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Young mum - my life with MS
JENNIE Chandler was 22 when she was told she had the incurable and debilitating illness Multiple Sclerosis.
She had never heard of it. She did not know what it was, let alone what it would mean for the rest of her life.
She was frightened, not least because she had two young daughters to care for.
At the time, she could not walk, she had lost feeling in her left side and she had no idea if she would stay like that for the rest of her life.
Jennie had been looking forward to a bright future.
She studied business administration at Colchester Institute and at 18 got a job as a personal assistant with an engineering firm in London.
She met her husband Chris on her 18th birthday. Eighteen months later, on Valentine's Day, he proposed on Embankment Bridge in London and when she was 20, Jennie fell pregnant with their first daughter, Stella.
Six weeks after Stella was born, Jennie became pregnant with Isla. Life was good.
But in July 2010, when she was eight months pregnant, Jennie had what she now knows was her first MS episode.
"I was sitting on the floor playing with Stella and I had a numbness right down my left side of my body.
"My midwife said come in straight away and they monitored me. They thought Isla was lying on a nerve and they delivered her early.
"I was given steroids and everything went back to normal."
It was only a respite, however. In November 2011, Jennie, of Roberts Road, Colchester, suffered another relapse.
"I woke up one morning and could not feel my left side.
"I could not get out of bed. I called Chris' sister, Sarah, and she got me to hospital.
"They thought I had had a stroke and I was given a CT scan."
It came back negative so medics arranged for Jennie to undergo further tests.
Before the results came back, Jennie was told it was thought she had MS.
"I did not know what it was. I didn't know anyone with it.
"I did not understand the medical terms the consultant was telling me. A nurse came over and explained.
"I cried. I thought I would never walk again. I thought I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
"I did not know how I was going to care for my daughters, how I was going to be a mum to them. I cried a lot."
Her diagnosis was confirmed as relasping remitting MS. She was given steroids and medication to try to control the condition.
Daily physiotherapy for eight weeks helped Jennie go from walking precariously with a frame to walking with crutches but she struggled to come to terms with her illness.
"I went into a depression after I was diagnosed.
"I did not want to leave my house or speak to people.
"I closed down. I did not take pride in anything. I felt there was a stigma in going out with my crutches."
Jennie still does not know what the future holds.
"There is no pattern to my illness. I have good days and bad days and I don't know how I am going to be when I am 40 or 50."
However, thanks to support from Chris and MS-UK, the charity offering advice and support for people with MS, she has turned her life around.
"Chris and I struggled at first to find a balance to support each other, physically and emotionally.
"Chris is my rock. There was never a discussion as to whether we would stay together. We knew we wanted to be."
They married in March 2012. Jennie said: "I was determined to walk down the aisle without crutches. I hung on to my mum, Christine.
"By the end of the day I was completely exhausted. I was in bed by 10pm."
Jennie got in touch with MS-UK in July 2012. She said: "They understood and were reassuring. It has been so important.
"Compared to how I was when I was diagnosed, it is like day and night."
Jennie will always suffer the effects of MS. She has no feeling down her left side and takes medication to relieve the pain caused by the condition. She also suffers terrible fatigue.
She has had two relapses since her diagnosis, once in November last year and again in April when she has also had to take steroids.
But Jennie said the charity had given her not only support and friendship but a sense of purpose and a renewed confidence.
She is involved in helping out at fundraising events and her family has appeared in a film to mark MS awareness day.
Chris has also raised £3,000 for the charity by running marathons - and Stella also boosted the funds by taking part in a run herself.
Jennie said: "If this helps one person, then it has done some good."
* To contact MS-UK, go to www.ms-uk.org or call 0800 783 0518.
Jennie's story has been filmed to support awareness of Multiple Sclerosis. To see the film go to http://youtu.be/NCgebsiNdyU
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