Fighting Parkinson’s Every Day

I used to say I knew people in show business, now I say I know people with Parkinson’s. Barry Blaustein

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_756fBarry Blaustein joined our boxing class a couple of years ago, not long after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  It was clear from the outset that Barry is a fighter, in so many ways.  With flowing white hair and a big smile, he attacked the heavy bags with glee.  His strength and skill on the heavy bags impressed everyone in our little group.  Barry fit right in immediately.

His story, like so many of ours, takes a circuitous route.   Barry lost his sense of smell 7-8 years ago.  Then began dragging his feet.  His voice was getting lower and he just seemed sluggish.   He did not know that these were symptoms of Parkinson’s.  First, Barry saw his regular doctor, who dismissed his symptoms and said that he did not have Parkinson’s.

The symptoms persisted, so Barry made an appointment with a Neurologist at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles.  The doctor there put him through the routine for diagnosing PD, walk down the hallway, open and close  your fingers, tap your foot, etc. and quickly confirmed that Barry did have Parkinson’s.  Since no one else in his family had PD, this was a surprise.  As Barry says, he is the pioneer in his family.

The doctor recommended that he exercise 30-35 minutes a day. Barry’s fiancee  looked up classes on the internet and found boxing classes for PD (StoPD).  He took boxing lessons when he was younger and knew he had fun doing it, so decided to give it a try.  Barry also walks 30-40 minutes or bikes, and goes to Pilates a couple days a week.  He usually exercises 7 days a week,  but occasionally takes a day off.  However he has recently developed sciatica,  which Barry says is much worse than Parkinson’s.

“People with Parkinson’s are fighters”

He asked his doctor once why he chose to treat Parkinson’s, the doctor said “People with Parkinson’s are fighters”.   Barry agrees.  “We don’t sit back and do nothing.  I didn’t do anything to get Parkinson’s (unlike many other diseases) If I had cancer and  smoked cigarettes, I would say I shouldn’t have smoked.  If I had heart problems or a heart attack, maybe I should have lost some weight.  But I didn’t do anything to cause PD.”

He is fortunate that he gets more sleep, unlike many others with PD.   Melatonin works for him and helps him to sleep better.  Otherwise, he takes Sinimet (Levadopa/Carbidopa) only. His tremor has gotten a little worse, but he notices it more than other people.  He also gets more tired,  but that could be from getting older.  His handwriting, which was always terrible, has gotten really bad.  Now he says  “I will write stuff and then will look at it and think, what the heck was I doing”.  Usually he types and if he starts to shake, he will stop and exaggerate the shake and shake it off.

Having Parkinson’s doesn’t really affect his work.   After a long career as a film writer and director, he turned to teaching screen writing at a local university.  For the last 7 years, he has been primarily a college professor.  He tells his students he has PD, always making the same speech at the beginning of a semester:  “I have Parkinson’s so if you see me shake, that’s a tremor from Parkinson’s, so don’t worry about it. If my voice gets low, just tell me to raise my voice, if I say anything really mean to you, that’s not the Parkinson’s, its exactly how I feel about you.  They all laugh.”  He approaches it with humor which puts them at ease.

Recently, he went back to writing scripts and along with his writing partner David Sheffield, he just wrote a new movie for Paramount:  COMING 2 AMERICA,  a sequel to COMING TO AMERICA, that the two of them wrote 30 years ago.   “They didn’t know it was being written by a guy who has Parkinsons”

This past year, Barry has gotten involved with the Parkinson’s community.   Last fall, he was a speaker at the Parkinson’s Foundation Walk in Los Angeles. He had participated in a few walks before and his daughter got very active with the Parkinson’s Foundation as a result.  She created some background materials about Barry to send to them.  After meeting with with Barry, they asked if he would be interested in speaking publicly for them.  He went to a workshop a couple of weeks ago and was asked to become a spokesperson for the Foundation.   He will be going to speak around the country, do some PSA’s (Public service announcements) and other things.  As he says, he is the new “Jerry’s Kid”.  He used to say, “I knew people in show business, now I say I know people with Parkinson’s.”

