‘Multiple sclerosis does not define me’

Cockle Bay’s Gaye Stratton and husband Greg have produced a calendar, the proceeds of which will go to MS Auckland.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the brain and spinal cord in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of the nerves. Local woman Gaye Stratton talks frankly about MS – and a new calendar raising funds for MS

By Gaye Stratton

On an ordinary day just before Christmas 20 years ago, I was diagnosed with remitting relapsing Multiple sclerosis (MS).

I had two young daughters, a six-week-old Dalmatian puppy (who did chew the ‘newly diagnosed with MS’ booklet) and ran my own human resources company.

MS was clearly not detailed in my strategic plan. I knew nothing about MS or anyone with MS. Mr Google gave a timeframe of how long before I would need to use a wheelchair. It was a shocking revelation and a time of quite a few “Oh s… and why me” moments.

Despite the calming influence of Dr Ernie Willoughby who did a great job of explaining the different types of MS, a short time later I had a major relapse.

I had very limited movement in my right arm and leg. I went on a course of steroids and my main worry about that was that I would get a round, steroidal-looking face.

It was a time of turmoil and many unknowns. I remember during this relapse my younger daughter asked me to drive to the video store for her. I tried to explain I couldn’t even try.

She responded with “can you maybe just try a bit harder”. That was when I did think that physically I might not to be able to try harder, but I could try harder with my attitude to life with MS.

Over the next 15 years I did have some smaller relapses but nothing too major. I stopped worrying that every strange feeling in my body was MS-related and I was going to have a relapse.

Family life carried on along its busy track, my business grew, I focused on my fitness and ran a few half marathons. I didn’t forget about having MS but it wasn’t the first thing on my mind.

Five years ago, the MS changed direction. I now have secondary progressive.

Running isn’t on the agenda anymore and, like most women living with MS, I know where most of the toilets are in the surrounding area.

The MS hydrotherapy classes have been a great way to exercise and meet others who just ‘get it’. Gilly Davy of Connect Neuro Physiotherapy has been so helpful and following her programme of exercises has certainly made me feel confident.

This confidence enabled me to develop a new business, Speak Confidently. We support adults and senior school students develop and grow their public speaking skills. When working, I wear ‘sensible shoes’, always check the venue for uneven floors, sticking-out furniture and loose floor mats!

Life these days goes on without the crippling fear that I experienced earlier. Life is still busy and as unpredictable as always. However, I look forward to the birth of my first grandchild.

Four years ago my husband Greg joined a painting class and has never looked back. I am a little biased; I think his work is wonderful. The idea behind the calendar is to let others enjoy his artwork while giving something back to MS Auckland.