“Love conquers all”

25 March 2024
20230914 115838

For most, one diagnosis in a lifetime can, understandably, be more than enough for a person to handle.

But for the remarkable 84-year-old Pauline, two powerful forces have helped her to take on multiple sclerosis, a stroke and breast cancer in her stride; faith and love.

It was 1985 when Pauline first noticed symptoms, working as a sister across surgeries in Applecross and Yangebup.

“I didn’t realise what was wrong, because I wasn’t walking straight,” Pauline said.

Multiple tests and five years on, Pauline originally received an incorrect diagnosis of motor neurone disease. After a second opinion, it was determined Pauline had MS.

“Now I’m left with weakness in my right leg, and I don’t feel that good in my right arm. Nothing terrible, I can stand up, but I don’t have any balance whatsoever,” Pauline said.

“It hasn’t affected me terribly; I can do most things. I can empty the washing machine and put it in the dryer. I shouldn’t, but I can – you find ways around to do things.

“But I have strong faith, and it’s been very helpful for me on my journey.”

Her husband of 32 years, John, is also a huge pillar of support in her life. He credits his 20-year career as a chef in the Navy as the perfect training to take good care of Pauline.

“He’s a wonderful man, he does everything I can’t do,” Pauline said. “When we got married, he knew I had MS but despite that, he married me.”

“Love conquers all,” John professed.

Their love story is quite the tale, with John having answered Pauline’s personal ad in the local newspaper in 1985.

“Pauline had written ‘lonely nurse seeking tall, dark handsome guy’ so I wrote back and was one of 70 other replies,” John remembers. “I thankfully made it into a little group of positives in Pauline’s list.”

Pauline took the opportunity of her youngest of three daughters being away on school camp to meet her top four bachelors.

“I met a guy on Saturday afternoon, but I didn’t like him at all. All he talked about was himself!” Pauline recalls.

“On Saturday night, I arranged to meet a gentleman and he had a carnation in his lapel. We were supposed to meet in Hay St mall, and when I got there, I saw this little old grey headed man and I thought ‘oh he’s too old for me!’ So, I turned around and went home. I felt awful, but I did it anyway.

“On Sunday, I met this other man. He was a nice man actually; he was a saxophonist.

“But on Sunday night, I met John and I liked him. We walked all around Fremantle looking for a coffee shop and nothing was open! I had mentioned that I went dancing, and where I used to go to dance, and he picked up on it and was waiting for me there when I got there!

“And from then on... the rest is history.”

Now we’ve been married 32 years,” John said proudly.

A survivor in every sense of the word, Pauline hasn’t let her health battles stop her from travelling the world with John by her side.

“Three years ago, Pauline was 80 and she had never seen the Great Barrier Reef,” John explained.

“It was fantastic how people helped Pauline in the wheelchair while we were there. This young man took charge of Pauline and said ‘leave it all up to me’.

“We’ve actually been in a couple cruises, all in the wheelchair, they are very good and accessible.”

As well as far north Queensland, the couple have travelled to Penang and New Zealand – where a three-week holiday doubled to six thanks to a lucky windfall.

“Typical Pauline said ‘I think I’ll go get some AMP shares’,” John said.

“She ended up with about a thousand, from a hundred in, so we decided to extend our holiday to six weeks!”

While they have been doing less travel recently as Pauline’s specialist “five-star” equipment is more difficult to bring with them, the couple enjoy their quiet life in the beautiful coastal town of Busselton and have even picked up some new hobbies.

“We go twice a week for art classes. I never knew I could draw,” Pauline said.

She only started that at 80, but you never know your hidden talents!” John chimed in proudly. “I started playing the ukulele at 80.”

When we met with Pauline and John, the couple were excited to be receiving a new electric wheelchair through Pauline’s HCP plan. By complete coincidence, the couple received the exciting news that it was on-board for delivery – after months of waiting - just as our interview wrapped up.

“She’s resisted getting into a wheelchair all this time, because she wanted to get exercise,” John explained.

“But now she’s 83, let’s face it she needs it. But she will still do her upper body exercises and we are really looking forward to it.

“The MSWA Occupational Therapist came in to help teach us how to transition from a wheelchair to the shower or the bed and she did all that fantastically.”

Having been put through so many challenges throughout her life, we asked Pauline what her advice would be for others to remain as positive and active as she is.

“My advice to others with MS – keep up a good diet. Don’t eat anything you don’t need,” she said wisely. “I don’t each much sugar, and I eat all the right foods. Fruit and vegetables. Not much meat.”

“I only have alcohol every now and then when we go out, which doesn’t happen very often and I gave up smoking about 40 years ago.

“But I also have a strong will and determination.”

Of course, John backs her up in this self-assessment; “yes, she has a very strong, dogged personality,” he beams.