twist of fate, was recently diagnosed with MS herself.
Despite this, June, 63, of Station Road, Weaverham, remains upbeat and is as dedicated as ever to her job.
She said: 'We help towards holidays and respite care and provide a monthly drop-in, days out, pub lunches twice a month as well as yoga sessions and hydrotherapy.
'We have a mini-bus to take people out and try and improve their quality of life - there is an appeal for a new mini-bus, which will cost £30,000; we have about £14,000 so far.'
For more details, or to volunteer, contact June Oliver on 01606 851178 or e-mail email@example.com
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