‘Daring to believe in a brighter future is THE FIRST STEP’
As a former BBC Defence Correspondent, Caroline Wyatt draws on the lessons she’s learnt from others in desperate situations to help her face the ongoing battle she has with her health
Ilanded my dream job when I started at the BBC as a trainee in January 1991. Soon after, I was diagnosed with repetitive strain injury when my fingers, hands and arms went numb. I didn’t realise at the time I was experiencing the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
For two decades, reporting for the BBC took me from living in Germany, Russia and France to covering wars in Kosovo, Chechnya, Afghanistan and the Middle East. I met mothers, fathers and children who had lost their homes, their possessions, and their loved ones, yet managed to survive, and look to the future with hope. There were the British servicemen and women in Helmand and Basra who faced the risk of death with sangfroid, and a quiet, no-nonsense toughness. At the military rehabilitation centre, the joke among single amputees was that they’d suffered ‘a scratch’. To me, that gallows humour stands for a peculiarly British form of resilience. Meanwhile, my own health was deteriorating. I tried to ignore it and carry on doing the job I loved. But by the Summer of 2015, the fatigue, brain fog and numbness in my legs had become too disabling to ignore. A brain scan followed, and by Christmas that year, I received a definitive diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS. It was confirmation of the secret fears that I’d buried in a sealed box at the back of my mind, marked ‘do not open’.
Not long after beginning drug treatment, a relapse left me in bed for several weeks. My voice became so hoarse I could no longer broadcast, my brain so foggy I could barely think, my legs so heavy it was hard to walk. I felt the illness was engulfing my very self. I realised then I had to focus on my health – urgently.
For the first time, I channelled my journalistic instinct inwards, throwing my flagging energy into research on the latest treatments. I was determined to find out how best to save my ability to walk and think, and regain my future.
Last New Year’s Eve, I travelled to a clinic in Mexico for what’s known as a hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) for MS. It is thought to stop disease progression in as many as 75% of MS patients and, in some cases, even reverses some of the damage. I am still in the rehabilitation phase, and it is proving more challenging than the treatment itself. On bad days, I have to remind myself that tomorrow may well be better, and if not tomorrow, then the day after. But letting go of my lengthy to-do lists and the constant drive to achieve has proved both healing and liberating.
I’ve realised the importance of gratitude, and focusing on what I have, rather than on what I may have lost. Though I can no longer do my old job that meant so much to me, I am lucky to have a loving family, loyal friends, a home, fantastic colleagues and a supportive boss.
Telling the tragedies of others for so many years showed me that even at the worst of times, it is how you view your situation that matters most. Despair breeds further despair; and while hope might sometimes be perceived as foolish, daring to believe in a brighter future is the first step towards achieving it.
I’ve realised the importance of focusing on what I have, rather than on what I may have lost
Caroline: ‘It’s how you view your situation that matters’