FOR whoever wants to listen, Denise Chipper will happily talk about multiple sclerosis. The long-time MS Australia ambassador has even been a guest speaker for a birthday party, helping someone newly diagnosed with the disease break the news to their loved ones in a way they would not feel pity.
But she refuses to let the debilitating disease define her life.
Ms Chipper hopes in talking about MS it will take the focus off people who have the disease and become more about how to best get on with living life to the fullest. For Ms Chipper, this is in a strong dedication to helping others by listening and talking with MS Australia is highlighting her commitment this National Volunteers Week.
I live with limitations - everyone does in some way - but as far as I'm concerned, you manage it. Don't dwell on it.
"I really have been one of the lucky ones when it comes to MS...It's really only in the last five or so years it has impacted me a bit but every day I am on my feet, I am lucky," Ms Chipper said.
The first signs Ms Chipper might have MS showed in the late 1980s when an ophthalmologist found optic neuritis in one of her eyes and offered to investigate further. At the time, Ms Chipper declined, not wanting to "live under a cloud" in worrying.
Ms Chipper was diagnosed with the disease, which attacks the central nervous system, in 2002 after failing to recover fully from a hip operation. By then, her condition was deemed secondary progressive for which there is no treatment.
There is a bit of scarring in her eye and new tests have shown lesions, which are no longer active.
Ms Chipper has good and bad days and said it was important to recognise her limitations, particularly when fatigued. This has forced Ms Chipper to scale back her speaking engagements, unable to reliably driver herself all the time, but she continues to work with MS Australia to find ways around this.
Offering peer support is important to Ms Chipper, who said people often needed someone with similar experience, who understands, to speak with - whether they were newly diagnosed or with lived experience but struggling a little. She also volunteers with Lifeline.
Ms Chipper also likes to share her experience with community groups and medical students who primarily want to know what it was like to live with the disease to learn beyond the facts.
More details: msaustralia.org.au
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MS Australia is also running its annual dream home lottery to support people living with MS. For more, visit msdreamhomelottery.com.au, calling 1300 311 816 or visit MS Community Shops.
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