Books, Laughter and Exercise

I love to read a good book.  I have had the opportunity to read two very different books in the last few weeks by authors who have Parkinsons’s.  At the World Parkinson Congress, I was fortunate to hear author Alice Lazzarini talk about her book Both Sides Now: A Journey from Researcher to Patient.  Her story is compelling and I could not put the book down.  Shake Rattle and Roll With It:  Living and Laughing with Parkinson’s by Vikki Claflin, is a very different take on PD by a humorist blogger.

At the WPC, Lazzarini told us that it all started with her shadow.  Walking down the street one morning, she saw that her arm was not swinging in her shadow.  A Parkinson’s researcher for years, she knew that a reduced arm swing was an early sign of Parkinson’s.  The next morning the she noticed once again that her arm was not swinging in her shadow.  She was reminded about how medical students typically diagnose themselves with each disease they study.  She said “I must be too immersed in Parkinsons”

How could this be?  She went to work and confided in a co-worker who had been diagnosed two months earlier.  They cried together at the irony that both PD researchers were diagnosed with Parkinson’s as they were making groundbreaking discoveries for that same disease.

In Both Sides Now: A Journey From Researcher to Patient Alice Lazzarini tells the story or her illustrious career and about her diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease.     She recounts difficulties faced by women in the workplace, especially in academia, at that time.  Many years later, encouraged by the visionary doctor she worked with, Roger Duvoisin, she finally pursued her PhD.  In 1996, her groundbreaking study with the Contursi family from Italy led to the discovery of the alpha-synuclein mutation, PARK1, and revolutionized the field of Parkinson’s research.  Yet, when confronted with the early symptoms that she knew pointed to PD, she did not seek medical treatment.  It took almost a year for her to finally see a colleague for an evaluation and the confirmation of her worst fears.

Like most of us, she tried to hide the tremor that appeared early on. When she hosted an advisory board meeting in London for Parkinson’s specialists several months later,she began to see PD from the other side – the patient’s side.  Statements made by other doctors that were not offensive before, now bothered her immensely.  But the biggest issue that confronted her was how could she remain a professional and be a patient at the same time?

In spite of her amazing career, she faced the same issues that we all do when we hear those four terrible words “You have Parkinson’s Disease”.  We have gone through denial, hidden our symptoms, and pretended that all was ok, when inside we were terrified.  We did not want people at work to know because it could jeopardize our careers.  Dr. Lazzarini was no different, and that is why her story is so easy to relate to.

Once she finally came to accept her disease, and her fate, Dr. Lazzarini retired from research and wrote her story for herself.  Fortunately she decided to share it with others who are living with Parkinson’s, so that we can better understand this disease.  Her story is an inspiration, and her discoveries have revolutionized the approach to Parkinson’s research.  Because of this amazing woman, we all have hope for a future without Parkinson’s.

In contrast, Shake, Rattle & Roll With It: Living and Laughing with Parkinson’s by Vikki Claflin, who has been writing about her experiences with Parkinson’s in her blog, Laugh Lines, gives us a very different take on PD.  There is a saying that if you write a blog about Parkinson’s, you will eventually write a book about it.  I have read some books by bloggers that are just awful.  But this one I recommend highly.  At times, I think she had channeled me and was writing about my experiences.  She sees the same elephant in the room that I have seen and written about.  I found myself nodding in agreement with her observations and laughing hysterically at some of her antics.  There is no embarrassing PD story that is off limits.   Any woman can relate to her description of shimmying into Spanx whether she has PD or not.  (If you don’t know what Spanx are, imagine trying to stuff a comforter back into that plastic bag it came in.  You just can’t do it!)  Her 20 ways Parkinson’s tremors come in handy is a classic.  And of course, when all else fails, there is always a glass (or bottle) of red wine with Milk Duds to get through the worst days.  But underneath it all is a serious look at living with a chronic disease and how one woman copes with it by looking at the world through humor.  Her final advice to us is Even without a cure in your lifetime, you can fight a good fight.  If you can laugh at the frustrations, epic fails and embarrassing moments, you will live a life made up of joyful moments and you have won the fight.

