Qualified reflexologist and father of two, Keith Bobby, from Eye in Suffolk, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) aged 49 after three decades of suffering with bouts of severe vision impairment. Keith attended The Chantry’s 10 week 5Rs programme for those living with MS in 2011.
Struggling with the unknown
Keith had his first ‘attack’ in 1977 aged just 23. He temporarily lost vision in both of his eyes and suffered severe headaches for almost two months. His doctor at the time said that he thought Keith had MS.
"It was a very scary time. I didn’t know what was happening to me. When the doctor told me I had MS and I’d be in a wheelchair in 6 months I shouted ‘no way’. It was just too much to take in. I didn’t want to believe what he was saying to me."
Keith wasn’t formally diagnosed at the time. Every 4-5 years he would suffer an attack in which his vision would be affected. It wasn’t until November 2003 that Keith was finally diagnosed. He saw his diagnosis as a: "a relief as I thought I had a brain tumour. I feel lucky as on the whole I don’t have too many problems."
Keith tried largely to ignore his condition and live with the symptoms he was experiencing. He didn’t talk to anybody about living with MS or know how the right care and support could improve his quality of life.
"I used to just accept the way things were. If I knew I was going to be out of the house for a while, I would ensure I didn’t eat or drink anything due to bowel and bladder problems so that I wouldn’t have any accidents in public. And, I was tired all the time."
It wasn’t until his hospital nurse recommended reflexology to Keith that he realised that he didn’t have to accept the way things were, and with the right support he could make living with MS more manageable.
Keith decided to re-train as a reflexologist and took on a two year course. Towards the end of the course, Keith was persuaded to go to a MS open day. It was here that he met Alana, community services manager at The Chantry
, who talked to him about the 5Rs programme
, a 10-week service designed to support people living with MS with practical help and assistance.
Keith wasn’t initially keen; "I didn’t want to associate myself with people with MS. I was very cautious on my first day. I saw lots of people in wheelchairs and thought this isn’t for me; I don’t have anything in common with these people. I went again the following Tuesday and started to get to know people, and soon realised they are the most wonderful group of people. We all spoke openly about living with MS but nobody was complaining, it was just open conversation on the realities of living with the degenerative condition.
"The fact that people listened, that made a difference. And not just listened, but understood. It was really good to talk about how I felt and I realised that whilst we are different we’re also the same in many ways. It was the first time I’d properly explored how I felt having MS and what that meant to me and my life."
"5Rs has made me believe in myself again"
Improved confidence and self-esteem as a result of attending the 5Rs supported Keith to accept an offer of employment by to be our 5Rs reflexologist. He started working for Sue Ryder - The Chantry in January 2012.
"I would never have had the confidence and self-belief before doing the course. The 5Rs has made me believe in myself again. You simply can’t buy what the 5Rs gives you. I can cope with MS better now. I used to have lots of hang ups but have faced them head on, and I’m not as self-conscious. I started working at Sue Ryder on my birthday, 21 Jan 2012. It was the best day of my life. The staff are wonderful and I love them.’
"I am hoping to build up my own business at home; I already have a few clients. I just love life now. I think there should be more places like 5Rs across the country. Just try it – there was no one more against it initially than me and I really can’t talk more highly about how truly great the programme and everybody at Sue Ryder is."