“We were having lunch and he was telling me about his trip to the Flinders Ranges and that was it. From our honeymoon onwards, we haven’t stopped travelling.”—Anita Chalmers, Australian Unity, Home Care customer.
- In the 2018 Australia Day honours, Anita was recognised with an Order of Australia (OAM) for her volunteer work with myositis.
- Anita, 76, was diagnosed with myositis in 1999. It is a condition that can affect people of any age. Over time it can cause significant muscle loss.
- Anita first joined Australian Unity in 2018 and was initially assessed for a level 1 Home Care Package, but has gradually increased the support she receives, which she says has helped her remain independent.
There’s very little that will hold Anita Chalmers back, even living with myositis, a rare and incurable condition where the body’s immune system attacks healthy muscle tissue.
With Geoff, her husband of 35 years, she has already done two ‘laps’ of Australia, surpassing what she estimates as 200,000 kilometres in four-wheel drives and motorhomes. “It’s a great country to travel in,” she says of Australia.
And have they travelled! “We’ve done the Birdsville Track from Bedourie [Queensland] to Marree [South Australia], the Strzelecki Track, the Great Top Road, which goes from Normanton in the Gulf of Carpentaria to Burketown [Queensland],” she says. “It’s a dirt track and stretches for over 200 kilometres. It passes Camp 119 of explorers Burke and Wills.”
Love of travel ignited a strong bond.
“Geoff and I met through a singles social group,” Anita says. “We were having lunch and he was telling me about his trip to the Flinders Ranges and that was it. That’s when it started. From our honeymoon onwards, we haven’t stopped travelling.”
Anita, 76, was diagnosed with myositis in 1999. It is a condition that can affect people of any age. Over time it can cause significant muscle loss. It can become difficult to walk and get out of chairs and bed.
“It’s just debilitating more than anything,” Anita says. “Because it attacks your muscles, it affects your walking. When we were travelling around Australia on our first trip in 1997, I had difficulty walking up hills, I kept falling over. We didn’t know what it was at that stage.”
Two years later she had a diagnosis. Back then there was no patient support group in Australia and little information about myositis. After retiring, Anita set out to change that, starting a support group in 2003 at the request of the CEO of the Myositis Association of America.
Having stepped away from her work as a secretary to various managers, Anita thought the support group would give her “a bit of an interest” in retirement.
“And that’s when it all started,” she says. “We had our first meeting in 2003 with 12 people. Now we have over 480 members with myositis around Australia.”
Anita is now the national secretary of Myositis Association Australia, working with a volunteer committee, all of whom have one of the various forms of myositis.
Anita has spent 20 years in a voluntary capacity helping people with myositis connect with programs or other facilities and offering any support needed. She has also engaged with doctors, politicians, council and community groups to build awareness of myositis. Through her work, and help from others, funds have been raised to support several medical researchers in Australia.
Helping people has been gratifying.
“They ring up and I might be the first contact they’ve had and all of a sudden it’s opened up a world for them by putting them in touch with groups in their areas,” she says. “We put up a lot of information on our website myositis.org.au under resources for members only, including mentoring. If someone rings from, say, Western Australia, we are able to put them in touch with someone to talk to in their state. We’ve got state coordinators and regional leaders and we have held three national conferences.”
The next conference will be in Sydney in September 2024.
For her own part, Anita receives support services from Australian Unity funded through her level 3 Home Care Package.
“Australian Unity does my shopping once a week and cleaning once a fortnight and, when needed, personal care. I’ve also been able to purchase a Tunstall alarm and monitoring system with my funding, which Australian Unity arranged for me,” she says.
Anita first joined Australian Unity in 2018 after a fractured femur (and several months in hospital) led her to seek home care services.
Based on her research and the endorsement of friends and neighbours who were already members, she chose Australian Unity and was initially assessed for a level 1 Home Care Package, but has gradually increased the support she receives, which she says has helped her remain independent.
Anita has also been able to purchase valuable equipment, such as a Vela chair, a lift recliner chair, a hi-low bed and smaller items including a tilt kettle. Also provided were specially made shoes and prosthetics. These items, which were funded by her Home Care Package and arranged with support from her Australian Unity Service Coordinator, have been instrumental in helping her manage her condition.
“The Vela chair is one of the best things I ever got and many people with myositis have one,” she says, explaining that she can adjust it to the required height so she can sit while cooking or washing up in the kitchen, washing her hair and carrying out a range of other tasks around the home.
In the 2018 Australia Day honours, Anita was recognised with an Order of Australia (OAM) for her volunteer work with myositis, which she says felt like the culmination of 20 years of work.
“I’ve spoken to so many people over the years,” she says. “They say how wonderful it is that there is an association and someone who understands, and someone just to talk to.”
She reflects on the satisfaction of combining work with travel. “I think it’s one of the best things I ever did as far as giving me an interest in retirement. And when we went on our trips I would take the office with me, which was the laptop.”
From her home in Berry, New South Wales, Anita has successfully mixed technology, the organisational skills developed professionally over many years, compassion and her determination to help others. It’s an inspiring story.
And her passion for travel remains undiminished. Anita and Geoff traded their motorhome for one with a bigger bathroom. “That was just before COVID, so it sat in storage for the past two and a half years. We’re hoping to use it soon, head north and stay away for the winter.”
Life on the road? Sounds like a plan.
For more information about myositis or Myositis Association Australia, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out how our experienced team can help you get the right support for your needs, speak to your branch or call 1300 160 170.
Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest. Interviewee names and titles were accurate at the time of writing.