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Jo's example an inspiration to other young MS sufferers
IN March, Jo Hardiman from Chipping Norton received the Oxford MS Young Inspiration Award at Oxford University’s MS 2013 research conference at Abingdon’s Four Pillars Hotel.
The annual award, which recognises inspiring young MS sufferers in the county, was given to Ms Hardiman for her work setting up and organising MSsy (a group for young people with MS), as well as her continuing support for fellow sufferers.
One of many touching citations read out during the awards said: “Jo exudes positivity and proves herself to be a considerate and informative friend to many MSers. It is not about our MS, but about us as people.”
Ms Hardiman, a former cancer nurse, said: “It was a real highlight in eight very difficult years.
“My parents were really thrilled, but to be truthful I don’t feel like I am doing anything really special.”
She had just celebrated her 27th birthday in May 2005 when she started to experience extreme tiredness.
The fatigue coupled with excruciating headaches led to her taking time off work as a nurse in Churchill Hospital’s Oncology Unit.
She said: “I had not long started work as a nurse, but soon found it was hard to cope.
“I had to wait six months before I could see a consultant because of the fatigue, and in December I was diagnosed with ME.”
Then one morning in January 2006 Ms Hardiman was woken for work by her alarm – only to find she could not move her right arm.
Her first thought was: “Oh my God, I’m 27 and I’ve had a stroke.”
A CT scan detected damage to the nerves in her brain.
Other scans followed and doctors told Jo and her husband Tim they suspected she had the condition ADEM – acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which sometimes occurs after a virus and can cause scarring of the brain tissue.
But fatigue, headaches and paralysis followed and in August 2005 she was finally diagnosed with MS, a neurological disease in which a patient’s nerves are slowly destroyed, affecting movement, speech and many other body functions.
Most people are diagnosed with MS between the ages of 20 and 40, but it can also affect young and older people too.
About 100,000 people in the UK have the disease.
Ms Hardiman said: “On one hand I felt like clapping because at least the MS had been confirmed.
“On the other hand it was very upsetting to know I was just 27 and had MS.”
Then, after she suffered a major relapse in September 2006, doctors told her that her MS was particularly aggressive and she was offered chemotherapy.
She said: “I suddenly went from being the nurse who gives people chemo to having round after round of it myself and it was terrifying.”
As well as the trauma of chemo Jo was faced with the difficult decision of whether to have her eggs frozen.
She said: “I had always dreamed I would be a mum.”
Her parents moved to Chipping Norton to help with her care and in 2007 she finally gave up any thought of returning to work.
After chemo, Jo retained some feeling in her hand but is still weakened down her right side, and since January 2007 has had to inject herself every day with a disease inhibiting drug called Copaxone.
She now uses a motorised scooter to get around and said: “MS has changed my life completely.
“My husband Tim and I sadly separated.
“Of course I get angry... but my philosophy has always been to just get on with life, and as a result I have done things, met people and set up MSsy.”
In 2008 Jo went along to a physio group run by West Oxfordshire MS Society.
She said: “It’s a lovely group but most of the people there are older than me.
“I wanted to talk to younger people so I put an ad on the MS Society internet forum asking if there were other young sufferers in Oxfordshire who wanted to meet up.
“There wasn’t a lot of interest at first but a few of us started to meet and enjoy nights out and I now have around 25 people who can attend once a month, either in the Four Candles Pub in George Street, Oxford or elsewhere for activities.”
She set up the group MSsy in 2010 and explained: “We decided to call the group MSsy because we are messy, our lives are messy and so is our handwriting.”
Since being diagnosed with MS Jo has also jumped out of an aeroplane to raise funds for West Oxfordshire MS Society branch, and in May, the eighth anniversary of when she first became ill, she abseiled down the front of the John Radcliffe Hospital for the Radcliffe Trust’s Cancer Care Fund.
Through the charity Sportability, she and her fellow MSsy members also regularly enjoy microlighting and gliding.
- The West Oxford MSsy Young Persons Group meets every third Tuesday of the month.
For more details email firstname.lastname@example.org
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