A former engineer has opened up about living with multiple sclerosis (MS) after the condition hit a national soap opera.
Roger Cook, from Cramlington, says after seeing Coronation Street’s Johnny Connor be diagnosed with the condition, he hopes more people will understand it.
The 39-year-old had just graduated from university in 2000 when he started experiencing dizziness followed by other symptoms – numbness, difficulties with walking and problems with his vision.
After seeing an optician, Roger was referred to the Royal Victoria Infirmary for tests, and a few months later, he learnt he had MS.
Roger said: “I didn’t tell anyone at work, and I kept it from my own family for a few months. I wanted to keep it as my own problem, and I think I was also in denial.
“I was struggling to deal with having this on my shoulders; I didn’t want to affect the people I love too.”
For a number of years, Roger was able to continue working but was forced to give up his job in 2006 as his symptoms started to get worse. He now has difficulties with his speech, memory and balance.
“Being told by my neurologist that I wouldn’t work again was absolutely heart-breaking,” he said. “I’d spent 11 years chasing a career, only to have it taken away from me.”
“I had a few rough years coming to terms with what my life now means. But looking back, I don’t think keeping it to myself was the best idea.
Roger is more open about living with MS, and volunteers with the MS Society’s Newcastle and Gateshead Group.
He said: “I’ve learnt that you can look up information on the internet but it’s not the same as speaking with people, especially your family and others with MS.
“No two people with MS experience it in the same way, so being involved with the group has provided a great support network. It’s given me the chance to hear from others in the same boat as me.”
Speaking about the new Coronation Street storyline, Roger says he hopes it will raise awareness about the condition and challenge the misconceptions that people with MS often face
“I hope Johnny doesn’t end up in a wheelchair straight away, because that’s not what MS is like for everyone,” he said.
“People say to me they don’t believe I have MS because I’m not in a wheelchair. I want more people to know what MS is really like, and it’s great that such a massive audience will see this.”
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the MS Society, said: “Finding out you have MS can be really difficult - not just for the person diagnosed, but also family and friends.
“Many people affected by MS will be able to relate to the issues Johnny is facing, and it’s great to see Coronation Street raising awareness about MS through this new storyline.”