Colin Wallace lives in Aberdeen with his wife Judith, and is the father of two children, Evie and Alec. He was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS in 2018. We talked to Colin and his family about the impact of the diagnosis and how they dealt with the difficult task of discussing MS with young children.
Colin, can you tell us a little bit about your diagnosis? How did you react to the news?
I was diagnosed in April 2018 when I was 32 years old. When I was younger I had repeated bouts of optic neuritis, the first of these occurred in 2005 when I was 20. After my second bout the consultant told me that
I probably had MS, as a repeat of optic neuritis can be a sign of multiple sclerosis. I wasn’t ready to deal with this though, so put it to the back of my mind and got on with my life as normal. Although I had a few more episodes of optic neuritis over the years, I had no other symptoms and still managed to live a normal life. I rowed to a high level, competed in ironman triathlons, got married and started a family.
When I first started having other symptoms in winter 2018, including numbness and tingling in my left hand, along with balance issues, I still didn't really think about MS. I put it down to the cold of winter and being busy renovating our house. It was only after my dad, a former GP, asked for the fifth or sixth time how my hand was that it clicked with me and I thought it could be something more. I saw my GP, who referred me quickly and following an MRI, I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. The news was devastating initially and I really struggled to come to terms with the diagnosis. I mourned the activities that I would no longer be able to do, was depressed for a few months and only told a handful of people what had happened.
However a few months on, after reading great publications from the MS Trust and other articles, I decided to tell everyone I could about my MS. The positivity that came back from them was incredible. Everyone was so kind and supportive and really helped me come to terms with the diagnosis. The second big thing I did (after my wife pushed me towards it) was to attend a Paralympic sports testing day. As a result, British Cycling have accepted me onto the foundation programme that is aiming towards the Paris 2024 Paralympics! These events and others have given me my unofficial motto of "turning my frown upside down".
How did your family respond to the news of your diagnosis?
My family were incredible. As a former GP, my dad was extremely knowledgeable and supportive. Mum was fab, just being there to give me cuddles when I needed them! One of the hardest aspects was actually telling people I knew about my diagnosis, but luckily my dad and my wife, Judith, helped so much with this. Everyone was incredibly supportive and those that know me best trusted I would cope with whatever came my way and deal with it with positivity. My wife was sad when she found out, but has also said it was a relief to finally have an answer. My daughter Evie was only two when I was diagnosed, so doesn’t remember too much, but has admitted feeling worried about it as she got older. Alec was older than Evie, so was definitely more scared and worried about how our lives would be affected.
How did you go about explaining MS to your children?
Evie and Alec both got special books about multiple sclerosis which carefully told them what it is, why some people have it and also what it makes people with MS feel like. Judith, came across the MS Trust books ‘Talking with your kids about MS’ and also ‘A kid’s guide to MS’. These are aimed specifically at children and made it so much easier for us to explain what was going on with me.
As a family how do you cope with MS?
Evie: For a while Daddy was taking medicine every day so I would help by reminding him to take it. Now he is on new medicine, so I have to be careful to not make him sick if I get poorly. I also give him a daily cuddle to make him feel better.
Alec: We know when he isn’t feeling good so we are extra kind to him to make him feel better. We do fun things to make him forget about it, like going cycling together.
Judith: We take every day as it comes and continue to look to the positives this diagnosis has brought. He has the opportunity to remain involved in high performance sport, with the possibility of the Paralympics on the horizon. It has opened so many doors to us that we thought were closed forever. Colin is a great role model for the kids through his strength and determination to not let MS hold him back.
What questions do your children have about MS?
Evie: Is it going to stay with you forever?
Alec: How will it affect you when you get older? What does it feel like?
What advice would you give other children with a parent who has MS?
Evie: I talk to daddy when he doesn’t feel good and we have our ‘daily cuddle’.
Alec: We just talk about it lots and have cuddles if we are feeling sad.
Judith: Talk, talk, talk.
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