We met at an MS Research Australia engagement session as part of the exciting Stop and Reverse MS initiative in 2018. Our stories were so similar; we formed an instant friendship. We were both diagnosed in our mid-20s. The diagnosis was a total shock to both of us. We were both career women at the beginning of our careers – Melissa in real estate, Lauren in law. Although the diagnosis was challenging, we both took a positive attitude to life with MS. One thing we both committed to was having an active lifestyle in terms of exercise, as well as a broader interest in our overall wellbeing and educating ourselves around that.
We are also the beneficiaries of new generation medications that have come about through recent MS research breakthroughs. These new generation medications have allowed us to live normal lives. We quickly realised that our lives and careers would continue, just with a few extra hurdles that we were determined to power through. There is no doubt that having an ‘MS bestie’ is the most incredible support you can have – someone that just ‘gets it’. In fact, we are writing this article while sitting together waiting for (deliberately booked) consecutive hospital appointments. After our diagnoses 4 (Melissa) and 8 (Lauren) years ago we are both still proud career women, with added extra resilience on the side. Alongside our fellow MSer, Emma Giunti, we are the ‘people with MS’ leads on the Stop and Reverse MS initiative. As part of our role, we have educated ourselves about the progress in MS research. For all of us, it has opened our eyes to the incredible diversity of MS research going on in Australia – from myelin repair to diet to biomarkers. In speaking directly to researchers and neurologists, we also get a chance to understand the unique challenges of collaborative research, receiving adequate funding for long term projects and building careers in MS research (particularly for early career researchers). As young professionals ourselves, we relate to these researchers and their career journeys and ambitions.
For us as MSers, being involved in this initiative is vital. It gives us the knowledge of how we are moving towards stopping and reversing MS. It is not just about finding a ‘cure’, as that in itself is a simplistic concept. Rather, in the first instance, it is about better treatments that prevent damage from occurring in the first place to allow us to keep living active lives. Beyond that, it is about repair and regeneration of the neurological damage that MS can cause. Each of us have also been involved in fundraising to support MS Research Australia because ensuring sufficient funding of research funding is one of the biggest challenges in ending MS. It is really an exciting time to be involved! We can see just how close we really are to stopping and reversing MS.