Margaret Wells' story


Margaret Wells at MSWA Volunteer Lunch

As she approaches both her 80th birthday and her ten years of voluntary service for MSWA, Margaret Wells reflects on the two things that have kept her positive over the years: keeping busy (with hobbies and volunteering) and caring for others.

From 1970, Margaret worked for three decades as a boarding school housemistress, seeing to the practical and emotional wellbeing of innumerable teenagers.

She started in Geraldton, spending 19 years in a boys’ boarding house, the John Frewer Hostel. She later moved to Perth and spent three years at Iona Presentation College, and finally, 12 years at Penrhos College.

Throughout these 21 years in Perth, Margaret was also a voluntary tour guide for Burswood Park Heritage Trail, regaling visitors with stories of the dozen bronze sculptures and other public works and landmarks that are peppered along the riverfront.

MS diagnosis

It was in 2000, when Margaret was aged 59, that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“I’d been experiencing symptoms many, many years before diagnosis,” recalls Margaret. “They were arthritis-like symptoms. But I knew myself it was more than that.

“When I was diagnosed with MS, I knew absolutely nothing about it. I didn’t know anyone with MS back then. It was a bit of a shock, but at the same time a relief to know something was wrong – to have it confirmed.

“My GP sent me to the MS Society (now MSWA). I had a chat to the nurse and went to a few events for those who are newly diagnosed.”

Margaret was still working at the time, so started going along to a ‘workers after dark’ support group at the MSWA Wilson Services Centre once a month. “We’d chat about MS and we’d each take something for dinner.”

More about MSWA’s peer support groups

A not-so-quiet retirement

Margaret retired from her boarding school career a couple of years after diagnosis. “I was starting to feel fatigued, going up and down those stairs. You know when enough’s enough. If you’re smart you retire on a high.”

A story Margaret often tells people involves her life-long desire to visit New Zealand. “The day I was diagnosed, I came out of the neurologist’s office and thought ‘I might not be able to walk someday’. I went straight to the travel agent and booked a trip to New Zealand!

“I’ve always kept that determination – that this isn’t going to beat me.”

Margaret’s travels continued into her sixties and seventies, enjoying bus tours in the UK, Europe and Canada.

“I’ve been one of the lucky ones,” she reflects. “My condition didn’t deteriorate over the years. I chose not to start medication. I thought, ‘I’ve managed with this for so many years, I think I can keep going’.”

Margaret does struggle with fatigue and pins and needles, but says it’s manageable.

“I looked after all the kids in boarding houses with these symptoms and I coped. I’m still going, still able to do things.”

She enjoys spending time with her family (she has five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, whom she adores).

“My twin granddaughters turned 21 this year. Their brother, the youngest, turned 15 yesterday. We celebrated over breakfast; my son cooks a mean breakfast!”

Another activity Margaret enjoys is her RSLWA Poppy Ladies craft group. She recalls 2018 when the group knitted 62,000 handcrafted red poppies that were placed on the lawns at Kings Park for the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

“I also go to a walking club, we walk through Carousel Shopping Centre at 8.30am once a week. I do Prime Movers and gardening too.

“I’m 80 next month, so I should probably wind down a little bit!”

Margaret’s neurological condition remains stable and she values the difference MSWA’s physiotherapy team have made.

“We’ve a great group at hydrotherapy on a Monday. We stay for lunch and a cup of tea. We’re all tired from the session and we chat about how we’re feeling, which can be just as helpful as the physical therapy. It’s good to be in touch with people who know how you feel, what you’re going through.”

Volunteering for MSWA

In 2011, Margaret began volunteering for MSWA.

“I had to give up golf, and I was looking for something else to do. An MSWA occupational therapist came out to advise me about handrails in my new bathroom and she mentioned volunteering at MSWA.

“I thought ‘I don’t know when I’ll need a bit more help along the way’. It’s been my way of paying it forward.”

Margaret began in the mail room, putting leaflets into envelopes, and soon moved to assisting with the weekly Outreach group.

“It’ll be 10 years next week. Making morning teas and cuppas for 10 years!”

More about becoming a volunteer at MSWA

An altruistic attitude

Margaret explains how helping others is what has got her through the difficult times.

“My saving grace was my twin granddaughters, Tayla and Paige. They were born in May and I was diagnosed in July. My son and his wife were battling with two babies, so I decided to be there for them as much as possible and threw myself into helping them.

“The diagnosis didn’t bother me so much because I kept telling myself ‘these little ones need me now’. That’s how I got through the first year.”
She explains that she doesn’t get low, just very tired.

“I’ve got to say to myself ‘stop’ and have a few days off. I know when to stop. I think that’s important. Keep people around you and keep busy if you can. I’m ever so grateful my condition has remained stable. I hold onto that.”

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