Belfast Telegraph

Fiona Dickson inspired to run Belfast Marathon by daughter's brave battle against lupus

By Mark Bain

A mother will be going through the pain barrier when she takes on her first marathon in Belfast - but says her discomfort will be nothing compared to what her daughter has put up with in life.

Fiona Dickson (51) will be taking on the 26.2 mile challenge on May 7 aiming to raise funds and awareness for Lupus UK as, for the past seven years, her daughter Alex has had her life changed dramatically by the disease.

Alex is now 21 and studying at the University of Glasgow, but that seemed a long way off when she first started complaining of sore and swollen joints in her hands and feet as a 14-year-old pupil at Hunterhouse College in Belfast.

Fiona, a mum-of-three from Moira, said: "When I got home from work Alex would have complained about painful swollen joints, which I had dismissed as growing pains.

"But it was only when I was off work and saw the extent of the swelling when she got off the school bus that we thought there might be something more serious behind it.

"It was a very difficult time for the family, and particularly for Alex.

"She was a 14-year-old girl with all the issues being a teenager brings. But she started picking up a lot of coughs and colds as well as having the swollen joints.

"She was very prone to illness and had a phobia about needles so there were plenty of tears and it was very worrying. But she was very brave."

Finally, after extensive blood tests, scans and X-rays, Alex was diagnosed with lupus, which attacks the immune system and organs.

"It was a very scary time for us, but for Alex in particular," added Fiona.

"Lupus can attack joints, the skin, the kidneys, blood cells, the lungs, even the brain and the heart.

"One of the main symptoms can be a red rash on the skin, but as Alex has red hair and fair skin, we have always protected her from the sun. Thankfully, so far, skin rashes have not been a problem for her.

"We were so lucky it was spotted at quite an early stage and with the right medication we were able to stabilise her condition before any major damage was caused.

"But there's no cure. Alex will be on very strong medication for the rest of her life."

Alex is able to manage the condition to have as normal a life as possible.

"If you met her in the street you wouldn't know what was going on beneath the surface," said her mother.

"She has coped so well but fatigue can be an issue. She still has to manage her life day to day. She tries to break her days into thirds and build in a rest at some stage. If she knows she's busy in the afternoon, she'll rest in the morning, as the condition can be very draining physically.

"Aside from that, the monitored medication for the rest of her life and the regular health checks, she's doing brilliantly and we're so proud of what she has achieved so far. She'd even managed to achieve her Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award as she wasn't going to let anything stop her."

Fiona praised the health service, saying its work ensured there was no serious damage to Alex's organs.

"Since the diagnosis her school and university have been very aware and extremely helpful in helping her to achieve her goals in life," she added.

"And that's why I'm now going to put myself through running the Belfast Marathon. I want to make other parents aware of what could be afflicting their children and raise awareness of the work Lupus UK are doing to try to find a cure.

"I took up running socially quite late on and I've been at it for about eight years, basically as a way to keep fit and healthy.

"But running a marathon has been on my bucket list for some time and I thought why not try to help a charity that's very close to home for me by raising money at the same time, and I think Alex is secretly proud of me for trying to do this."

Fiona's two other daughters Emma (23) and Eve (17) are right behind her fundraising effort and husband Alastair has been on hand to help with training by handing out Jelly Beans and water on her training runs over the past few months.

"It's been great having the support of my family, friends and the members of Jog Lisburn Running Club," she said.

"Everyone has been so encouraging, especially when I doubt myself. But I am determined to finish and if I can bring Lupus UK to the attention of a lot more people, then brilliant.

"As yet the disease is incurable, it changes people's lives forever. I knew nothing at all about Lupus when Alex was diagnosed so if people can be aware of it and know how to spot the early symptoms perhaps I can make a real difference to someone's life."

Fiona's fundraising page is at justgiving.com/fundraising/ fiona-dickson6

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