Being diagnosed with muliple sclerosis can turn a person’s life upside down and leave them uncertain of the future.
But a devoted group which cares for sufferers in West Dunbartonshire is helping them to live a positive life.
Set up almost 50 years ago to support people of all ages affected by and living with the disabling neurological condition, the Dumbarton and District branch of the MS Society is going from strength to strength.
Most recently, it was given a huge boost when it was named the National Park’s charity of the year meaning it will gain support from staff through a wide range of fundraising activities.
The Lennox Herald went along to the group’s monthly lunch club at Ingliston Country Club to find out more about those behind it.
Heading the group is Sheena Rollo, whose sister Mary has MS.
She is a passionate campaigner whose selfless work with the group earned her a West Dunbartonshire citizen of the year award in 2012 and saw her be a baton bearer for Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games.
“Everyone has their own story here,” she said.
“People were very private when I first came on board and didn’t want to talk about MS and how it affects them.
“Everyone here is now much more open and willing to talk about it.
“They are no longer embarrassed, which is hugely important.”
She told how MS affects people in different ways.
“We have a man with us who has had MS for seven years.
“He worked in the police but within those years, MS has completely ravaged him.
“It would break your heart if you could see how quickly it can have an effect on people.
“Fatigue is one of the most debilitating symptoms.
“One of our young members said to me that he was lying on the sofa watching TV and was too fatigued to reach for the remote.
“He said he lay for two hours before he could move.
“One person could have MS for 20 years and are still very able whereas for others it can take over their lives very quickly.
“I watched Mary go downhill over the years but it is important to be upbeat.
“Her husband Robert has a good sense of humour and upbeat personality.
“You will find that people who have MS and their families are often like that. It is important to keep smiling.”
The group has been a lifeline for Sheena’s sister Mary Donald, who was diagnosed with the condition when she was 23-years-old.
Now, aged 62, and despite MS taking its toll over the years, she is determined not to let it drag her down.
Despite being wheelchair-bound, she is an active member of a disabled sailing club in Helensburgh and attends all the outings organised by the group.
Speaking ahead of MS Awareness Week (April 23-29), she said: “A dear old cousin used to say you had to make the most of the shining hour and that’s what I have always intended to do.
“It all began when I was in my 20s and I started getting tingly hands.
“I had no idea what it was but I found out when I went to the hospital and they had circled ‘MS’.
“It was a shock but I didn’t want to let it get me down.
“It has been a slow deterioration over the years and it progressed to me dragging my foot and struggling to walk.”
Mary continued to work in administration at Strathclyde Regional Council but eventually had to give up work as her condition continued to deteriorate.
Her devoted husband and full-time carer Robert is always by her side and helps to run the branch.
“We had been married four years when Mary was diagnosed,” he said.
“It affects everyone differently. Some people go downhill rapidly. With Mary, it has been gradual.
“She is restricted to a wheelchair but it doesn’t stop us from enjoying life, getting out and going on holidays.”
Dumbarton woman Meta Smith, 68, was diagnosed with the condition almost 30 years ago and told how many people would never know she even has it.
She said: “It isn’t obvious to begin with but I use a walker all the time and I have a wheelchair.
“I throw my leg out and have to wear a splint.
“I also have a lot of tiredness and I have difficulties with balance.
“I worked in a shop but I had to give that up in my early 50s because I struggled to carry the stock up and down the stairs.”
She added: “I love coming here — it’s a great social group. There’s always something going on and events to look forward to.”
The local branch has been providing support to the MS community since 1970 and since then, the group’s committee has been raising awareness, fundraising and organising outings and events for people with MS.
Most recently, shiatsu practitioner Pauline McWilliams came on board to offer the Japanese therapy to members to help support and strengthen their body’s natural ability to heal.
She said: “Shiatsu changed my life as I used to have Fibromyalgia but that disappeared when I began shiatsu.
“I really hope it will help those in the group too.
“My mother had MS and I was taken out of school to care for her so helping the group is something which is close to my heart.”
The neurological condition affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
More than 100,000 people in the UK have MS which is about one in every 600.
Symptoms vary from person to person but some of the most common symptoms are fatigue, stumbling more than before, unusual feelings in the skin – such as pins and needles, slowed thinking or problems with eyesight.
MS is also the most common condition of the central nervous system affecting young adults.
Most people are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s, which is why it now has aims of expanding the group further in a bid to encourage more young people to get involved.
Sheena said: “We would love to get younger people involved and we need to really look at how we are going to do that.
“We have sent an FOI to the health board to ask how many people in our area have MS because we don’t have those figures.
“I think we will be in for a shock. I think we have only reached the tip of the iceberg.”
They also have a Facebook page Dumbarton and District MS Group, where people can get in touch.
The group also hold a drop-in service at Helensburgh and Lomond Civic Centre, 38 East Clyde Street.
They can be found in the Templeton Annex every second Wednesday.