A member of Tayside Police, Fran considered herself relatively active and at first dismissed her multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, putting them down to doing too much. She exercised regularly, had a busy job working in the CID and liked to, ‘stomp around the office in her high heels.” So when she felt pins and needles in her legs she changed her shoes, ignored the sensations and got on with life for a couple of months.
The tingling feeling gradually started to move up her legs making walking more challenging so much so that, in May 2013, Fran visited her doctor who started tests. Little did she know she would never return to her police job again. Fran went away on a long holiday weekend when the pain increased to her waist resulting in her temporarily not being able to walk. Her husband Peter took her to A&E in Dundee where more tests were done including a MRI scan and lumbar puncture. Her neurologist confirmed she had Transverse Myelitis (inflammation of the spinal cord) and she was given medication. MS hadn’t crossed her mind at this point, why would it, she was fit and only 52?
She started physiotherapy and had to learn to walk again. She took voluntary redundancy from the police.
In September the same year, returning from a weekend in Inverness she grew very tired and on Tuesday she felt pains in a new place - in her arm, down her right hand side. She phoned her neurologist and went to see her GP and they both apologised and said it was likely she had MS.
She had wanted to be on her own for her appointment (despite her husband being hugely supportive) and she remembers going to a cafe and ordering a huge mug of tea and an equally oversized chocolate fudge doughnut (the last one she ever ate). Fran felt numb, stunned and couldn’t believe what she had been told.
She knew nothing about MS. At her next consultant appointment in October 2013, six months after her first symptoms, she was prescribed disease modifying drugs (DMDs). She felt worse. She saw a MS nurse and didn’t ask any questions. She felt angry and frustrated. To Fran, the psychological pain was far worse than any physical pain.
Looking back now, Fran can see that she was perhaps stressed through work, her mum had not been well, her diet wasn’t that great and while her fitness was OK her vitamin D levels were very low. She went to a local MS therapy centre and tried high dose oxygen therapy a couple of times and found other people to talk with. It was here that she came across the Overcoming MS book but she initially couldn’t be bothered to read it. She had started to wean herself off her prescription drugs and she felt OK.
Fran’s journey to recovery has been a gradual one. After another 18 months she gave up dairy and reduced her meat intake. She kept getting drawn to the charity Overcoming MS (OMS) but hadn’t fully committed to the programme. She attended an OMS conference in Edinburgh in July 2019, where George Jelinek was speaking. She came out of the day event and thought, “What am I messing about at?!” She thought the event was fantastic, she met people who were following the OMS programme and were full of hope.
Fran then committed to going on a week long retreat, run by OMS in Somerset. She travelled down with her husband who left her there. They both had some reservations but, “I get shivers when I think about the week. On Monday I wondered what I was doing there and by Friday I had met ‘my tribe’. It was truly life-changing.”
Fran now follows the OMS programme with passion. She found the plant-based, wholefood diet easy enough to follow, started to run and joined the University Active Living Programme. Her vitamin D levels are now much higher. She has lost weight through eating healthier and exercising regularly and people comment on how well she looks.
“I genuinely feel so alive; my husband says I am positively glowing.”
Fran still gets some symptoms like numbness in her legs and balance issues but they don’t bother her as much mentally.
“I think through my symptoms. They just aren’t as important as they used to be because I know tomorrow will be another day and I remain positive.”
Fran has become an OMS Ambassador and helps to organise a support group in Dundee. They use WhatsApp to share and post pictures of recipes, meditation tips, exercise encouragement and the best place to get flaxseed oil! She now works at the local MS therapy centre and her aim is to support others who are newly diagnosed as she knows first hand that it can be an extremely scary time.
Fran Benison, 58, Dundee
Lumbar puncture - A procedure in which a thin needle is inserted between the bones in your lower spine, used when diagnosing MS.
Transverse Myelitis - an inflammation of both sides of one section of the spinal cord. This neurological disorder often damages the insulating material covering nerve cell fibers (myelin).
Disease-modifying drugs - Disease-modifying therapies have been shown in clinical trials to modify the course of MS.
OMS Ambassador - OMS Ambassadors serve as regional coordinators, offering advice and encouragement as people start the OMS programme.