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Karen Stephen worked as a GP Receptionist and Phlebotomist for many years before moving to Cornwall 11 years ago. She has been a supporter of the Merlin MS Centre since 2011, attending various fundraising events. In 2013, after years of dealing with a variety of unexplained symptoms, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and went from supporter to service user.

“I had attended the charity’s fundraising events for two years prior to my own diagnosis and was always struck by the welcoming vibe I felt from both Centre users and staff. Even so the journey from being a supporter to being a service user wasn’t easy. I had to come to terms with my diagnosis and the fact I may need the therapies offered at the Centre. However, knowing how welcoming everyone is did make the transition easier. It was weird knowing I would be coming for physiotherapy and not to eat cake and try my luck on the tombola.

After a few months of attending physiotherapy and counselling, the therapy team suggested I became a volunteer. I had made them well aware that for me the most frustrating thing to deal with was having to give up work and my independence. I loved my job and meeting new people, not being able to do that anymore was a real blow.”

Using her previous administrative skills Karen chose to volunteer in the office one day a week. This helped her confidence and also helped regain her social skills.

I have an amazing family, my husband Garry and nine year old daughter, Megan are a huge support to me, but I needed something outside of family life, something that gave me the ability to speak to new people and feel part of a team again. Volunteering and knowing what I was doing makes a difference did this. I love feeling useful again and the positivity of staff and service users is infectious.”

In celebration of her 50th birthday this year, Karen chose to show her passion for the charity by having the logo tattooed on her arm.

“When anyone asks what the tattoo represents I can tell them how Merlin has changed mine and my family’s life, giving me hope for the future.”