Though she is not yet 30, Laura McLoughlin has just opened her second beauty salon. She also hopes to meet 'Mr Right' one day, to have a family and to weave travel into her busy schedule. No doubt she will achieve her goals, even though she has been diagnosed with a serious neurological condition.
Given her positive attitude, she is a wonderful role model for all young people facing health challenges.
Her experiences growing up with her older sister in Deansgrange, south Dublin, gave no portent of what she would have to face one day.
Being a cooperative and studious child meant she was happy at school. Laura went on to study geography and Irish at UCD, but eventually discovered that this wasn't a good fit for her - so she enrolled with the inimitable Bronwyn Conroy. At the beauty school, she learned all about the beauty industry and ended up working for the company.
Subsequent jobs at other salons weren't quite so successful. "I was never really happy working for anyone but Bronwyn - I liked her passion and commitment," Laura says. "In other salons, I felt I didn't have the power to make decisions, to give the clients what I felt they needed. I wanted to be the best I could - that's when I decided to start my own business. I asked myself, 'What's the worst that can happen?' I was 24 at the time; I didn't have overheads, children or a mortgage."
About a year later, Laura found a "quirky" cottage, close to Blackrock in south Co Dublin. Having ascertained what it would cost to convert the cottage into a beauty salon, she discovered her dream was doable. "A vintage cottage was different from other salons at the time. I called it 'Burgundy' because that was a nice, rich name and it was a good colour for the decor," she explains. "My mum and dad were very supportive. They said, 'If that is what you want, then go for it.'"
Laura launched in December 2008. Soon after, the recession began savaging the Celtic Tiger, but Laura remained steadfast. "I worked my butt off and employed more people until, finally, we outgrew the cottage," she says.
In April last year, Burgundy Beauty moved to bigger premises across the road. This brave, determined young woman forged ahead, even though she was grappling with ill health.
Six months previously, she had begun to experience numbness in her rib area. She thought it was caused by an overenthusiastic workout at the gym. A few weeks later, the area of numbness had grown, so she went to a GP, who thought she had shingles and prescribed the appropriate medication.
But it didn't take long for Laura to doubt the opinion. "I wasn't convinced it was shingles. I didn't have a rash and the medicine wasn't helping. When the numbness moved into my legs, I knew it wasn't shingles," Laura says.
So an MRI scan was done and, just two and a half hours later, Laura got an alarming call to come back to the hospital for further tests. This time, a gadolinium contrast medium, which is a sort of dye, was used during the scan to highlight any irregularities. Having discovered tissue damage in her spine, Laura was then referred to a neurologist at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, where further tests were done. It was a surreal time for Laura. "I remember, when I was having the lumbar puncture, multiple sclerosis (MS) was mentioned. I didn't flinch at the time, but, that night, when I did some research [on the internet], I became very, very frightened. It only shows you the extreme cases," she says.
"I saw people in wheelchairs - they talk about dying. They don't show you the positive side of living with MS - the people out hiking in the hills, the ones who are working, living life to the full. A lot of that stuff was written years ago and is totally out of date."
Initially, Laura was diagnosed with clinical isolated syndrome (CIS). Three months later, following more tests, it was finally ascertained that further damage had occurred in her neck, so she was officially diagnosed with MS.
"That first night, I was devastated. I bawled my eyes out. My parents took it worse than me - after all, I'm their daughter. Some of my friends were wrecked, emotionally, when I told them. I asked them to come back when they were more together. After that, I just wanted to stay cheery. I try to see the good side of everything," she says.
Ava Battles, chief executive of MS Ireland, says, "There are an estimated 8,000 people with MS in Ireland, and we have one of the world's highest rates of diagnosis. MS is the most common disabling neurological condition affecting young people in Ireland, and is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. There is no known cause or cure. MS Ireland is calling for access to approved treatments for people with MS, particularly those which can significantly impact on a person's ability to remain independent."
Currently, Laura takes an inter-muscular injection of interferon once a week. She says this slows down the progress of the disease by about 30 per cent. However, she will soon be joining a trial for a new drug that will, hopefully, slow down its progress to 60 per cent.
Meeting Laura for the first time, you would never guess she was anything but perfectly healthy. She dresses beautifully and looks lovely. Her hair is glossy, her skin is clear and she is steady. However, she concedes that tiredness is a real problem, as is pain when her MS flares up. And that can happen when she is run down. So, she does her best to stay as fit and healthy as she possibly can by pacing herself at work, exercising regularly, having reiki treatments and watching what she eats. "Diet has a big role to play," Laura says.
In the meantime, she is busy with her team at the salon, doing facials, manicures, pedicures, tanning, eyebrows and eyelashes. She is not going to let her MS get her down.
Her advice to those living with a chronic illness is this: "Stay positive - surround yourself with supportive people. Getting MS is not the worst thing in the world; the medication is getting better all the time.
"Still, it helps to talk to other people in a similar situation and MS Ireland is a great resource for that," she says.
"I would advise anyone with MS to put the thing to the back of their minds and to concentrate on following their dreams. That's exactly what I am doing, and I'm really happy with the way things are going."
For more information on MS Ireland, 80 Northumberland Rd, D4, tel: (1850) 233-233, Monday to Friday 10am-2pm, or see www.ms-society.ie
Burgundy Beauty, Blackrock, Co Dublin, see www.burgundybeauty.ie