Sharron Smyth-Demmon MACN volunteering at an MS fundraiser with Sara Peterson
World MS Day is held annually on 30 May and is dedicated to increasing awareness for all those affected by Multiple Sclerosis (MS). In this passionate NurseClick article, Australian College of Nursing (ACN) nurse educator Sharron Smyth-Demmon MACN details the symptoms of MS and outlines her personal involvement in MS Australia.
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system, and affects over 2,000,000 people worldwide. More than 25,500 of those people are Australians. Diagnosis usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 40, and three quarters of all people with MS are women. A lot of MS symptoms are invisible; pain, fatigue, muscle spasm, visual disturbances, brain fog, dizziness, depression, bowel and bladder changes, mobility issues, heat sensitivity and swallowing problems. This year the theme for MS Day is Visibility. There’s a social media campaign to raise awareness using the hashtag #MyInvisibleMS. Too often these days we think of disability as being something we need to be able to see; someone walking with a stick, using a wheelchair, having an assistance dog. This isn’t always the case with MS, and indeed a lot of other diseases. We need to educate ourselves and the public, we need to be less judgemental and more understanding and willing to learn.
I’ve been a volunteer with MS Australia for approximately 9 years. I’ve been a course marshal at the annual Sydney MS Fun Walk & Run and for the last few years I’ve also volunteered at the Sydney MS 24 Hour Megaswim. MS Australia have events in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Launceston, so there are plenty of opportunities to join in, either as a participant or a volunteer. The next event is the Melbourne Fun Walk & Run on the 2 June, followed by the Launceston Fun Walk & Run on the 22 September and finally the Sydney to the Gong bicycle ride which takes place on the 3 November 2019.
MS Australia is a charity that is dear to my heart because my mother had MS. Sadly she passed away some years ago. I enjoy volunteering at the events because it costs nothing but a few hours of my time, and I see it as my way to help people living with MS, because by volunteering I’m providing support for others to participate and raise much needed funds. Over the years I’ve roped in friends as volunteers at events which has been fantastic. One year I broke my foot 3 weeks before the event and a good friend offered to take my spot. She brought her sister along and they stood in the rain for four hours without complaining! I managed to get a job sitting down that year and didn’t get wet, so that worked out well for me!
The MS Fun Walk & Run event is always like a celebration, there’s a party atmosphere with people in either matching team costumes, brightly coloured outfits and even some in fancy dress. At the last Fun Walk & Run one man ran the 8km in a lobster costume then came back and walked the 4km with some friends, still dressed as a crustacean!
The MS 24 Megaswim is a swimming marathon which sees teams of swimmers take to the pool for 24 hours. They work in relays, and there’s a wide range of ages in most of the teams. It’s a real family affair. It’s a great event, another one with a party atmosphere. There’s a team of midwives from Nepean Hospital who take part, they’re formidable swimmers and their table always has the best food!
Many years ago my grandfather used to grow beautiful tomatoes which he sold them to neighbours and the money all went to charity to support people with MS. Decades later I’m carrying on the family tradition by volunteering at MS events. I’m not very good at growing tomatoes, but I can stand and give directions, I can help, I can smile and I can cheer people on.
I hope to see a cure for MS in my lifetime. Research is ongoing, and we’re not there yet, but I’m confident that a breakthrough will come.