Thank you James Parkinson

ShakingPalsy1

On April 11, we will celebrate the birthday of James Parkinson, M.D., who published his groundbreaking essay 200 years ago in 1817 on what was then known as “the Shaking Palsy.”    His narrative reporting of six case histories is as readable as a 19th-century British novel, and has been called a “gem of the neurologic literature.” You can read the entire text here.

Last October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I posted “Breast Cancer vs. Parkinson’s” to highlight the differences in approach to publicising these two diseases.  I am repeating it here because Parkinson’s Disease affects so many of us, yet does not get the PR that a “sexier” disease like Breast Cancer does.  We can and must do more to educate people about Parkinson’s, especially since the numbers of people affected are expected to climb rapidly in the coming years.

As a footnote to the blogpost, last month my daughter and I walked in a 5K for the Michael J Fox Foundation.  We had a great time, but the number of people who came and walked was probably less than a 10th of the number who walk for Breast Cancer.  And the same for corporate sponsors.  We need to do much better.

Breast Cancer vs. Parkinson’s

Almost eight years ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Breast Cancer in the same week.  Obviously, it was a week when I wished I had just stayed in bed and hid under the covers.  How do you react to the news that you have not one, but two major health issues that will be with you the rest of your life?

Much of the next six months remains a blur to me.  I underwent a lumpectomy and radiation for the breast cancer.  A neurologist put me on ever increasing doses of Requip, and my estrogen patch was taken away from me.  All of this meant that I slept all day, was plagued by hot flashes all night and pretty much walked around in a fog all of the time.

Somehow I was able to come to terms with having breast cancer immediately.  My mother had it, my sister had it.  It is the disease that most women fear most.  And it is the disease that is talked about everywhere.  October is Breast Cancer month and there are a lot of stores that celebrate by producing Pink Products, or should I say Pink Profits?  It doesn’t matter how useless the Pink Products are, we buy them anyway because it makes us feel like we are doing something positive.   Celebrities talk with pride about recovering from breast cancer.  There are rallies and walks to raise money.  I even corralled my friends to walk with me as a team for the Revlon Breast Cancer Walk that first year.  We wore our Pink boas with pride as we finished our 5K walk and entered the field at the Los Angeles Coliseum where the Olympics were held.  We were Champions in Pink!  Breast Cancer is fashionable.

But Parkinson’s is another story.   It was hard to come to terms with 4884e7c347f2b13936d46ca87475e3b6that diagnosis.  I wasn’t that old (57), I wasn’t a man, I didn’t shuffle, and I didn’t know anyone else with PD in my family or circle of friends.  It was something my friend’s parents had, but they were much older and didn’t move very well.  There were no Parkinson’s products for sale in the department stores during Parkinson’s Awareness Month.  I didn’t even know there was a Parkinson’s Awareness month until this year.  Parkinson’s events were not well publicized.  After all, who wants to go to an event where everyone is shaking, drooling and shuffling?  Parkinson’s is definitely not fashionable.

I was active, playing tennis, going to yoga, traveling and enjoying life as much as possible.  I didn’t have time for a chronic degenerative disease.  I just had a tremor, so I tried to hide it.  And I kept trying, but after a while, people started to notice.  I thought that if I didn’t say anything, it didn’t exist.  So I did what my friends and I call the “Parkie hand-hiding strategy”.  You know the one where you hold your shaking hand, sit on it, stick it into a pocket or purse, or do some other strange maneuvers just to prove that it isn’t shaking.

But of course, that didn’t work and I was only fooling myself.  So why couldn’t I admit it to myself?  Why couldn’t I tell others?  It took a lot of therapy and writing my personal narrative for me to confront what I called the “Elephant in the room”.  Once I started to write my narrative*, which only my therapist was privileged to read, things started to change.  I started to write about life with PD.  But only for other Parkies.  The rest of the world still didn’t need to know.  And then one day, I made a mistake.  I posted something meant for my Twitchy Woman Facebook page on my public Facebook page.  And the world didn’t come to an end.  Wow!  I was outed.  And it was okay.

So now I have embraced my PD.  There is a wonderful world of people in the Parkinson’s community that I have met.  The time I spent last month in Portland at the World Parkinson Congress was an eye opener.  I was able to meet some people who I have corresponded with through this blog.  I talked to doctors, therapists and researchers who valued my opinion.  I  spent time with new friends and old friends, looking for answers and camaraderie.   We have a common bond and we understand each other.  And we don’t all shake, drool or shuffle.  In fact, we spent a lot of time working to dispel that image. We all have the Elephant in the room, reminding us that life is not the “normal” that it used to be.  But that elephant is getting smaller and smaller, and one of these days, hopefully very soon, it will be banished from our lives.

