kadeena-cox-2My name is Kadeena Cox. I’m 23 years old, originally from Leeds but currently studying physiotherapy in Manchester. I am a national standard athlete that has struggled to break through onto the international scene due to my body always failing me.

My diagnosis

On 20th May 2014 after competing at the Loughborough international competition, I was rushed to hospital after experiencing some odd symptoms and I was diagnosed with a stroke.

Once this had sunk in I dug deep and worked hard to recover as I was trying to get onto the UKSport bob skeleton talent programme. Just 2 months later I had managed to get myself close to my normal self with the support and guidance of my Physiotherapist Karren. I then went to Bath and had a great day of testing there for the programme (I had the fastest female sprint and push track times) and was selected for the next stage. This meant hard work for me for the next stage in 2 weeks’ time, where I was once again top female there. Unfortunately, after my recent diagnosis I failed the medical, and was unable to continue on the programme.

This was heart breaking news after all my hard work but I dusted myself off and put all my emotions and drive towards my first passion of sprinting. I wanted to get back to and then go beyond my abilities before I suffered the stroke and, with hard work, I found myself back training at the front of my group (not so bad for a person who was told they’d be disabled for life). This gave me a massive confidence boost and I began to set goals for training and the season ahead. It had been less than 4 months and I’d recovered fully, I couldn’t believe it.

Then came another massive blow. On 15 September 20014 I had a burning sensation in my arm. The following days it worsened to tingling and numbness in the whole arm, then to my leg and right side before it got to my left side – at which point I was rushed to hospital again on the morning of Thursday 18 September with another suspected stroke. I endured horrible tests and examinations, my mind ran through all worst case scenarios before it was finally ruled out that I’d had a stroke, but in fact I had a lifelong condition called multiple sclerosis (MS).

After letting it sink in for a few seconds the doctor asked if we “had any questions” and both mine and my mum’s first response was “can I/she still run”. It was at this point I realised athletics was my life and I still have so many dreams and goals to achieve.

Down but not out

After my diagnosis I attempted to move back to Manchester and continue my studies, but I only lasted half a day before it was decided I wasn’t fit to continue studying. This was devastating for me as I didn’t want my health to dictate what I could and couldn’t do. However at this point, my health was the most important thing and getting me better was my number 1 priority.

I spent 6/7 weeks at home with my mother looking after me (fattening me up) and during this time, my life took another significant turn down a path I hadn’t expected. I was sat watching tv with my mum one day and got a snapchat that said “didn’t know you had gone to the papers” followed by an image with me in the paper. I was so surprised and confused, so me and mum went searching on the internet and found this article on me.

A friend who works for the BBC had suggested I get my story in the newspaper, because at that point I was a 23 year old that had had a stroke which is very rare. A journalist from the Manchester Evening News was interested in my story and had written a piece. I should have been doing a photo shoot with her photographer the day I was admitted to hospital back in September, but due to me being unable to attend I kept her in the loop of everything that was occurring and the editors went ahead with the story while she was away. At first I was annoyed and irritated due to me not knowing this was going ahead (the paper had been done 4 days earlier), however, I decided to take advantage and share the story on Facebook and Twitter. To my surprise, within 2 days I’d had over 1000 shares and people sending me messages left right and centre. Since that day, I have been in one other paper, 3 or 4 radio stations and I did a piece with BBC Look North that was aired nationally.

Spurred on by the support of my family, friends and strangers who had come across my story, I found a site called Talent Backer, which was a tool for fundraising. Within 28 days, I had to raise £3000 to help towards getting me back on track. This fundraising was the only thing that kept me going during my time at home. For the first 4 weeks, the furthest I was able to go was from my bedroom to the living room and back and I didn’t step foot out the front door. The response I got from people was amazing.

Onwards and upwards

Towards the end of October I pushed myself to go into 2 primary schools and do some sprints workshops and a few talks to inspire the next generation. When I went into the first school, the furthest I’d walked was a couple of metres with people supporting me, and I’d just thrown myself into 4 hours of teaching kids to sprint. My love for teaching and spreading joy took over and I managed the full day and even challenged the kids to a race at the end (I had a cheeky head start). It was one of the most enjoyable days I’d had in months, but I suffered the consequences for the next few days when I was in agony and unable to do much. This didn’t stop me accepting to do it again at another school though, the joy the kids got gave me some strength to push through the pain.

In October, I had my care transferred to Salford Royal and during my outpatient appointment the doctor notice some symptoms that he wasn’t happy about so I was admitted to hospital once again in late October. From my hospital I continued to fundraise and do the blogs that I had started a few weeks before. I had others messaging me asking for advice or just wanting someone to talk to. At this point I realised this is something I loved doing and somehow I was going to add this into my life.

I was home for 2 days after I was discharged from the hospital and in this time I went to a high school award evening and a cultural evening to do an inspirational speech. On both occasions I had to hold back tears as I saw others cry and various people approached me at the end saying I need to get into public speaking.

Looking to the future

So many people have seen my diagnosis as a negative but I haven’t! It’s given me closure and I know I have a diagnosis with which I can move forward and get the right treatment to keep me well so I can strive towards my goals. It’s given me opportunities I would never have had and I am able to support and inspire others and I am so grateful to be able to do this.

Currently I am back in university and I started my first exam back just missing out on a 1st so I am happy things are still going well no matter the struggle. I have just returned to training properly, and we are experimenting to find ways in which I can sprint without getting a reaction from my distonic arm (I have uncontrolled tremors and spasms in my right arm) and looking at what the options are for me in the future. I am also still supporting and talking to others that come to me for advice. I am looking into setting up a charity for other young people in my situation and still fundraising. Setting up my massage business (a qualification I gained in September just before I was admitted to hospital) and also trying to get support and direction in the line of public speaking are also things I am doing right now.

When people ask me how many ends am I burning my candle at…I just say enough!! MS does not define who I am, it’s just a bully I defeat every morning when I get up.