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Find a path from denial to acceptance

AGED 21, Aine O'Sullivan looked down at her hands and wondered why she had constant pins and needles. She was in her third year at college.

"I put it down to bad circulation, and maybe something to do with my lifestyle. But it lasted two weeks," says Aine.

The business student went to the GP and it was suggested she go on a course of multi-vitamins. But the sensation returned. "It came back in both my hands and then went up and down my arms, legs, back and stomach."

Blood tests came back normal so Aine, who lives in Ballsbridge, went for an MRI scan. The doctors told her it was 99pc certain she had MS. "I didn't take the news that seriously, part of me was joking 'well, it's not 100pc'." Aine went for a lumbar puncture and then she headed off to San Francisco for summer work, fundraising for charities.

"I was standing outside the University of San Francisco, stopping students and fund-raising when mum phoned with the news that I definitely had MS. It was a hard call for her to make."

Ironically, Aine calls July 5 her 'Celebration Day' -- the day she was officially diagnosed with the condition.

"In San Francisco, I had spent some time researching MS. When I found out, I thought 'well at least I know what it is'. Before that I was in denial about the possibility, so I went from denial to acceptance."

Mum Briege and dad Sean along with sister Helen and brothers Eoghan and Thomas, all rallied around. So by the time that Aine returned home the atmosphere was positive, with plans for the future.

"It was brilliant to be in San Francisco during that initial time, because I got to let out all my emotions there and I was out of the spotlight. When I came home, my parents had got used to the news at that stage and everyone was thinking positively." Aine got involved with MS Ireland. She passed her honours degree in business and marketing. The college even provided her with free counselling sessions for a year.

The fundraising began, with the community of Seenagh rallying behind Aine. Briege, Sean and Aine went on a trek to Machu Picchu in Peru with MS Ireland. "The final day, we got to the top and we walked hand in hand. I wanted them to see that there is nothing I can't achieve if I try. I was able to see that about me, in them. We did something very special together. It's rare I would have ever seen my dad cry, but he did that day.

"That trip was like a final healing for all of us." They raised more than €35,000.

But Aine has also realised that she regularly needs to take things easy. Her body sends her the odd pins and needles sensation. In a way she sees it as a 'trigger' warning for her health in general. Last year she had a relapse and her vision was blurred in one eye.

"I also got headaches in different parts of my head. If I laughed I would get an awful pain in my head, too." Her vision returned four weeks later.

"I think about the future. I know I can't burn the candle at both ends. It has made me think things like, should I buy a house, or move home? Those things are always at the back of my mind."

She adds: "If MS puts a spanner in the works in the future, then I will deal with it at that time. There is no point dealing now with ifs and buts. MS is not life-threatening."

Aine is now working as fundraising executive with MS Ireland. She is presently developing corporate relations between the 10 regional offices and the business sector in Ireland.

Wednesday is world multiple sclerosis day. www.ms-society.ie