20160921_095559
With my friend Clara, looking good with PD in front of Anders M Leines mural “This is Parkinsons”

100 and counting

Wow, it has been an interesting journey!  I started writing this blog in March, 2015, as a way to share my experience with Parkinson’s Disease with others.  I never imagined that I would still be writing almost 2 years later, with this my 100th post!  15 people read that first post when it was published.  Now my subscribed readers number several hundred, with many more just checking in, coming from 76 different countries.   I want to thank all of you for your support over the last 2 years.

Looking back on the past year, there have been many exciting findings in Parkinson’s research.  The most important is the change in thinking about how Parkinson’s gets started.  Research now points to changes in the microbes in the gut as the trigger for setting off Parkinson’s symptoms.*  What this means for us:  a possibility for earlier detection with a screening test, and new treatment options that begin before damage to the brain occurs.  To learn more about it, register for Michael J Fox Foundation’s next webinar  on January 19, titled  Gut (Bacteria) Check on Parkinson’s: Role of the Microbiome.   Maybe this will be the year………

There has also been a world-wide effort to change the image of Parkinson’s from the stooped over, shuffling person to someone who is actively enjoying life with PD. Photographer Anders Leines‘ photo exhibit at the World Parkinson’s Congress was highly successful.  There is also a Facebook page, Many Faces of Parkinson’s that is working to change that image.  The World Parkinson Coalition has just published a book Faces of Parkinson’s: Global Reflections of PD which can be ordered through their website.

Exercise has also been a positive force this year for PwP.  Many studies have shown that exercise can be more beneficial in relieving Parkinson’s symptoms that anything else. See Exercise May Be Real Medicine for Parkinson’s Disease.  Yoga, boxing and tennis keep me going.  If you are not exercising, 2017 is the year to get moving.  There are so many options, either in group exercise classes, online videos or just walking.  Just check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

I was fortunate to attend the World Parkinson Congress in Portland in September.  This amazing conference brought together over 4300 people from around the world, People with Parkinson’s and their caregivers, doctors, scientists, and many others in related fields for 4 fabulous days. I am so glad that I met many of you there.  I hope that we can all meet in Kyoto in 2019 at the next WPC!

My Parkinson’s resolutions for 2017:

  1. Keep on moving:  exercise every day.
  2. Keep a positive attitude.  Look in a mirror and smile – it will brighten your day.
  3. Participate in PD research.  PwP’s are an important part of finding the cure,
  4. Get more sleep.
  5. Hug my grandchildren as much as possible for they are the best medicine! (Thank you Linda B for saying that).

Have a wonderful and healthy 2017!

Some photos from 2016

 

 

 

Breast Cancer vs Parkinson’s

Almost eight years ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Breast Cancer in the same week.  Obviously, it was a week when I wished I had just stayed in bed and hid under the covers.  How do you react to the news that you have not one, but two major health issues that will be with you the rest of your life?

Much of the next six months remains a blur to me.  I underwent a lumpectomy and radiation for the breast cancer.  A neurologist put me on ever increasing doses of Requip, and my estrogen patch was taken away from me.  All of this meant that I slept all day, was plagued by hot flashes all night and pretty much walked around in a fog all of the time.

Somehow I was able to come to terms with having breast cancer immediately.  My mother had it, my sister had it.  It is the disease that most women fear most.  And it is the disease that is talked about everywhere.  October is Breast Cancer month and there are a lot of stores that celebrate by producing Pink Products, or should I say Pink Profits?  It doesn’t matter how useless the Pink Products are, we buy them anyway because it makes us feel like we are doing something positive.   Celebrities talk with pride about recovering from breast cancer.  There are rallies and walks to raise money.  I even corralled my friends to walk with me as a team for the Revlon Breast Cancer Walk that first year.  We wore our Pink boas with pride as we finished our 5K walk and entered the field at the Los Angeles Coliseum where the Olympics were held.  We were Champions in Pink!  Breast Cancer is fashionable.

But Parkinson’s is another story.   It was hard to come to terms with

4884e7c347f2b13936d46ca87475e3b6.jpg
Is this really typical?  Do we all look like this?

that diagnosis.  I wasn’t that old (57), I wasn’t a man, I didn’t shuffle, and I didn’t know anyone else with PD in my family or circle of friends.  It was something my friend’s parents had, but they were much older and didn’t move very well.  There were no Parkinson’s products for sale in the department stores during Parkinson’s Awareness Month.  I didn’t even know there was a Parkinson’s Awareness month until this year.  Parkinson’s events were not well publicized.  After all, who wants to go to an event where everyone is shaking, drooling and shuffling?  Parkinson’s is definitely not fashionable.

I was active, playing tennis, going to yoga, traveling and enjoying life as much as possible.  I didn’t have time for a chronic degenerative disease.  I just had a tremor, so I tried to hide it.  And I kept trying, but after a while, people started to notice.  I thought that if I didn’t say anything, it didn’t exist.  So I did what my friends and I call the “Parkie hand-hiding strategy”.  You know the one where you hold your shaking hand, sit on it, stick it into a pocket or purse, or do some other strange maneuvers just to prove that it isn’t shaking.

