“We met at a dance, like everyone in those days,” recalls Anita Terranova.
Anita is speaking of her husband, Joe, who was born in Sicily and came to Western Australia in 1956, aged 23. The pair have now been married for 57 years.
It was 1954 when Anita, who was training to be a model, lost balance and tripped over the end of the catwalk during a photoshoot for a Kalgoorlie newspaper feature (pictured below). This was the beginning of her journey with MS.
Anita recalls that little was known about MS back then and it took a long time to be diagnosed by her physician at Royal Perth Hospital, Dr Thorburn.
In 1963, shortly before Anita and Joe were married, there was an episode when she was paralysed for five months. She recovered and her condition remained largely dormant for many years.
“I had a good specialist,” recalls Anita. “I was in bed for several months but he refused to visit me at home. He insisted, ‘I’m not coming to you. You’re going to get up and come and see me in my office.’ And eventually I did.”
At the time, the advice for women with MS was ‘no babies’. However, 11 months after they married, baby Phil was born. Even though the birth went well, the couple were told it wasn’t safe for Anita to try again. This advice has long since changed and, generally, motherhood is not discouraged as it was in the past when there were no or few treatments and little evidence. Today, a neurologist will evaluate the individual risks to the patient regarding pausing treatment, pregnancy, delivery and potential post-partum relapse of MS symptoms.
Anita recalls that baby Phil helped her to keep distracted.
“When you rear your child, you give it the best you can. The child helps you. You can’t think about yourself. I had to be there for him.”
Joe was running a successful butchery business in Northbridge, a profession he retired from 10 years ago. He has always been an active and valued community member, particularly within the Italian community in Perth.
Joe and Anita are now aged 88 and 86, respectively. The pair are grateful that Anita’s condition progressed like it did.
“I must say this. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a lot of remissions,” explains Anita.
In old age, however, both Anita and Joe have faced challenges with their health.
Joe has on going heart issues after suffering a heart attack in 1990. A few years ago, his heart stopped for three minutes, an experience that gave Anita quite a fright. He now has a pacemaker device which sets his heart rhythm and connects to a satellite.
They still live in their Yokine home together, and Joe explains, “Until I can’t stand up and move myself, she stays with me.”
Joe is an excellent cook, but the couple need extra help at home, which they access via a Home Care Package with MSWA. Aged Care staff, who are all trained with an understanding of neurological conditions, visit them at home to help with house cleaning, weekly grocery shopping and assistance for Anita to shower and dress.
Joe also benefits from a weekly respite service with MSWA which enables him to have a break from his caring role and allows him to maintain his social connections. They also receive monthly gardening services as well as podiatry, physiotherapy and counselling services within their own home as part of their Home Care Package with MSWA.
“We’ve had a good life,” says Anita. “But the older you get, the less you can cope.”
After six decades of living with MS, Anita reflects that it’s difficult to explain MS to anyone.
“Every morning you wake up different from when you went to bed. It lets you know each day what you can do."
“I’ve been living with MS for 66 years and my advice to others is that you’ve got to be strong. This isn’t a disease you give up on – you need to tell yourself this isn’t going to beat me."
“I was a model until I tripped over the end of the catwalk. But in the end, I had a beautiful future to look forward to. My advice is to live every day. You never know what the future is going to hold. If you want to do something, do it.”
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