Ed Slater: Former Gloucester man opens up after MND diagnosis

·5-min read
 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Former Gloucester second-row Ed Slater has opened up on his motor neurone disease (MND) diagnosis.

Slater recently retired from the game after a 12-year career that included over 200 games for Leicester Tigers and Gloucester.

Difficult to face up to

The 34-year-old revealed he was partly prepared but did not want to admit something was wrong prior to the diagnosis.

“I didn’t want to face up to the fact that something could be wrong at that point, until I started to lose strength in my arm and my hand,” Slater told BBC Breakfast.

“It was month after month, my arm got weaker and weaker, my grip became weaker and I went to Oxford and was diagnosed with MND.

“Part of me had prepared for that, partly because of the weakness and partly because of the symptoms.

“I know very close friends of mine who have lost a family member to it, was able to speak to them about his experiences and so I prepared myself.”

Slater admitted receiving the diagnosis did not make it easier but preferred to have an answer as to what was wrong with him.

“I’m not saying that makes it easier when you’re diagnosed – it absolutely doesn’t – but in some ways it had been 11 months of torment, different symptoms, not knowing, looking for different reasons, and to have definitive diagnosis – it sounds strange to say this – but at least it gave me an answer,” he said.

“Not an answer I wanted but I can’t change it. My attitude is to get on with things. There are difficult things in life, not many things harder than that, but you have to face challenges head on.

“I don’t think too far into the future and I take each day as it comes. I find that’s a peaceful place for me and keeps me in best spirits as I can.”

Support of his family

Life has changed dramatically for Slater, who initially struggled to deal with the realities of MND and claimed the roles “swapped” with his supportive wife.

“When they started talking about the realities of it we swapped roles and my wife went, ‘here is what I can do to help’, whereas actually that’s where I found it really tough and most emotional to be honest,” he said.

“Rather than getting the news, speaking to someone about the realities of the disease you have, that was really difficult.

“It was almost like in that moment a line had been drawn which I hadn’t prepared for,” said Slater.

“Suddenly time had sped up and that was the difficult bit, but in some ways it gives me a focus how I can help the family, create as little work as possible for them as things change.”

Another challenge was for the couple to share the news with their children the best way possible, which meant balancing how much information to provide.

“We wanted them to have as much information as they could handle without keeping anything away and that meant talking about the realities of the disease,” said Slater.

“I didn’t want them to have half the picture and pick up on lots of changes going on around the house and in life.

“They are young so we adapted it, but they are amazingly resilient, and, in that moment, they may have found it difficult but once they realised nothing was changing immediately, they got on with things.

“They’re beautiful kids and they handled it really well. They come out with funny one-liners and put a smile on your face. Just to be around them is a great source of comfort.”

Slater wants “normality” in his life from those around him and says he will not “shy away” from the realities of the disease.

“I feel like I’m fighting against something that is progressing,” he said. “But I’ve got to be conscious not to be waking up each day looking for something to be worse.

“I’ve got to take each day as it comes but there are signs. When I spoke to the players here [at Gloucester] I said I need normality. I won’t shy away from it but at the end of the day I’m a normal person.”

Fundraising 4ED

Slater, along with some of his former and current teammates, began a 350-mile cycle on Monday from Gloucester‘s stadium, Kingsholm, to raise money and awareness for the 4ED campaign.

“The club have rallied round and others have joined to facilitate the bike ride,” he added.

“It’s a huge challenge, I haven’t done any training, I’m relying on others who haven’t either. I wanted to physically and mentally challenge myself, and sometimes I don’t think there is anything better than being around people you love being around and doing something that’s really challenging, and at the same time raising the profile of motor neurone disease.

“I’m very aware there’s lots of people around the country living with this disease that don’t get the support I’ve got.”

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