A single mother at 18, Shelly Powell has had a lot of battles in her life, but none greater than her fight with motor neurone disease. Catherine Scott reports.
When Shelly Powell developed a terrible migraine during her second pregnancy, little did she know that just two years and numerous tests later, she would be finally diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2009.
With two small children, Shelly was just 24 when she was diagnosed with the terminal illness, but she was determined it would not stop her living her life to the full.
“I was depressed for a while and I still have dark days, but I have to think of the children and my husband Tony and I am not going to let this disease stop me achieving what I want to achieve. I want to be a role model to my children,” says Shelly, from Sheffield.
And she has done just that. Despite the disease affecting her speech and mobility, Shelly embarked on an access course in Business Studies with GCSE Maths and English, gained a foundation degree in Business Management and Enterprise and has recently graduated with a BA degree in Business from Sheffield Hallam University.
This inspirational mother and wife has now setting up her own clothing line called @signclothing.
“I feel in some ways that MND has made me a better person; as a parent, wife, friend and professional.”
Shelly was born into a family of eight children in Sheffield where she had a very busy, normal, caring and loving upbringing. She finished secondary school with seven GSCEs and went on to do an NVQ level one in Catering and Hospitality whilst working in a nursing home for the elderly.
But when she fell pregnant with her daughter Shanelle at the age of 18, her career plans were put on hold while she took a break to look after her.
“I was lucky that I have a big, supportive family and they really helped me with Shanelle which meant I could go back to work.”
Shelly worked as a care assistant for a further two years, which was around the time she met her husband, Tony.
“I had always really been into computers and IT at school and I really wanted to know more about business. I went to work for an agency to get my foot into the business field as I preferred working in the office environment and the hours were more suitable around my daughter.”
She landed a permanent position in 2006 working in the head office for a chain of convenience stores.
“This was a part-time position but it was the first time that I had felt some real job security.”
Shelly continued studying, successfully completing an NVQ level two in Business Administration and a text processing and speed keying course at Sheffield College. In 2007 she and Tony planned their second child, Ellis. It seemed that at last everything was going well for Shelly.
But whilst she was pregnant with Ellis she suffered a severe migraine while at work.
“It was so bad I could not see the numbers on the calculator and so I was taken home by my boss as I could not drive home. I remember my mum walking me to my flat and she said I looked drunk as my feet were scraping on the steps.
“I also had many falls during my pregnancy which I thought was just me being clumsy.”
When Ellis was around three months old Shelly started going to the gym and realised that her feet were pulling inwards as she was running on the treadmill but thought nothing of it.
“I also remember going to wave to someone whilst I was driving and noticed my finger would not straighten so I went to seek medical attention where I was told it was a ganglion.”
She returned to work after maternity leave in mid-2009 and felt that life could not get any better.
“However, I started to notice that my legs were making involuntary movement; like they were swinging behind me which was the time I went again to seek medical attention.”
After two years Shelly was diagnosed with motor neurone disease which has changed her life completely.
“I got really depressed as no one seemed to know what was wrong with me,” she explains.
“Although getting a diagnosis of MND was frightening at least I knew what I was dealing with.”
As Shelly was suffering from severe depression she resigned from her job at the end of 2009 to give her time to overcome and accept her illness.
“I decided I was not going to sit and let this disease take my life and therefore decided to undertake an access course in Business Studies alongside GCSE Maths and English to enable me to study a degree at university.
“I went on to undertake a foundation degree in Business Management and Enterprise which led to a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Business and Finance and recently graduated from Sheffield Hallam University.
“I do believe qualifications are important but it is more about education and experience. I really wanted to set up my own business. I have always been interested in computers and have designed websites. Now I am combining that with my love of fashion.”
Shelly is setting up her own online clothing line called @signclothing which includes her own designed T-shirts although she would like to expand the brand although is in need of financial backing.
“I can’t just sit back and feel sorry for myself,” says Shelly, 30.
“I am lucky in some ways. I have had this disease for five years and it hasn’t progressed as quickly as it does in some people. I can get about, although it is difficult sometimes. I have to go to the hospital every few months and take medication to try to slow down the onset of the condition. The kids keep me positive. Shanelle is now 12 and remembers when I was well and so she knows a bit of what is going on. Ellis, who is six, has never known me when I wasn’t poorly.”