14 MARCH 2023

Mel SherburdFor the 2023 Canberra MS Walk Run + Roll, she’s already raised an incredible $1,880 and counting.

Her family are taking part in the Launceston event with a local team of around 10 rallying behind Mel to show their support from afar.

Mel knows first-hand just how valuable MS Plus services are that are made possible by fundraising.

Mel was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year.

Mel says, “Honestly for me, it has been a pretty rough 12 months. Being able to share my experience and having the support of my family that are all in Tasmania has proven to be such a big thing for me.

“It means more than I can put into words.”

Her workplace is also getting behind her to raise money and join her team in Canberra.

“They’re going to do a fundraiser here at work. I have the best work family anybody could ask for. They’re next-level amazing and I couldn’t ask for a better support network.”

Mel is a fiercely independent, fit and positive person but her diagnosis came as a shock.

It all started for Mel at a BBQ in February 2022 when she started experiencing excruciating pins and needles in both her hands. It progressed to the point where she couldn’t hold anything and struggled with the simplest of tasks around the house. After a visit to the GP, he initially suspected carpal tunnel, but with ongoing neck pain for a number of years she was sent for an MRI to investigate a suspected pinched nerve.

Results from the MRI identified demyelination, consistent with multiple sclerosis but it was too early to receive a formal diagnosis and further testing was requested.

“Toward the end of February, my symptoms increased significantly to the point I couldn’t hold on to anything.

“I couldn’t dress myself. I couldn’t do my hair. I lost the ability to take care of myself. My work life suffered as result of not being able to drive my car, hold a pen, or type. My cognition also spiraled to the point I was unable to comprehend or complete simple tasks, have a normal conversation, my memory declined and I was repeating myself continually and forgetting what I was saying mid-conversation. My eyesight also deteriorated with a diagnosis of optic neuritis, causing loss of vision in my left eye.

“Showering was an absolute nightmare, I felt like my skin was being pulled off, further to this the pressure in my hands got so severe I wanted to slice the ends of my fingers to relieve the pain and pressure I felt in them.

Mel also developed Lhermitte's syndrome – a continuous electric shock vibration that occurs on flexion of the neck and radiates down the spine and through her whole body.

“By May I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t stand unassisted.”

“I couldn’t drive my car because I couldn’t trust my legs and my hands weren’t working.”

Mel’s next MRI found multiple lesions on her spine, and she was diagnosed with Spinal Dominant Primary Progressive MS (PPMS). PPMS is characterised by a progressive worsening of symptoms and disability right from the beginning, without periods of recovery or remission.

“I’m likely to be in a wheelchair. I might get 10 good years. I’ll just keep doing what I have to do and treat my mind as well as my body, and ensure I’m equipped with all the tools I need to get me to where I need to be and maintain it for as long as I can and hopefully beyond that 10 year mark.”

After rehabilitation and treatment, Mel is now back at work full-time as an Executive in Law Enforcement and her mobility is pretty good these days. She does yoga and regularly sees a psychologist, an exercise physiologist and a neurophysiologist to stay on top of her well-being.

But her ongoing symptoms include chronic back pain to the point at times she is unable to stand or walk unassisted, neck pain, vision impairment, migraines, and weakness in both hands particularly her left hand, occasional falls and debilitating fatigue.

“If you look at me on a good day, you don’t see someone who has a chronic debilitating disease.”

“The MS Walk Run + Roll will be quite a challenge doing 10km. I’m doing my normal walking routine at the moment and trying to build my strength up that way.”

Her fundraising is going to make a difference for others living with MS.

Mel knows personally how valuable MS Plus services are, especially in the early stages of diagnosis.

“I’ve used the Plus Connect helpline. A lovely guy from Victoria called me every second week for a while. They were fabulous. I spoke to an MS Nurse as well and discussed my treatment options and alleviated my concerns and apprehension of starting such an aggressive treatment plan.

“They’ve been an amazing help. Honestly, it’s nice to know there are people out there who have an understanding of what you’re going through instead of having to explain it.”

“They are there to listen and they are there to support and they do an amazing job.”

That’s exactly why we are here. To make sure these vital support and services – like Plus Connect (our gateway to information support and services) and Plus Advisor (which provides personalized advice from a nurse or social worker) continue.

Together, we can make sure no one faces MS alone.

For Mel, the MS Walk Run + Roll is important.

“It means the world to me that people are willing to go out and share awareness and raise money to support people like me, it’s actually very overwhelming and so heartwarming.

“For me personally, I want to say a massive thank you to not just my friends and family participating here in Canberra, Victoria and Tasmania, but for every other person that’s participating and raising money for the much-needed awareness and research for MS and to get the messaging out there. It’s not a well-advertised disease. Not many people know too much about it. To have people go out there all around the country and support us and raise money is a huge amazing effort. A huge thank you to each and every one of you.”