‘Mum was alert, but locked in herself’

Cheryl Chisholm with her mum Judith McCann, who died from Motor Neurone Disease, and Buster the dog.
Cheryl Chisholm with her mum Judith McCann, who died from Motor Neurone Disease, and Buster the dog.

To help promote Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Awareness Month, which has run throughout June, JAMES WILLOUGHBY has spoken to a family who have been affected by the condition.

If there is anyone who knows how horrendous MND can be, it is Cheryl Chisholm.

Her mother, Judith McCann, from near Whittingham, lost her battle with the life-shortening condition in December 2010, aged 54.

During her fight with the progressive illness, she lost her voice, had to be fed through a tube and her mobility suffered.

“It is the most debilitating condition; one of the most horrible to have,” said Cheryl, 38, from Glanton. “Watching mum go from a vibrant, outgoing person to not being able to speak was heartbreaking. She was still fully alert, but was locked in herself.”

MND occurs when specialist nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, called motor neurones, stop working properly. Motor neurones control important muscle activity, such as gripping, walking, speaking, swallowing and breathing.

As the condition progresses, people with MND find these activities increasingly difficult – and eventually impossible – to do. Symptoms can include slurred speech, weakened grip or weakness of the shoulder. It usually starts on one side of the body and then gets worse.

There is no single test to diagnose MND and diagnosis is based mainly on the opinion of a neurologist. Reflecting on the family’s experiences, mother-of-one Cheryl added: “It took around 18 months for mum to be diagnosed. It was three years from when the first symptoms started to when she passed. Each MND case is different. Mum’s deterioration was quite gradual at the beginning and the symptoms happened quite close together. But she went downhill rapidly in her last week. I would encourage anyone who has started to experience MND symptoms to get checked out.”

There is no cure for MND, although symptoms can be managed to give the best possible quality of life. Cheryl hopes a remedy may one day be found.

“MND awareness has increased over the years, but more needs to be done to raise awareness and fund-raise. The MND Association needs more funding so it can do more tests, which could lead to a cure.”

Cheryl and her family, which includes sisters Jackie and Yasmin, and brother Brad – who all live in north Northumberland – have helped the cause.

Their efforts included raising more than £7,000 at a charity auction in Powburn in 2010.


MND leads to a failing body. It is fatal and fast, attacking the nerves that control movement.

Intellect and the senses usually remain unaffected. People with MND can still think and feel, but their muscles refuse to work. It can affect any adult at any age but most people diagnosed with the disease are over the age of 40.

MND kills five people in the UK every day, half of these within 14 months of diagnosis. It affects up to 5,000 adults in the UK at any one time.

For more information, visit {http://www.mndassociation.org|mndassociation.org|Link to the MND Association website.}