A Special Guest of the Month: Angie Cunningham, laughing to cure Motor Neurone Disease

By Amy Crawford

Just three years ago an angel walked into my living room, demanded I not move an inch, and went about cleaning my home. She changed the sheets on my bed, swept my kitchen floor and vacuumed; tasks a healthy person would do in a blink of an eye. For me however, these tasks where nye impossible, due to the totally debilitating fatigue brought on by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. As many who have experienced chronic illness can attest, asking for help is one of the biggest challenges of all. Yet there she was, this beautiful angel, my oldest and dearest friend Angie Cunningham; coming to the support of a friend in need. Angie expected nothing at all in return and her kindness filling me with the most amazing sense of gratitude and love.

Wind the clock forward and how much has changed. Whilst I am blessed to have reclaimed my health and life, my dear friend Angie is now fighting the biggest battle of her life, Motor Neurone Disease. If there is just one thing I can now do with my business and the amazing support of a wonderful community around me, it is to spread awareness of this (as yet), incurable disease and in turn make it possible for Angie and other MND sufferers, to reclaim their lives. 

But firstly, a little bit of background. See the photo below? I do believe that was taken in 1974 at a birthday party in Tasmania. There we are, Angie and I, with our whole lives ahead of us (yep, I'm the chubby cheeked kid eyeing off the jelly orange). Wind the clock forward 12 years and Angie, at the early age of 14, moved to the Australian Institute of Sport to embark on an incredible tennis career. By 18 she'd picked up a World Junior Doubles ranking of 3, soon after she became a two times finalist of the Australian Open Junior Doubles, a Finalist of Wimbledon Junior Doubles and represented Australia on numerous occasions. The girl could play tennis. Not only is Ange (clearly) highly motivated but she's more determined than anyone I know.

A few years ago, Angie's health started failing. Test after test determined little, until 2 years ago she received her diagnosis. Ange's determination is now shining through. During the Australian Open this year, Angie and her husband Pat, launched a campaign 'Laugh to Cure MND' to both raise awareness and funding for further research. With the incredible support of the international tennis community, they raised a staggering $100,000 within just two weeks. 

Without further ado, I introduce Angie Cunningham as my very dear Guest of the Month.

Ange, your positive mindset is nothing short of inspirational. How do you maintain this steadfast positivity in light of the challenges you face?
When I was diagnosed, the most devastating part was being told there was no cure. I am a naturally competitive and determined person so I decided I would do everything in my power to make my body as healthy as it could possibly be, even though parts of it have other ideas! Given I am losing control of my muscles, I have chosen to take charge of everything else I can and that includes my attitude. Another MND sufferer brought a great quote to my attention early on in my diagnosis and it has really resonated with me.

'Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way'' - Viktor Frankl.

"Laughter is the best medicine", not a truer word spoken Ange! In fact you named your campaign Laugh to Cure MND. Could you tell us why you chose that name?
A lot of people questioned why we named our campaign Laugh to Cure MND especially since the disease is no laughing matter. Believe me, my husband and I know that. Our lives are presented with daily changes and struggles because of my diagnosis of this terminal disease. In my view, being sad or angry about my situation is wasting the time I have here. Rather than getting upset by dropping a glass, tripping over in front of a crowd of people or being majorly misinterpreted due to my slurred words, we just laugh about it and make a joke. Given laughter is good for my body (it releases endorphins and enkephalins in our brains to make us feel good) and I love doing it and given it's the best medicine I have right now, we thought it was the right message for our campaign. We are also having fun with Laugh to Cure by creating happy, laughing moments to share with everyone as we try to raise money for research into MND. I have been told by a health care provider that I should laugh at least 100 times a day so hence our focus on it!

Friendships and connection are so very important, for all of us. How vital are these connections in your life now Ange?
I have always valued friendship but never more so than now. It's now that I get to see how lucky I am to have superb people rallying around me. I believe strongly that the energy and the love that I get from my family and friends help me stay strong and helps me fight the disease.   I can't imagine going through this journey without family and friends around to support me. The dynamics in my friendships (including my marriage to my wonderful husband) have had to change due to my inability to speak but I'm lucky to have such adaptable friends. It also means that my listening skills have improved and one of the greatest things as a friend you can do, is just listen and don't offer advice unless you are asked for it.

Ange tell us about your healthy lifestyle. Your attitude is second to none, how are you nourishing your body and your life?
Self motivation is hard, so most of us need a reason to change our patterns and lifestyles. Being diagnosed, has made me evaluate my lifestyle and make changes that I'm not sure I would have been able to make without such a serious health issue. Having been through a major detox and then eating cleanly....I love the way my body feels now. It helps having a wonderful inspiring friend like you Aims in my corner, with heaps of great recipes and ideas.  Another wonderful by product of my lifestyle changes is the creation of our beautiful backyard bursting with homegrown goodness. A whole new passion of gardening has been created through my quest for healthy, clean foods and our whole family enjoy the experience. 

Laugh to Cure MND is a campaign aiming to raise money for research into a cause or cure for Motor Neurone Disease. To donate to this campaign please visit laughtocuremnd.com or visit them on Facebook.

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February 21 2014

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