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Angie Cunningham - Tribute

Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Motor neurone disease, or MND, is the name given to a group of diseases in which the nerve cells controlling the muscles that enable us to move, speak, breathe and swallow, undergo degeneration and die. With no nerves to activate them, muscles gradually weaken and waste. MND can affect a person's ability to walk, speak, swallow and breathe. There is no known cause and there is no cure.

On average, every 12 hours in Australia someone is diagnosed with MND and every 12 hours someone dies of MND. The average life expectancy after diagnosis is just 27 months.

Last week in Launceston, the Cure for MND Foundation's remarkable Neale Daniher spoke of the Freezing for MND Ball as well as the slide into icy waters in Launceston's Avenue to raise awareness and funds to help find a cure for this dreadful disease.

Organising committee Lindi McMahon, Nigel Baker, Jelena Hill, Rick Fontyn, Jo Siggins, Andrew Philpott and Simone Morris, along with many sponsors, raised just over $100 000 towards this.

Inspirational mum Angie Cunningham, formerly Launceston girl Angie Woolcock, diagnosed with MND in the middle of 2012, surrounded by family and friends sadly passed away at her Melbourne home last Tuesday after her long battle.

Angie was a hugely talented tennis player as a young girl. At 14, she moved from Tasmania to the AIS to start her tennis career. By 18, she had picked up a world junior doubles ranking of three. Soon after she became a two-times finalist at the Australian Open junior doubles, a finalist at Wimbledon junior doubles and represented Australia on numerous occasions. A phenomenal tennis player, she worked with the best tennis players in the world in player relations for the WTA when she retired from the circuit. She worked very hard, was very clever and the players all loved her. Serena Williams even mentioned Angie in her Australian Open winner's speech.

Mum to Maggie and Sophie and wife to Pat, Angie was integral to raising awareness of MND in Australia and became even more well known when she shared her incredible story with Hamish McLachlan in the Herald Sun in an interview that took some five months because of her condition.

As the disease took hold, Angie was unable to move and communicated with her iPad by moving her eyes. Angie said -

I had no understanding of disabilities and the social stigma disabled people have to deal with until I experienced it myself. I have a rather intense appreciation for life given I am now on borrowed time, but I don't expect others to feel the same way.

When asked how she would now define the purpose of life, she said -

My proudest achievement is having so many wonderful people around me. Life is incredibly short and I have established we are not here for long. I don't have any major regrets ... I think I've squeezed as much good stuff in as possible and no-one knows yet why people get MND, so there was nothing I could do to stop it. I have had great happiness in my life and that's all you can wish for - a happy and fulfilling life, surrounded by people you love.

Life is not always fair. I know I was on a pretty good run for 39 years. I had a blessed childhood, exciting sporting adventures growing up, challenging career travelling the world, married my true companion, had two beautiful children and then the incredible lucky streak ended, rather abruptly. I am not the first 40-something mother who has had her life cut short. Sadly, it happens too much. I just accept it is part of my fate and I am thankful for every other great hand I was dealt.

What advice would she offer someone diagnosed with MND? She said, 'My heart honestly shatters every time I hear of someone being diagnosed with this horrific disease. I know the dreadful pain they will go through in processing the diagnosis. Sadly, all I can say to those now is, just stay strong and I hope you have good support around you'.

Having to step back from fundraising when she became too weak, Angie had no doubt the Cure for MND Foundation would continue until there was a cure, so future MND sufferers would not have to go through the same despair and hopelessness. She despaired at the lack of government funding given to research this disease. She said, 'Luckily, with the amazing support of the public, our Cure for MND Foundation … has invested over $2.75 million into MND research initiatives over recent months. I truly believe if the foundation can keep the momentum and funds going, there will be a breakthrough in the next 10 years. The thought that a patient will one day hear 'MND' and 'hope' in the same diagnosis makes me very happy'.

The former junior tennis champion enlisted superstars including Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova, Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt to raise awareness and funds to fight the deadly disease, and the fight will go on.

Angie passed away as eldest daughter, Maggie aged 10, read out of a special book of advice, stories and photos her Mum had created for her and her sister. Her husband, Pat, was at her side.

Our thoughts are with the family at this time.

Angie has left behind a huge legacy and hope to sufferers and their families for a future cure for this dreadful disease.

Vale Angie Cunningham, and well done for a life well lived.

Members - Hear, hear.

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