Crystal Petch was a busy mother of two young boys when she started to notice things were not feeling quite right at the age of 30.

It was a normal day during 2013 in South Australia’s Riverland when Ms Petch experienced slurred speech and difficulty picking up a sandwich. 

After a trip to the hospital with her worried husband, Ben, Ms Petch was sent home with the belief she was exhausted.

A few months later, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Crystal Petch doesn’t let multiple sclerosis slow her down as busy mother for her two sons.(Supplied: Crystal Petch)

The chronic neurological disease — in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the fatty substance surrounding nerves —affects more than 33,000 people across Australia, with women making up three in four people diagnosed.

“I just remember walking out into the car park and breaking down, and Ben saying, ‘Well, at least we know you’re not making this up’,” Ms Petch said.

Like many chronic diseases, MS is invisible to other people, and Ms Petch found it difficult to explain what was happening inside her brain.

“You try and explain to people how your speech slurs, but not all the time,” she said.

“It was hard, but it was good to be able to say to people, ‘Hey, everyone, I’ve got MS’.”

Trying different therapies

In the beginning, Ms Petch tried alternative therapies, but when her MRI scans showed she was still getting active lesions on her brain, she started to research medical treatments.

In 2018 she started Ocrevous, an intravenous (IV) infusion given every six months.

Ms Petch receives a six-monthly infusion of Ocrevous to treat her multiple sclerosis.(Supplied: Crystal Petch)

After an initial dose at Flinders Medical Centre, Ms Petch was told that in order to continue the treatment she needed to travel to a hospital three hours from her home in Loxton North.

When she asked for treatment in a Riverland hospital, she was told “no one has done it in the country yet”.

“I said, ‘OK, I’ll be the first, and I’ll keep taking up a bed in Flinders Medical until you do that’,” Ms Petch said.

“We had to work through a lot of things, but I’m really happy to say lots of people are having this medication in their own hospitals now, which is great.”

Ms Petch, with friends and members of her family, participated in the MS Mud Run in 2013 after her diagnosis.(Supplied: Mitchell Mercer)

Strangers becoming friends

Stacie Mason was also diagnosed with MS 11 years ago and has since become one of the coordinators for the Riverland MS peer support group.

She said the group — developed through the MS Society — meets several times a year.

“You’re catching up with people who are living the life experience of MS and can really understand the things you’re going through,” Ms Mason said.

“A lot of people like to keep it private. In my case, I don’t have family here except my husband and my children, so I needed that friendship group to support me as well.”

Crystal Petch says her support network helps support her to work and live despite having MS.(ABC News: Elyse Armanini)

‘Don’t do it on your own’

Just over a decade on from her diagnosis, Ms Petch, now 41, said it was important for her journey to find other people in her community living with MS.

“I remember right at the start not wanting to say yes to the support group,” she said.

“But once you find those people, it’s just good to have another network of friends that are going through similar stuff to you.”

And her advice to other people living with chronic conditions?

“Find your village. Don’t do it on your own.”