Key Facts On MS:
The Kiss Goodbye to MS campaign is an internationally recognised initiative to raise vital research funds for MS (multiple sclerosis) which kicked off on the 1st of May.
23,000 Australians are living with MS
Average age of diagnosis just 30 years old
3 out of 4 of those diagnosed are women
Interview with Mez Gallifuoco
Question: What encouraged you to become an ambassador for the Kiss Goodbye to MS campaign?
Mez Gallifuoco: This is my fourth year as an ambassador for Kiss Goodbye to MS. MS Research Australia, as a foundation, donates a large portion back to research which I find quite rare in charities, these days. In 2015 they donated 72% back to research which means they fund more research than the Australian Government, which really stood out for me when I was diagnosed thirteen years ago.
A lot of people don't actually know about MS, when I was diagnosed a lot of people didn't know what it was or they equated it to being in a wheelchair as there wasn't a lot of education around MS. Given that there are 23,000 people that have MS in Australia, it is definitely a message that needs to get out.
Kiss Goodbye to MS is such an amazing campaign – it's fun, social and very girlie; I love red lipstick, so that works in my favour (laughs)! I am proud and privileged to be a part of Kiss Goodbye to MS.
Question: What message do you hope to spread during the Kiss Goodbye to MS month?
Mez Gallifuoco: This month I hope to encourage people to participate in the MS viral campaign that is on social media because it makes a difference in raising awareness. Most people don't see a direct impact if they are not donating and are posting to social media, but the more we understand about this disease the more likely we are able to invest in research. I would love for people to spread the word.
Question: Can you tell us about your diagnoses with multiple sclerosis (MS) at 18 years of age?
Mez Gallifuoco: I was diagnosed when I was 18, I had just finished HSC and initially I woke up and had pins and needles in both of my feet; over the course of the week it went up to my waist. I went and had check-ups and a Doctor informed me that I had multiple sclerosis (MS). It's been a very interesting journey as I was an atypical diagnosis, as I was diagnosed quite young; the average age of diagnoses is 30. Mostly women are diagnosed with MS, I fit into that category but I was quite young and was on treatment whilst going through University, it was a very interesting diagnoses and journey.
There have been a lot of ups and downs; sometimes it's hard, sometimes it's easy and sometimes most of the people I am around forget that it exists. When I do have relapses, that is when I am really challenged, and that's where the need for research will really benefit people like me.
Question: How does multiple sclerosis (MS) currently affect you, on a daily basis?
Mez Gallifuoco: My MS is relapsing-remitting which is an unpredictable illness as there will be days where I am absolutely fine and then days when I can't feel my fingers; I say days quite generously as sometimes it is hours in the day. I will have moments or hours, within a day, when I am fatigued where I get electric shocks, down my arms. I can't explain what MS is like, on a daily basis. The only thing that is consistent in an inconsistent illness such as MS is that you're aware that anything can happen, at any moment, which is terrifying in many aspects.
Question: How do you manage the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS)?
Mez Gallifuoco: There are a lot of treatment options available to us and medical treatment is the first go-to for most MS patients. Through research I know a lot and that MS can be triggered through stress and lifestyle habits. As far as my own daily management, of my own disease, I try to make an exceptional effort to de-stress, meditate, eat super healthy and to make sure that my body is in prime condition to heal itself and even to respond to treatment, if I am on a treatment.
Question: Why is it important for you to share your story and daily struggles with an online community?
Mez Gallifuoco: There have been times in my journey, as an ambassador, where it has been very confronting to share personal details and be vulnerable but I do truly believe that it is important for all of us to understand what people with illness are going through and to have that kind of empathy to understand where your funds or efforts are going to. If you don't understand MS, it's hard to envision where that effort is being channeled in to. I think it's important for the public to truly understand the illness, relate to the ambassadors and understand that this can happen to anyone, it's so bloody random. Social awareness and understanding MS means you can be there for someone as you understand what they are going through. We can all help each other, in the community.
Question: What are your social tags?
Mez Gallifuoco: My Instagram is @mezwild
Question: What advice do you have for a woman recently diagnosed with MS?
Mez Gallifuoco: In my journey as an MS research ambassador I have met a lot of people who have been recently diagnosed with MS or have had MS for a long time and I've found there is a common journey that everyone is going through. Initially when you are diagnosed, you freak out as it's overwhelming; my advice is to breathe and search for knowledge (not just Google -What is MS?') but reach out to communities like MS Research Australia to educate yourself on your options. It's important to understand there are thousands of people out there going through the same thing as you. All is not lost; we are definitely working rapidly towards a cure as we've done incredibly well over the last ten years and we will continue to do so.
Interview by Brooke Hunter