Mother-of-three Jodi Jackson had expected to spend the rest of her life confined to a wheelchair after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and told she had around a decade to live.
But following a programme of “game-changing” stem cell treatment she has been cured, is looking forward to watching her children grow up and plans to run a marathon.
Ms Jackson, 41, was first diagnosed in March last year, and doctors predicted she would be in a wheelchair within a year, and facing palliative care within 10 years.
She has now seen her life return to normal after having the pioneering Autologous Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (AHSCT) treatment.
Ms Jackson, from Barnet, North-West London, had considered herself fit and healthy, working in events management and looking after her three young children as a single parent until she started experiencing numbness in her leg, slurring of her speech and muscular pain.
She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of MS after MRI scans showed that she had multiple lesions on her brain and spine.
“People feel sorry for me but I don’t feel sorry for myself at all,” she said. “I know it sounds ridiculous but it was actually the best year of my life. I got my life back. I don’t have a care in the world anymore.”
More than two million people globally suffer from the degenerative autoimmune condition which damages nerves, leading to reduced muscle control and loss of basic bodily functions.
Unwilling to accept the possible outcome and having an underlying blood condition which meant she could not receive normal treatments designed to slow the progression of the MS, Ms Jackson instead opted for AHSCT at the London Bridge Hospital.
It is the same treatment used for Hodgkin’s lymphoma but is also effective in treating MS. It involves wiping out a patient’s defective immune system with chemotherapy, killing the disease, before carrying out a stem cell transplant.
As a result, the symptoms are halted in their tracks and even reversed, with patients reporting incredible improvement in their long-term quality of life.
Companies around the world currently offer stem cell treatment for MS, but without chemotherapy, the new stem cells eventually inherit the disease.
Ms Jackson described the procedure as “incredibly tough”, with the course of chemotherapy causing her to suffer severe hallucinations, nausea, burning pain and “excruciating” mouth ulcers.
Despite this, she says she never once doubted that the treatment was the right decision. She said: “It was my greatest hope for the future and I would make the same decision again.”
The procedure was a success, and just two days after the treatment ended, Ms Jackson was out trick-or-treating with her children - who are pupils at Wolfson Hillel Primary School in Southgate - for Halloween.
“I tried to shelter the kids from the side-effects of the treatment,” she said. “They knew Mummy was pretty poorly because obviously not having hair is a bit of a giveaway. I wanted them to understand that I didn’t have cancer, because then children just assume you’re going to die. I just told them that Mummy was poorly but she would get better.”
Six months after undergoing the stem cell transplant and coinciding with last month’s MS awareness week, Ms Jackson has seen a significant improvement in all her symptoms and is able to live her daily life as normal. The treatment also cured her blood condition that could have developed into leukemia. She is back in the gym and attending spinning classes three times a week. She has also set herself a goal to complete the New York Marathon.
“I’m not a big runner, but before I was ill I was in the gym six days a week. Since the treatment I’ve wanted my body to recuperate. I’m now at the six-month mark so I’m going to go back to the gym and get myself to a position where I can run a marathon. Even if it takes me ten years I will do it.”
Ms Jackson also expressed disbelief over the drug’s lack of availability. “It’s not available on the NHS even though it would save the health service millions of pounds,” she said. “But the drug companies don’t want it to be available because what it costs one person to have this treatment is just a year’s supply of drugs for the same person.”
Offering advice for other MS sufferers, she adds: “Take this treatment seriously. It really does work. Even if your neurologist says no, don’t take that as a given. Research it. Speak to a hematologist. Make it your business to educate yourself.
“I don’t think there are many people in the world who are diagnosed with MS and cured within six months.”