Patricia Gachagan, host of “The Positively Different MS Show” on MS & Me Radio Network was recently featured in The Herald. You can listen to Patricia’s show Sunday at 18:30 international time.
In an interview with Russell Leadbetter of the Herald, Patricia shared:
PATRICIA Gachagan once was a primary school teacher. She loved her job, and she was good at it. It took her to London, then Barcelona, then back to her native Glasgow. She was something of a gym addict, too. She was fit and healthy.
But in her late 30s, after she had given birth to her first child, a boy named Elliot, her life changed. Her immune system began to turn on itself, and her health began to deteriorate. From the very first day after giving birth, she says, she instinctively knew that something was wrong. Her illness reached the point where she had no option but to take early retirement.
Gachagan was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a condition she has continued to find ways of living with. Still only 49, she has not only written a book that narrated her story of MS and motherhood but, as of last weekend, she has also become a presenter on a newly-launched global online radio station, the MS & Me Radio Network, launched by the Multiple Sclerosis Global Support Network.
Working from a laptop in the kitchen of her home in Garthamlock, in the east end of Glasgow, she has become the only UK presenter on the station, which describes itself as a “informational series of radio programmes for MS patients, caregivers and families”. Her contribution, which will go under the title of “The Positively Different MS Show”, will, much like the book, show people how to find the positives in their situation and not to dwell on the negatives. Her first show went out at 2:30pm today. Her sister, Margaret Anne, is the producer.
Gachagan considers herself eminently qualified for such a role, having turned her own situation from, as she puts it, a prognosis of disability and vulnerability to one of hope and ability.
“I had Elliot, in April of 2006, and almost immediately my body reacted”, she says. It was put down to post-pregnancy difficulties, but she never recovered. The illness showed no sign of going away and after a few weeks I realised I was losing feeling in my feet and the bottom of my legs, and I was having difficulty walking. At that point the medical world thought, ‘This might be something else’. Up until then, they had stuck to it being related to my Caesarean.
“I was referred to the old Southern General for a series of tests”, she continues. “It took nine months altogether, from the birth of my son to the diagnosis. It’s believed that my immune system had attacked itself in error following the birth, which had the effect of triggering MS.
“I decided to call my book Born Together, as it’s the story of how I have lived with my son, and MS, since literally the first day”.
It’s a measure of her resilience that, right at the outset, she refused to give in to despair. She resolved that MS would not get in the way of caring for her son. “I have a good support network and was determined to bring up Elliot and live my life the way I wanted to. I refused to let MS get in the way.”
“In fact, on that first day I bought a self-help book, and that was what led my journey. I have tackled MS through diet, and exercise, and I have tried different therapies and treatments over many years. I also take some medication, Low-Dose Naltrexone, or LDN. I manage reasonably well”, she says. Online, the Multiple Sclerosis Trust says Naltrexone is a drug used to treat people with addictions. In the wake of anecdotal reports that low doses helped the symptoms of people with a wide range of conditions, it adds, there have been a few pilot studies of LDN in multiple sclerosis.
“I used to be a primary school teacher and I was a very organised and pro-active person”, she says, “and I carried that through in understanding what had happened to my body, and the changes that have resulted.
“I suppose that is what the book is about. It’s in my personality to be determined and positive. One thing I always say is that, if you can shift your perspective, you can shift anything”.
Despite increasing publicity given to the condition in recent years, many people only have a vague idea of what it is like to suffer from this neurological condition. As the MS Society says, symptoms might include fatigue, vision problems or difficulties with walking, but MS is different for everyone. Some 100,000 people in the UK have MS.
“A lot of people just have one vision of MS,” says Gachagan. “To be honest, when I was first diagnosed, I had no idea what it was or what it really meant. I spent a lot of time researching it. It was a steep learning curve for myself and my family.
“In my daily life I try to put my MS into a separate place, so that it doesn’t define me or my life. For me, it is not about overcoming MS: it’s about living with it, and living well”.
To this end, and to help others in the same situation, Gachagan has written her book and has also created a comprehensive website. One intriguing part of the latter is her MS “jigsaw” – a visual representation of everything she has tried over the years. Counselling, meditation, yoga, swimming, low-sat fats, lots of sleep, Omega-3, mindfulness, positivity, ‘family and friends’ – they are all there.
One component is robo-physiotherapy, “which is something that is being developed right now in Scotland”, she explains. “It’s a new device which I’ve been fortunate enough to try out last year”. A spinal massage bed designed by a physiotherapist, it is currently being researched and funded by Medical Research Scotland, an independent charity, through Edinburgh Napier University.
In fact, it was the jigsaw that brought Gachagan to the attention of the MS & Me Radio Network, which is based on the east coast of America. “The Global Support Network contacted me through social media, seeing they had seen the MS jigsaw, and would I consider hosting a show.
“The hosts are all people with MS who are being pro-active, using their environment, their support groups, and different tools to access as high a quality of life as possible.
“If you have MS it’s very difficult just to rely on medication. I was offered physiotherapy and other things by the NHS. I have no complaints whatsoever about the NHS but because these things are so short-lived because it just doesn’t have the resources. So as time goes on, you start to ask yourself, what can I do? That was how I got the original idea for the MS jigsaw”.
She is understandably excited by the prospect of this newly-launched station. “It has something like 250 portals across 30 or 40 countries. It is going to a real resource for people who has MS. When I was first diagnosed, there was so little out there. What was there was very frightening and didn’t give you much positivity or reassurance.
“You can still have a good quality of life”. she adds. “That’s why I’ve called my show the Positively Different Show. I see myself as differently-abled: I’m still able to do almost everything. I can’t run but I can do just about everything else, though I do it differently. I have to adapt, and I have to plan things. I still don’t have any feeling in my feet but I have learned different strategies and exercises in order to cope.
“When I was a new mum with a baby, it would have been quite nice for somebody to have given me reassurance, because I was terrified when I began to wonder, what would happen to me in 10 years’ time?This is the whole concept of this radio station – to be able to share information, and for people to contact and get support”.
She is looking forward to her stint as a presenter on this new radio station. Her own weekly show, she says, will offer a range of topics and will include hints and tips on how to stay positive in the face of MS. There will be a spiritual healer. And interviews, too – including one with Judy Graham, author of that self-help book that Gachagan herself bought, all these years ago.