Finally, for those of you who have read Alex Kertin’s Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello life!: The Gyro-Kinetic Method for Eliminating Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Good Health, he just announced today that there is now a 30 minute exercise video that you can download. Go to  My Exercise for Parkinson’s  with Michael Wiese, the co-author of the book.

 

Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life!

…we’re going to learn how to feel good, we’re going to learn about our body’s rhythm and patterns, and pay attention to our body language and our facial expressions. By changing our script and eliminating our behavior of fear, we can bring ourselves back to a place where our natural movements dominate our Parkinson’s movements.

-Alex Kerten

Last fall I ordered the not yet published book, Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello life!  I eagerly awaited this new book on exercise for Parkinson’s which sounded very promising.  After all, I am willing to try just about any form of exercise that will help.   The book came last month and I have been playing with the exercises outlined by author Alex Kerten.

The basic theory laid out by Kerten, an exercise physiologist based in Herzliya, Israel, is that with movement, music and rhythm – creating motion in the body – you stimulate simultaneous physiological, biological and psychological reactions.  This will bring you back to a place where your natural movements dominate your Parkinson’s movements.  This is the foundation of what he calls the Gyro-Kinetic method.  Throughout the book he uses the “Oscars” as a metaphor for moving through life with PD.  By changing the movie script of our lives after diagnosis, we can actually break out of the acquired chronic habits of Parkinson’s.  We must become Parkinson’s Warriors; throw away the script that has been handed to us and write a new one.

First, Kerten stresses that this program is to be used as a complement to, not instead of, a medication program.  He says you will feel better by learning about certain behavior patterns that create chemical imbalances that take you away from your home-base center of balance and contentment. The goal is to learn how to regain that center by synchronizing your thoughts and actions.

The exercises are designed to put you in touch with your body, focusing on breathing, movement, self-massage, conducting music and improvised dances.  This will help you learn to regain your abilities that have been curtailed by PD.  By doing this, Kerten says you can “FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT” and win an Oscar for acting out the script of “I’m a Healthy Person with Parkinson’s Symptoms.”  There are the usual testimonials from doctors and patients regarding the benefits of the Gyro-Kinetics method and much more information about Parkinson’s Disease.

But the heart of the book is the exercises.  What I love about the them is that you can do them anywhere.  Just put on some music and start moving.  The written descriptions of the exercises can be a little confusing, so take the time to go to the website and view the 6 minute video of some of the exercises before you start.  You begin by moving your feet, then add your hands and facial expressions.  Then combine all.  After that you get to conduct the music.  (Did you know that conductor’s have a longer than average life expectancy because of the physical exercise involved in conducting?)  By conducting, you become one with the music.   And finally there is free dance.  Just keep moving and don’t worry about how you look.  There are more exercises in the book and Kerten also offers on-line Skype sessions if you need more personalized attention.tT8hQLq3Nx-4

So far, I’m a fan.  There is a good chance that if friends and family can’t find me, I will be dancing privately somewhere no one can see how silly I look.  And having a great time doing it.

 

Book Review: Brain Storms

IMG_0152-1I have been listening to books on Audible for a while now, usually when I am walking or driving.  Few have kept my interest like Jon Palfreman’s new book Brain Storms, The Race to Unlock the Mysteries of Parkinson’s Disease.  Unlike other audiobooks, I rarely had to back track to find out what I missed while distracted by something else.  The book was engaging, informative and written in language that a reader with no medical background could understand.

Palferman was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at about the same time that I was and at about the same age. He also seems to have had a similar trajectory in the progress of the disease.  He is a medical science journalist, and in that role, he oftened covered scientific discoveries leading to treatments and cures of chronic diseases.  Thirty years ago he produced a documentary film for Nova, The Case of the Frozen Addict, about drug addicts who had developed Parkinson’s like symptoms as a result of bad street drugs.   He is also a professor of journalism at the University of Oregon.  His diagnosis, like mine, initially led to denial, secrecy, depression and isolation.  He was determined to hide the disease for as long as possible.   I can’t imagine anyone shouting to the world that he has just had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  After all, the image of Parkinson’s conjurs up an elderly person, shuffling with a stooped back, dementia and an obvious tremor.  This is not a disease anyone looks forward to having since we can only treat the symptoms.  There is not yet a cure or even a guaranteed treatment to slow down the progression of the disease.