What does the future look like for him?  So far he has made no major changes in his life,  but knows he will eventually have to consider making a move because he lives upstairs in a duplex, and the stairs can become a problem.   He is looking forward to speaking on behalf of the Parkinson’s Foundation, and becoming more involved with the Parkinson’s community.

I asked if knowing People with Parkinson’s has changed his life.  He went to a support group once but didn’t find it all that helpful.  He said that too often, people are just griping.  However, Barry said the people in the boxing class are very brave. “I wish our boxing group got together every once in awhile and talked about our lives.  We are more than just our disease.”   What a great idea!  Let’s make it happen.

boxing-gloves

Year End Musings

Wow, another week and we start a new year!   So much has happened in the last year on the  personal front and in the Parkinson’s world.

It has been a good year for Mr. Twitchy and me.  We welcomed our fourth grandchild in April.  My Parkinson’s has remained fairly stable since being diagnosed about 10 years ago, for which I am eternally grateful.  So other than the usual aches and pains of growing older or as a result of stupidity on my part for thinking that I can still do things I did at 20, (we don’t want to talk about that),  life is pretty good.  Mr. Twitchy had back surgery in July and is looking at replacing knees or hips or some other joint sometime in the not too distant future.  None of this stopped us from going on adventures to Israel and Iceland this year, although it may have slowed us down a little.

In the Parkinson’s world, we are busy planning our trip to Japan and the World Parkinson Congress in June.  I am looking forward to hearing about the latest research on PD. There are so many new theories that are being investigated about the causes of PD, where it starts in the body and why, as well as new breakthrough treatments that are in the final stages of clinical trials.   Some of this research is going on in Kyoto right now, so my hope is that we will hear the latest from those doctors and scientists doing the research when we are there.

One project I have been involved in is the  Parkinson’s Foundation’s national effort to address long-standing gender disparities in Parkinson’s research and care through the “Women and PD Teams to Advance Learning and Knowledge,” or “Women and PD TALK” project.  I have been honored to be the co-chair this project.  We held 10 forums around the country in the last 12 months, bringing together women with PD and caretakers, doctors, therapists and other related professionals.  A final national forum in Houston last October brought together the chairs of the local forums along with national leaders with the goal to create an action plan for the treatment and care of Women with Parkinson’s, which will be published in the next few months, in time for the WPC.

Trying something new for sleep:

My daughter suggested that I try a weighted blanket for sleep.  I am trying out the Brookstone Nap Weighted Blanket and will write about my experience with it in the next few weeks.   There are a lot of choices and things to consider when buying a weighted blanket so I want to get some more information before I write about them.

Some good news just off the press:

Acorda Therapeutics, Inc.  today announced that the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration approved INBRIJA™ for intermittent
treatment of OFF episodes in people with Parkinson’s disease treated
with carbidopa/levodopa. OFF episodes, also known as OFF periods, are
defined as the return of Parkinson’s symptoms that result from low
levels of dopamine between doses of oral carbidopa/levodopa, the
standard oral baseline Parkinson’s treatment.

Finally, I have been approached by several different bloggers this past year for interviews .  The latest was published this week by Kai Rosenthal on her blog  a simple island life.  Kai lives in Honolulu, and blogs about PD, lifestyle, food, fashion and other things she loves.  It is an interesting mix of ideas that she puts together beautifully in her blog.  I hope you enjoy it.

You can find links to other interviews and more by clicking on Press at the top of this page.

Looking ahead to 2019, I wish all of you a very wonderful, healthy new year, with lots of good news in the PD world.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays GIF - Daholiday Minions GIFs

My Non-support Support Group

 

Three years ago, I had the privilege to attend the Parkinson’s Foundation’s Women & PD Initiative.  At the end of the conference, we were asked to reach out to other women with PD in our communities.  Some of the women chose to hold a conference in their city for women with Parkinson’s.  Others formed support groups or other activities for women with PD.

