SHE’s one of the chirpiest people around, but living with Sjögren’s Syndrome is an every day battle for 52-year-old Nancy Cumming.
“I feel a bit like an alien,” she laughs. “I’m so different to everyone else.”
Like most sufferers, one of Nancy’s symptoms is extreme dry eyes and if she doesn’t carefully apply drops every hour the pain of blinking will be excruciating.
“It’s like having sand in them,” she says. “They also go very red. Lots of things can make them worse too, even central heating and air conditioning.”
She’s used to all of this, though, and adapts her life as best she can to avoid any unnecessary discomfort. But she still struggles to get her head around having to carry a bottle of water absolutely everywhere she goes to cope with having a dry mouth.
“I cannot eat anything without having a drink,” she says.
“Even something as simple as a cracker, or a small biscuit, will not go down without liquid. It can be embarrassing when you are out in a restaurant.”
Nancy was diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome in 1995 after discovering a growth under her ear. This led to the removal of the largest of her salivary glands and also the arrival of dry eyes and mouth.
Like most sufferers, the Fife-based mum had never heard of the condition before, but has become something of an expert having agreed to work actively with Edinburgh-based Dr Helen Harris on research into the condition.
Life is not easy for Nancy, who was forced to quit her job as an assistant in a pharmacy in 2003 on account of her muscle weakness, which she has received physiotherapy for.
“Nobody knows why people get Sjögren’s Syndrome. The body just seems to attack itself and the disease can come on really suddenly,” she says.
“I have good days and bad days and for a while the condition really got me down, but I just have to get on with it. I have to remain chirpy, don’t I?” she says.