THE positivity and determination of local sports teacher and dog agility competitor Sarah McDowell is an inspiration for all as she battles with a recent medical diagnosis in the lead up to the World Agility Open Championships in the United Kingdom.
Receiving news of a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) diagnosis only days before Christmas, Ms McDowell remains committed to following her dream of competing with her best mate and four-legged friend Cali in a matter of months.
Set to represent the state as the first competitors from South Australia in the worldwide event, the duo will not let anything get in their way.
“We are starting to get back into training after a few weeks off when I was going through treatment and although I am nervous, it is also an exciting time and I feel well prepared for the championships,” she said.
As a young, fit and healthy woman, the diagnosis came as a shock for the local school teacher who initially thought the bouts of numbness experienced in her hands over the past year were due to bad circulation in the cold Mount Gambier weather.
However, this all changed late last year.
“We were in the middle of a school assembly when all of a sudden my eye sight started to go funny and I felt numbness in my face and down the right hand side of my body,” she said.
Seeking help from another staff member, Ms McDowell was driven to a local medical clinic and was then taken by ambulance to the Mount Gambier Hospital.
“At that point they didn’t know for sure if it was MS, they initially thought I may have been experiencing a stroke until the CT scan came back completely fine,” she explained.
“The following day during an MRI they found two lesions on my brain, which is a sign of MS.”
Travelling to Adelaide only a short time later, Ms McDowell underwent another MRI and a third lesion was found, this time on her spine.
All of a sudden, what was meant to be a joyous occasion during the festive season turned into one of the hardest and most challenging times of the young woman’s life.
“The first week after diagnosis was pretty terrible, I stayed at home and started researching MS and went on a downward spiral thinking there was no way to treat it,” she said.
“But I managed to change it around and started looking at what treatments were available around the world.”
Only four weeks later, Ms McDowell was undergoing a five-day infusion treatment in Adelaide.
“Because we know it’s been diagnosed within two years, from a clear MRI in late 2015, there is a better chance I will only need a couple of the infusions over the four year process, with the next one being in a year for three days instead of five,” she explained.
“The hope is this treatment will knock it on the head, however I will need to get monthly blood tests and an MRI every three months for the next four years.”
Now beginning to build up training again in the lead up to the championships, Ms McDowell said the associated costs of treatment on top of those to travel overseas were her main worry.
“Everything is organised to get Cali and myself overseas with Jetpets flying her directly from Melbourne to the UK,” she said.
“The process itself isn’t too stressful, but the costs do build up.”
However, thankfully the burden may be eased with the support of the Blue Lake Golf Links and the Mount Gambier community.
Hosting a trivia night in the coming weeks, Ms McDowell said any money will be greatly appreciated.
“Anything is going to be extremely helpful at the moment with travel to cities for treatment, medications, time off work to attend appointments in the cities and getting Cali and I overseas,” she said.
“I hope this treatment works, but we won’t know until later in the year and if it doesn’t I will have to look at whether I will pay $85,000 to go to Russia for stem cell treatment.
“I would have to sell my house and there are high risks involved.”
The trivia night will take place on February 16 at Blue Lake Golf Links from 7.30pm at $15 per person with tables of eight.
Raffles and auctions will run throughout the night.
Call 8725 6198 to make a booking.
Ms McDowell and Cali’s journey can be followed on Facebook through the page Cali’s Adventures.