From the beginning, the women who came said that they did not want this to become a monthly “gripe” session.

I decided to reach out to other women to get together on a regular basis for what eventually became what we lovingly call a “non-support support group”.   Instead of a traditional support group format, where there is an occasional speaker, but more often a facilitator led discussion, we have no format.  From the beginning, the women who came said that they did not want this to become a monthly “gripe” session.  They wanted to get to know other women with PD in a non-threatening environment.

We often have a speaker or activities to help us live better with Parkinson’s.  So we have had sessions where we boxed, we danced, did yoga, made art and drummed.  We have had a sex therapist speak to us.  A PD psychologist, a speech therapist and more.  Sometimes, we invite spouses or the men from my boxing group, depending on the topic of the day.   When American Ninja Warrior, Jimmy Choi, came to Los Angeles, we had him join us for an interview about his journey with PD, followed by an obstacle course and a potluck BBQ.

This past week, we had a holiday celebration, with both women and men, with a private docent led tour of  The Notorious RBG:  The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center, followed by a tea.  When I tried to facilitate a short discussion at the tea, no one was interested.  After all, that is for support groups.  They were just happy to do something stimulating and informative and get together with friends.

The bottom line is that sometimes, we just like to get together and have fun or learn something new.  Many of us know each other through this group or from other activities in the PD community of LA.  So when we do meet, it is more often because of a special opportunity that has come to us that is different than what most support groups or PD conferences can offer.  And of course, there is always food.  We don’t meet as often as we did at first because, well, we are just busy women with full lives.

But something magical has happened.  Many of us have formed close friendships with others in the PD community.    Because LA is so spread out, women have come from places an hour or more away just to see the friends that they have made through this group.  Women who understand what they are feeling without even talking about it.  Women who were newly diagnosed and afraid to meet others with PD have joined us and discovered that there is a welcoming community for them that is there to help them on their own personal journey with Parkinson’s.  Most importantly, they have gained confidence from seeing that their diagnosis is an opportunity for them to do new things, not an end.  Many have discovered ways that they can live better with PD.   And others have created their own ways to reach out to others in the PD community.

Because of this group, I spent a lot of time at the World Parkinson Congress in Portland with two of the women who eventually created Soaring with Hope for PD.  We have all become very close friends.  Although I do not live close to them, we try to get together regularly for lunch or at other local PD events.  They reached out to me to help spread the word about Soaring with Hope from the beginning, and I am thrilled that this has become a global project that will be one of the highlights of the upcoming WPC in Kyoto.

So I want to thank all of you who have joined me on this fun ride for the past three years.  We will continue to get together to learn, to share and just have fun.  We may not meet as often, but when we do, I can guarantee that it will be time well spent.

Happy Holidays to all of you!

How Are Women with Parkinson’s Different than Men?

IMG_2447
The new image of Parkinson’s DIsease

What image comes to mind when you hear someone has Parkinson’s Disease?  I am sure it is not what you would have seen in Houston at the Women and PD TALK National Forum last week.

In a little over 2 years from concept to fruition, the Parkinson’s Foundation’s Women and PD TALK initiative held 10 regional Forums in the past year, and a final National Forum in Houston last week. Three years ago, at the Parkinsons Disease Foundation’s (now Parkinsons Foundation) Women & PD Initiative conference that I was privileged to attend, one of the key take-aways was that there are disparities in research and care between women and men with PD.  To date, there had not been any studies to look seriously at these disparities and we wanted to know what could be done to improve the care and treatment of women with PD.   A year later, Ronnie Todaro, VP at the Foundation who had led the Women & PD Initiative, applied for a PCORI (Patient Centered Outcome Research Institute) grant to help fund Women & PD TALK.

Because the grant required patient involvement, I was honored to be named a co-lead on the project, along with Dr. Allison Willis, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.  We worked with Megan Feeney, M.P.H.
Manager, Community Engagement at the Parkinson’s Foundation to put everything in place for this initiative.

