A WOMAN diagnosed with motor neuron disease 10 years after surviving breast cancer has hailed the ongoing significance of Doddie Weir to people living with the devastating condition.

Nicola McFarlane was speaking as she helps My Name’5 Doddie Foundation launch Doddie Aid 2024 – now it its fourth year – a mass participation virtual exercise event that sees thousands of people across the UK and Ireland clock up miles during activities including walking, running, swimming, and cycling to raise vital cash to fund research MND.

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To mark the launch, Nicola, from Dunblane, was interviewed by Weir’s friend, former teammate, and MND campaigner Kenny Logan, where she candidly discusses living with the disease in an emotional video.

The 47-year-old described how receiving her diagnosis in March this year ‘was like being hit by a train’ just a decade after undergoing a double mastectomy to treat cancer, a disease that also claimed the lives of her parents in their 50s.

However, her thoughts almost immediately turned to late rugby legend and MND campaigner Weir – who died from MND in November last year after dedicating the final years of his life to accelerating the search for a cure – which she said was a source of ‘incredible strength’ at the most challenging time in her life.

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She said: “After my diagnosis I was in a very dark place, but thinking of Doddie helped lift me out of it, after everything he achieved, he means so much to the MND community. I thought, ‘Doddie managed to set up a foundation and raise millions for MND research, the least I can do is get out of bed and crack on.’ I think about him every day.”

Life-long equestrian enthusiast Nicola, learned to ride whilst at Morrisons Academy, Crieff where she was a pupil of actor Ewan McGregor’s father, first noticed signs of the disease in her fingers when horse riding. She initially put it down to menopause, but when she then noticed twitching elsewhere in her body, she began to suspect something serious was wrong and saw a neurologist.

She explained: “Like everyone in this situation, I’d Googled the symptoms and had a terrible feeling of what was to come, but nothing can prepare you for being told ‘you have MND’. All the neurologist could say was ‘I’m so sorry, you must be very afraid’ – it was like being hit by a train.

“I’d already gone through the realisation of my mortality with my cancer, and whilst my cancer treatment was extreme, we caught it early enough and there was something that could be done about it. As things stand, that isn’t the case for MND. It’s a situation that’s very hard to accept, and there is so much uncertainty around how the disease will affect you and how quickly, but as each day passes you will only get worse – that’s why I had to get back to living.”

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And that’s just what Nicola has done. Just months from her diagnosis, the environmental consultant, who manages projects across Scotland for Edinburgh-based Mott MacDonald, still works full time, keeps up running where possible, is continuing her riding, and has even taken on the renovation of a new home with partner Paul – who has been ‘her rock’.

The devoted couple were long-term friends before getting together just a few months before Nicola’s diagnosis, and Paul has vowed to be nowhere else other than by her side.

Nicola, who went to primary school in a Ghadafi-led Libya where her father worked for an oil company as a telephone engineer in the 1980s, has developed a love of travelling, also living in Thailand in her 20s teaching English after graduating from the University of Strathclyde. She and Paul have embarked on a series of new trips since her diagnosis, including Paris, Florence, and the Western Isles. She has also continued her equestrian activities, regularly riding at Blairs Farm, near Stirling, run by her friend Linda.

She said: “Something I say a lot is that I’m still me. My exercise, my riding, and my job are so much about who I am, and Mott MacDonald has been incredibly supportive, and I want to keep going for as long as possible. I need the money too – nobody gives you a big cheque when you get an MND diagnosis.

“I know that with every day that passes my condition will get worse. When I was diagnosed all I could do was say ‘sorry’ to Paul, and even though I said I’d understand if he wanted to go another way, he’s been my rock.

“We are travelling, we’re working on the house, we are making plans because that’s what we want to do. Something I learned from Doddie is to focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t. I have good days and bad ones, but I never allow myself to have two bad days in a row.

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“At present there is no cure or treatment for MND, but they are making breakthroughs and so much of that is down to Doddie and the work of his foundation. It’s not even possible to tell how MND will progress, and I don’t know how long I have. Occasionally Paul and I allow ourselves to think they may find a way to slow the disease in my lifetime – that provides some hope. What I am certain of is there is a lot more hope now than there was before Doddie.”

Border Telegraph:

Doddie Aid – founded by Weir’s former teammate and Scotland captain Rob Wainwright in 2020 – has so far raised more than £4 million for MND research with more than 80,000 participants covering four million miles. The 2023 Doddie Aid raised a record £2 million.

The event – which kicks off on Jan 1, 2024 – is MNDF’s biggest fundraiser, with all money raised invested in research projects searching for effective treatments and one day a cure for MND. Participants sign up using the Doddie Aid app and choose one of six districts to represent – Wales (captain Scott Quinnel); Edinburgh (captain Jamie Ritchie); Glasgow (captain Eilidh Barbour); North and Mids Scotland (captain Eve Muirhead); South Scotland (captain Kelly Brown); and Barbarians (captain Kelly Cates).

The winning district will have clocked up the most miles when the event ends in February.

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Kenny Logan, who earlier this year raised more than £750,000 in a cycling endurance event from Edinburgh to Paris, said “Nicola’s story reminds us all why we are doing this. Doddie selflessly dedicated his final years to pushing forward the MND cause, and we owe it to him, Nicola, and everybody living with the disease to continue his legacy and not stop until we live in a world free of MND. Signing up for Doddie Aid is something we can all do to play our part.”

For more information on Doddie Aid 2024, and to find out how to get involved, visit doddieaid.com.