Swimming for MS

Luise Topma with her numerous MS 24 Hour Mega Swim swimming caps. 204339 Picture: ROMY STEPHENS

By Romy Stephens

Living with multiple sclerosis and overcoming breast cancer hasn’t stopped Luise Topma from doing the things she loves.

The 49-year-old Montrose resident is team captain of the MS Floaties, which will compete in this year’s MS 24 Hour Mega Swim on 28 February in Fitzroy.

The Mega Swim sees teams – with a maximum of 15 members – take on a relay swimming event that goes for 24 hours and raises money for those living with MS.

Luise has competed in the event since she was first diagnosed with MS about 14 years ago.

“Everything for me all seemed to happen in one year,” she said.

“My doctor thought I’d hurt my sciatic because I had numbness down my left leg.

“By the time I got to get my CAT scans, it had travelled to my right leg and my left arm.

“So we cancelled the CAT scan and went straight to a neurologist…They did the MRI and noticed I had lesions on my brain and spinal cord. That’s when they did the diagnosis of MS.”

Six years later, Luise was then diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I went through chemo for that, which put me into a remission because it kills your whole system off,” she said.

“I came back after that and everything seemed to be a little bit better but still not 100 per cent.”

When asked what it’s like to live with MS, Luise said it feels like a mystery.

“For me personally, it’s fatigue which is one of my hugest battles is just trying to stay awake,” she said.

“Pins and needles, numbness, you get heavy legs.

“It’s like a snowflake. We’re all MS but we’re all different, there’s not one of us that will have exactly the same symptoms altogether.”

However, she said she is lucky to have the support of her daughter, Ashlee, who was 11-years-old when Luise was first diagnosed.

“She is my rock, I mean it’s hard for any child carer to look after their parent. For an 11-year-old to have to help dress, to help feed, and she took time off school to look after me,” she said.

“It hasn’t been easy.”

The 24 Hour Mega Swim was founded 20 years ago by Paralympian Carol Cook to support people living with MS.

The event has grown from a single event in 2001 to over 16 events across ACT, NSW, TAS and VIC annually.

Funds raised from the event go towards the Go for Gold Scholarship Program, which helps people living with MS achieve a dream.

Luise was a recipient of the Go for Gold Scholarship and used her funds to go towards a cake baking course.

This year, she will bake a cake to celebrate the events 20th anniversary.

Luise said she has dedicated many years to the event as a way of giving back to those who have helped her over the years.

“I like to give back and this is my way of giving back,” she said.

“For someone else who has MS to achieve something that they never thought they could, to have someone with MS show them they can do it is really good, I love it.

“It’s pretty powerful stuff.”

To find out more about the MS 24 Hour Mega Swim and how to get involved, visit www.msmegaswim.org.au.