There were 10 regional forums, with sites chosen to represent large urban areas as well as more rural areas.  Each  forum leadership team included a Woman with Parkinson’s, a Movement Disorders Specialist or Neurologist and an Allied Health Professional.   About 40 participants, both women with PD and Health Professionals attended each of the full day events.  Breakout groups at the forums gave valuable information on Risk, Symptoms, Treatment and Care.

50 people, about a third of them women with Parkinson’s Disease, gathered in Houston at the National Forum to go over the findings from the 10 forums and begin to set some goals and create recommendations and action plans.  There is too much to report here now, but there will be some specific recommendations to improve the care and treatment of women with Parkinson’s in the final report.

Meeting with such strong women, both people with Parkinson’s and health professionals, makes me proud to be a part of the PD community and inspires and empowers me to do more.      Kelly W

What was most interesting to me is that while there are definitely differences in symptoms and reactions to medications, many of the disparities were more cultural and social.  Just a few examples:

  • There are a significant number of women with PD who are caregivers, taking care of children, elderly parents or sick spouses and there is no one to take care of them.
  • Women tend to go to their doctor’s appointments alone, while men do not.  In fact, women go alone to most things related to PD.
  • Women do not go to support groups as often as men.  Some reported that when they went, they were asked who they were taking care of.  No one believed that they were the one with PD.
  • Being treated dismissively by doctors. Told it was all in their heads, and in many cases, especially for younger women, it was because of hormones.
  • Women need to connect to other women with Parkinson’s. There was a lot of talk about the need for mentors to be paired with the newly diagnosed, to make the disease less frightening and be there for them when needed.
  • Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!!!! We can’t say it enough.
  • And finally, can we get rid of that awful caricature of a man hunched over with PD and replace it with the photo above of 11 amazing women with Parkinson’s?

Thank you  Ronnie, Megan and Dr. Allison for giving me the opportunity to be an integral part of this team.

A full report will be issued, with specific recommendations and strategies to improve the lives of women with Parkinson’s Disease, sometime in the spring of 2019.     I am looking forward to sharing it with you.  In the meantime, click here for the link for the press release about Women and PD TALK.

Hey baby it’s cold outside!

From somewhere in the North Atlantic between Iceland and Greenland

Hey baby it’s cold outside! And windy and rainy. Not a good combination for Parkies. Mr. Twitchy and I embarked on a cruise from Reykjavík to Montreal yesterday after a couple of great days exploring Iceland. Submerging in the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon was truly therapeutic. The sights along the Golden Circle were wonderful. And now we are on the second of 3 days at sea on a rockin’and rollin’ North Atlantic. Walking anywhere on the ship has been a challenge, adding PD to this has only made it more fun!!! In fact, everyone on the ship looks like the have PD balance problems. When I returned to my suite at noon, I was treated to the most spectacular rainbow! That made up for the bad weather.

In Other News

October 1 marks the return of Breast Cancer Awareness month. I have seen a big uptick of views of the blog post “ Breast Cancer vs Parkinsons“ in the last few weeks. What I wrote two years ago in that post still holds true. Bloomingdales was already pushing their promotion when I was there last week. And then I got an email the other day that the very popular game, Words With Friends, was jumping into the promotions as well. This October, they want you to join Words With Friends as you “Play Pink For The Cure”; if 6 million Pink Ribbon tiles are played before 10/21, Zynga will donate $100,000 to benefit Susan G. Komen.

This means that a lot of people will be playing the game and will be getting the message about supporting breast cancer research. That’s terrific, and I will support it because I am a Breast Cancer survivor. Maybe we can convince Zynga, the game company that produced Words With Friends, and other game developers to do the same thing for PD next April. Think of the possibilities!

In the meantime, you can support the Parkinson’s Foundation by signing up for a Moving Day walk near you this fall. If you live in the Los Angeles area and would like to walk with Twitchy Women on October 21, join our team. If you can’t join us, consider making a donation.

If you can, support both causes. These organizations are doing great work to help find a cure and to improve the lives of those who have Breast Cancer and/or Parkinson’s Disease.