But of course, that didn’t work and I was only fooling myself.  So why couldn’t I admit it to myself?  Why couldn’t I tell others?  It took a lot of therapy and writing my personal narrative for me to confront what I called the “Elephant in the room”.  Once I started to write my narrative*, which only my therapist was privileged to read, things started to change.  I started to write about life with PD.  But only for other Parkies.  The rest of the world still didn’t need to know.  And then one day, I made a mistake.  I posted something meant for my Twitchy Woman Facebook page on my public Facebook page.  And the world didn’t come to an end.  Wow!  I was outed.  And it was okay.

So now I have embraced my PD.  There is a wonderful world of people in the Parkinson’s community that I have met.  The time I spent last month in Portland at the World Parkinson Congress was an eye opener.  I was able to meet some people who I have corresponded with through this blog.  I talked to doctors, therapists and researchers who valued my opinion.  I  spent time with new friends and old friends, looking for answers and camaraderie.   We have a common bond and we understand each other.  And we don’t all shake, drool or shuffle.  In fact, we spent a lot of time working to dispel that image. We all have the Elephant in the room, reminding us that life is not the “normal” that it used to be.  But that elephant is getting smaller and smaller, and one of these days, hopefully very soon, it will be banished from our lives.

20160921_095559
With my friend Clara, looking good with PD in front of Anders M Leines mural “This is Parkinsons”

*More on the importance of writing your narrative in a future post.

WPC Day 1

It’s liberating.  When the dance class is going on, there are no patients.  They are dancers

David Leventhal

Day one dawned bright and early.  First sessions at 8:00 am.  I got there at 8:15 and could not get into the yoga session.  That was indicative about most of the day.  Many sessions were standing room only or closed because there are so many people attending the WPC.  That is a good thing and a bad thing.  It is amazing that so many people came together for 4 days of learning, experiencing, networking and more for a conference on PD.  There are People with Parkinsons, Doctors, PT’s, OT’s, researchers, care givers, writers, all going to sessions together.  Some are very technical, others are just fun.  There is something for everyone.

However, it became apparent that with all of the careful planning, there just wasn’t enough room in many of the sessions for all of the people who wanted to get in.  I really wanted to go to the session on Nutrition and PD, but so did a lot of others.  Those who were lucky enough to get in said the session was excellent.  The good thing is that many of the sessions will be available on the WPC website for viewing later.

So what did I go to today?

First, at 8:00 am every morning, there are Hot Topics.  4 short presentations about current research.    Moving through Glass was presented by David Leventhal from Mark Morris Dance and the Dancing for PD program.  Using Glass technology, Leventhal developed a program to provide a hands free way of providing content.  It is easy to use, portable and private.  It gives people the option for tactile and verbal inputs.  Music and audio cues are used to get people going.   There are 4 modules:

  1.  Warming up the body
  2.  Balance – moving in space
  3. Gait training
  4. Unfreezing

Initial user evaluations were generally positive.  64% would recommend it to others and would use it.  All felt the exercises should be longer.  Right now they are limited by the technology.  The program is enjoyable and extends class benefits.  However, it is not a replacement for live experience and it still needs some improvement to integrate the technology better.

Leventhal was then presented with and WPC award for Distinguished Contribuitions to the Parkinson Community for his work with Dancing for Parkinson’s.  In accepting the award, he said that “It’s liberating.  When the dance class is going on, there are no patients.  They are dancers”

There is a wonderful photo exhibit titled “This is Parkinson’s” by Norwegian photographer an20160921_095559d PwP,  Anders Leines.  There are many compelling portraits with personal stories.  I posed with a friend, Clara Kluge, in front of the large group mural.  You can see for yourself how amazing these people are in the photo.

I attended a session titled “Living Well with PD:  It starts at Diagnosis”

Three speakers spoke about how their lives changed forever when they were given the diagnosis and how they coped.   A lot of good quotes came out of this session which was really about getting past the initial shock of the diagnosis and keeping positive about the future.  Bob Kuhn says the challenge to coping begins with 3 words:  Engage, Encourage and Inspire.  His best quote came from Dory in Finding Nemo:

“When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming, and swimming and swimming…” 

Jane Busch gave a framework for self-care.  She began by going through the 5 stages of the emotional roller coaster after diagnosis:

  1.  Shock.  I have what????
  2. Denial.  Not me.  It must be a mistake
  3. Anger.  It is not fair
  4.  Fear.  what will happen to me?
  5. Acceptance.  Ok let’s get on with my life.

She describes 5 keys to live by:  Nutrition, Supplements including Vitamin D and Calcium, Exercise, Mindfulness and Volunteering.

The third speaker, Dilys Parker, spoke about the importance of communication beginning with the first visit to the doctor.  Telling your story can be therapeutic and can be helpful to others as they listen to your story.  She gave us the best quote of the day from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking:  Life is changed in an instant  The ordinary instant.”