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.

 

Looking Forward to 2016

The cures we want aren’t going to fall from the sky. We have to get ladders and climb up and get them.

— Michael J. Fox

As 2015 comes to a close, those of us in the Parkinson’s community are excited about the many new  research discoveries regarding the causes and treatments for Parkinson’s Disease.  It seems that every week in the past few months, another discovery, whether it is a drug or therapy,  has shown to be effective in either slowing the progression of the disease or in some cases, even reversing it.  In the 7 years since I was diagnosed, I have never been so hopeful that maybe this year will bring the big breakthrough.

This is exciting news, especially since some of those drugs that show a positive effect in PD patients have already been approved for other diseases, thus reducing the time for FDA approval for persons with Parkinson’s.  Even salicylic acid, the main ingredient in aspirin, which we all have in our medicine cabinets, has proven to be effective for reducing the cell-death that leads to Parkinson’s.  Today there was even more good news.  Researchers at Scripps Clinic and Scripps Research Institute in San Diego are beginning trials on humans using stem-cells taken from the patient’s own skin.  Watch this video on KUSI News  Once the pilot project is approved by the FDA, the clinical trials should open up to multi-national research centers.  Researchers expect this to be a long term treatment for the movement disorders associated with PD.    FDA approval could be made in the next 24-36 months.

For me, 2015 brought about many changes.  My second grandchild was born in May, followed two weeks later by the passing of my mother.  It was a very tumultuous, emotional time for me.  I began writing shortly before my mother’s death, which eventually led to this blog.  This was one of the things that helped me to get through that very difficult time.  Thank you to all of my followers around the world.  It has been a very gratifying experience to share my “adventures with Parkinson’s” with all of you, making new friends because of our common bond.  I have almost 100 followers, so if you have not yet followed “Twitchy Woman” either here or on Facebook, please follow now so that we can get to 100 by December 31.

So looking forward to 2016:

A cure, perhaps?  Or at least a treatment that reverses the progression of PD.  Michael J. Fox said that the Michael J Fox Foundation has one mission – to find a cure – and once that cure is found, he will shut down his Foundation.  Let’s hope that 2016 is the year that he will close up shop.

For me, I plan to continue writing, enjoying this new-found creative outlet that I discovered after PD diagnosis.   Maybe I will end up like every other Parkinson’s patient with a blog and write a book.  OK, maybe a pamphlet.

Speaking of books, I hope to review a few more in the coming months, including the just published “Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life!” by Alex Kerten, whose Gyro-Kinetics Center in Herzliya, Israel is a leader worldwide in treating clients with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders.  I have just started reading this and want to try some of his exercises for relieving PD symptoms.  Stay tuned.

I have become a PD Advocate for the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation after having spent a wonderful weekend with 25 other women with PD at the PDF’s Women & Parkinson’s Initiative conference last September.   I am looking forward to engaging with other women with PD living in Los Angeles.   On January 17, I will be hosting a meeting for women with PD to learn about the Women & Parkinson’s Initiative and to hear from a local PDF Research Advocate about getting involved in clinical research for PD.   If you are interested in this or future events for Women & PD in LA, please contact me directly.

IMG_0387I will continue to work on my boxing skills with Rock Steady Boxing NY/LA.  It is very hard work and great exercise.  Boxing has improved my balance and reflexes, and most importantly, my tennis game.   Besides, the men way outnumber the women in boxing classes, which makes it even more fun.  (Just don’t tell my husband).

Ommmmmmmmmmm……..yoga is the one calming activity that I regularly participate in.    It keeps me aware of my body, my balance and stretches my muscles.  I can still do a tree pose successfully most days, no worse than the others in the classes I attend.   Shavasana, Corpse Pose, at the end is better than a nap.  When I am done with class I am ready to take on the day.

Finally, I am looking forward to a year of new adventures with my husband, and not allowing Parkinson’s to take charge of me.  I will be in charge of my Parkinson’s and continue to enjoy life with my family and friends.

Wishing all of you a happy holiday and wonderful, healthy New Year.

Sharon

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