Through the book, Palfreman confronts that image and turns it upside down.  He discusses the sea change that occurred when  Michael J Fox set up his foundation to find a cure now.  He interviews Parkies who have made it theirs life’s mission to confront the disease and live with it on their terms.  One example includes dancer Patricia Quinn, who developed a dance program to counteract her symptoms and continues to live well many years later.  He has also interviewed others who have deteriorated rapidly and even goes so far as to project what his future will bring as a result.

Palferman also talks abut the fascinating history of the disease, beginning with descriptions from the ancient Greeks, leading up to James Parkinson’s famous essay on the Shaking Palsy nearly 200 years ago.  He talks about how treatments were developed, and even chronicles the descendents of a family in a small village in Italy who were essential in helping to discover genetic markers for PD.  Because the book was just published, he goes into great detail on the latest research about repurposing drugs for other diseases that have been somewhat successful in reversing PD in limited trials.  This is exciting news that has been talked about all summer.  Because these drugs have already been FDA approved for other diseases, the approval process is shortened significantly, if researchers can get enough patients to conduct Phase III trials.

He ends the book with a bright future for those of us with PD as a result of the flurry of discoveries made in the last few years about PD and treatments for slowing down and ultimately reversing the disease.

And finally, this is a very personal story about living with Parkinson’s disease and how a chronic disease will change a person’s life forever.    That change can be positive, which is something I have heard from so many people with Parkinson’s.  Once we get throught the denial, we can move forward and live our lives fully.

Book Review: Livin’ La Levadopa

Your journey begins now in finding your rainbows behind the storm known as Parkinson’s Disease

Maria De Leon, MD

I met Maria de Leon last month at the Women & Parkinson’s Initiative Conference sponsored by Parkinson’s Diva was recently published and is a must read for every woman with Parkinson’s.

Maria de Leon, MD, was a neurologist treating Parkinson’s patients for more than 20 years when she started experiencing many of the same symptoms as her patients.  Because most of these were non-motor symptoms,  not the traditional PD tremor , she and her husband, also a doctor, thought she was just overworked.  But a consultation with a friend with whom she had gone through residency with confirmed that the problem was in her BRAIN, not her HEAD.  Maria was diagnosed with Young Onset PD, which changed her life forever.

Parkinson’s Diva is a result of much soul searching after her diagnosis and forced retirement from practicing medicine.  Her insightfulness, warmth and humor, along with a good dose of medical information, research and strategies for living with PD, make this book  a must read for all women with PD.  The  book is filled with anecdotes that will leave you laughing out loud, practical advice from treating Parkinson’s patients for so many years, and even some of her favorite recipes.  She is always seeking the rainbows behind the storm, gently nudging you to follow her on this journey to living well with Parkinson’s Disease.

As she states in the very first chapter, women with PD must be pro-active and educate themselves to ensure better quality health care for several reasons. Most importantly, Gender differences in symptoms, research and treatment have not seriously been looked at before.  Most research in the past has focused on men with PD, not women.  Dr. de Leon states that Estrogen may play a large role in how women present their symptoms and how they respond to medication.  Much more research needs to be done in this area to help identify PD earlier in women so that effective treatment can begin sooner.

Dr. de Leon describes herself as a Parkinson’s Diva, which she defines as a lady of distinction and good taste, with some chocolate thrown in for good measure.  She encourages you to “live la levadopa” to the fullest and do not sweat the small stuff.  As women, wives and mothers, our needs often come last, but we must remember to take care of ourselves first.  Put on your favorite red lipstick and show the world that you are still you and you have much more to contribute to the world, even with PD.  Take charge of your life and embrace your inner Diva.

Check out Maria de Leon’s website at http://parkinsonsdiva.org/