No hard feelings as women reach out

Janene Caton and Yvonne Hoffman want to raise awareness about scleroderma. Picture: Joe Mastroianni

Life’s hard for Yvonne Hoffmann and Janene Caton. Both live with a rare disease they say is turning them into living statues.

The two Melton women are among 5000 Australians living with scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, a chronic auto-immune disease that causes the hardening of skin and connective tissue all over their bodies.

Mrs Hoffman, 63, and Mrs Caton, 51, are raising awareness for World Scleroderma Day on June 29.

“It eventually means you can’t move. You can’t bend to put on socks, raise your arms to comb your hair – and the connective tissue surrounding your organs, eventually that will harden too. I’ve only recently been able to press my hands together to clap and I celebrate those little things,” Mrs Caton said.

“It feels like your skin is two sizes too small for your body, like you’re being shrink-wrapped. I have very few wrinkles on my face and people often tell me, ‘you’ve never looked better’,” Mrs Caton said.

Mrs Hoffman owned a business, worked in retail and supervised disabled children before her diagnosis six years ago.

“I lost the use of my hands, so life’s bloody hard. My husband and children have to do everything for me. I can’t cook or clean with these hands.”

Mrs Caton recently retired from Victoria Police after 26 years.

“Victoria Police was so good to me and they allowed me to keep working a desk job,” she said.

“I was doing intelligence work, which was very fulfilling, for about eight years until my body didn’t allow me to do that anymore.

“You have to give up everything. Family and friends are what keeps you going and the friendships that I’ve made in the Melton community have taught me that, if you need help, you can ask. The kindness of strangers in the community is overwhelming.”

A support group of women with scleroderma meets at West Waters Hotel in Caroline Springs once a month.

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