Jump hurdles with MS

Written by Kerrie Alexander

LIFE has thrown many lemons Bev Cornwell’s way, but this truly inspiring woman has done more than just churn some unimaginable hurdles into lemonade.

The 75-year-old long-time Hervey Bay resident has come out the other side of having a mastectomy and fighting breast cancer, caring for her husband Geoff after a quadruple heart bypass and the biggest whammy of all – being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

There is a belief in the Western psyche that bad things happen in threes and Bev and Geoff couldn’t agree more.

However, they say their love for one another, and their two sons Mark and Ivan gave them the motivation to keep going. So did their love of helping others, which is why Bev founded
the Hervey Bay branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Support Group 22 years ago.

I say “their love” because every bit of support Bev offers is backed up by Geoff, who is Bev’s carer and husband of 57 years.

After Bev’s nomination in 2013, he was awarded Queensland MS Carer of the Year.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system and its symptoms vary according to which part of the body is affected and to what degree. It’s very hard to diagnose in many cases and there is also no cure.

For Bev, the first time MS made itself known was in 1978 when the sight in her right eye began to fail.

Her optometrist at the time put it down to wearing too much eye makeup, gave her some eye drops and sent her on her way.

“Well, I was back there the next day and he took more seriously,” Bev said.

“I spent an hour-and-a-half at the eye specialist and I’m pretty sure they had a fair idea then that it was MS, but it wasn’t diagnosed.”

After taking steroids to help the eye, Bev went another nine years without any symptoms until it started affecting the left eye and her right hand.

In December 1993, an MRI finally diagnosed what Bev had always suspected.

“I was 50 years old then and the doctor said at your age 90% of the population go through life just being clumsy … bit I didn’t unfortunately,” Bev said.

She was a much-loved diversional therapist at Kirami Home for Aged for many years but had to give up her work when fatigue and exhaustion set in from the debilitating disease.

“I started to suffer from drop foot and my legs were very weak.

“I stayed at Kirami until 1999 but had to give it up because I didn’t know whether I was holding the oldies up or they were holding me up.”

Medication did help but unfortunately the disease progressed to the point where Bev is now permanently confined to a wheelchair or mobility scooter with no feeling at all in her legs
or down her right side.

“I’m suffering terrible weakness now. A while ago I could lift my body up but now it’s getting more and more difficult.”

Having been through so much adversity, Bev said she was grateful for the time she was able to work hard, dance, travel, enjoy life, and appreciate all they had achieved.

Having experienced both city and country living the couple were able to embrace the vast difference and hardships of life on the land out west.

It is of course heart breaking for Bev to be confined to a wheelchair, but she said the key to keeping her spirits high and combatting depression is to keep her mind extremely active.

Bev’s diary is now always almost certainly full.

“It’s all about jumping those hurdles, one at a time,” Bev said.

Bev was the founder of the Golden Originals gettogether held annually at the Hervey Bay RSL 15 years and was awarded Citizen of the Year by Fraser Coast Regional Council for her efforts in 2002.
It brought together hundreds of long-time residents of the region to reminisce on days gone by.

She has also been a long-time member of the Hervey Bay View (Voice, Interests and Education of Women) Club, which provides fun, friendship, and a sense of purpose for members through supporting the education of disadvantaged Australian children under the umbrella of the Smith Family.

The club currently sponsors four ‘Learning for Life’ students.

Then there is Bev’s baby, the MS Support Group.

The group meets at the Hervey Bay RSL on the first Friday of every month and offers every kind of support and advice imaginable.

They often have guest speakers, including an Occupational Therapist from NDIS who comes to most
meetings to help the members understand what support and funding is available for those in need.
There is no committee, just like-minded people who come for a coffee, chat, and a shoulder to lean on.

“It’s very therapeutic,” Bev said.

“When people come to the group … there’s nothing off limits,” Geoff added.

“You can talk about, ask questions and discuss anything that is a problem for you no matter how
personal it is, we are all in this together.”

Bev receives calls daily from MS sufferers who either just like to have a chat with a like-minded person or find out more about the meetings.

“A 64-year-old man phoned up recently and his wife has cognitive MS and she doesn’t even recognise him anymore.

“He said he just wanted to meet people that he could talk to.

“There’s no care for MS patients with those sorts of needs besides going to an aged care facility.
“It’s so hard.”

Bev said the meetings also highlight the advancement in modern day medicine that can now help slow the progression of the disease – a choice Bev never had when she was officially diagnosed 26 years ago.

Back then, Geoff said people were selling their homes to be able to afford the medication needed, which wasn’t even administered until the disease was in its advance stages.

“I often worry when people first come to the meetings and see people like me in a wheelchair because it’s so confronting,” Bev said.

“As soon as the doctor realises now that the person has MS, they get them on the medication right away and it slows it right up.

“It’s very different to when I was first diagnosed.”

At home, Bev can be found in front of the computer, compiling newsletters and meeting notes to email out for all the organisations, using just her left hand.

Bev’s main access to the outside world is via her trusty computer, which plays a big part in her daily life.

“She can’t use her legs to venture outside but she can use the computer 12/7 to keep in touch with family and friends,” Geoff said.

“I just love to keep my mind busy,” Bev said. Bev is only too happy to have a chat to anyone
affected by MS. Give her a call on 4128 2692.