Kissing goodbye to MS
Jess Sheaffe is 23 years old, works full time helping people with disability achieve their goals and loves travelling the globe with her partner. Jess is also one of more than 21,000 Australians with Multiple Sclerosis.
Jess’s MS first appeared when she was 19. "I was living in China and one day I lost the use of one side of my body. I was rushed to hospital and the doctors said it was probably a stroke." Tests ruled that out but no one could pinpoint what was wrong and after she recovered Jess returned home to Australia and life as normal.
However a couple of months later Jess suffered another attack, this time losing the feeling in her feet and legs. After several more frightening episodes, and a barrage of tests, Jess was diagnosed with MS.
For some people, MS is characterised by periods of relapse and remission while for others it has a progressive pattern of deterioration. At the moment Jess is in the first category.
"Since being diagnosed I’ve had regular attacks and they’re all different. Once I spent 6 weeks in a wheelchair because my legs just wouldn’t work, another time I woke up and I couldn’t read. That’s the most frustrating and scary thing about the disease – it’s unpredictable. You don’t know when it will hit you, you don’t know what part of your body it will affect and you don’t know how long it will last. It could be days, weeks, months. There is no definitive answer."
Despite the unpredictability of the disease Jess has refused to let it rule her life. Since her diagnosis she has studied, travelled and worked. She’s currently a disability employment consultant with the VERTO and believes her experience gives her a good understanding of what many of her clients face. "The situation may be different but the frustrations are the same. Wanting to achieve things but having your body or mind working against you, it’s exhausting" says Jess.
Currently there is no cure for MS. The range of treatments available is increasing and Jess doesn’t underestimate the power of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. "I always try to eat well, exercise and look after myself – a positive attitude goes a long way too."
Despite an already busy life, Jess has also become an MS ambassador to try and raise awareness of the disease. "Over 21,000 people in Australia have MS and statistics show that number is increasing steadily every year. Another thing that might surprise people is most sufferers are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, and three out of four sufferers are women," says Jess.
May is MS Awareness Month and Jess is urging everyone to get involved. "Australian scientists are optimistic a cure can be found but that research takes money. Participating in the ‘Kiss Goodbye to MS’ campaign is a fun way to raise vital funds for continuing research into the causes and cure of MS. Donations this month will also be used to help fund support services for people living with MS so I urge everyone to wear red, buy some merchandise, throw a fundraising morning tea, make a donation or just ‘share’ the cause on Facebook and Twitter. Every little bit will help," says Jess
May 30 is World MS Day and more details about how you can get involved are available at www.msaustralia.org.au