Finding a New Way of Living
Diagnosed at 49
It's been four years since I received my invitation to join a very select, courageous, and optimistic group of people, those with young onset Parkinson's. I had just turned 49 and I noticed that my handwriting was getting smaller. I was also experiencing a slight tremor in my right hand when I was nervous. I mentioned my new symptoms to my doctor during my annual exam and she diagnosed it as essential tremor. I was prescribed beta blockers and told to enjoy a glass of wine to relax. While I enjoyed the wine, it didn't help with my tremor which was becoming more evident when I rested.
Nine months later I had bronchitis and went back to see my doctor. She was out but her associate saw me. He took one look at my hand and said I'm not worried about your cough but you do know that you have Parkinson's. I left the doctor's office in tears. There is no history of PD in my family. Why me?
After that fateful day, I made an appointment to see a wonderful neurologist that specializes in PD at a major university hospital. While I was waiting to meet with my neurologist, I spent a lot of time researching PD and what I could do to slow the progression. Everything I read came back to exercise. I joined a gym and hired a personal trainer. I always say that God has a sense of humor because he took the most sedentary person and gave her a reason to exercise. After six months at the gym my trainer moved to a Cross fit gym. The first time I went there I was in shock. There weren’t any TV’s to watch or machines to sit at. Now it was all me, I was the machine. I wanted to quit and go back to the cushy gym but deep down inside I knew that I needed Cross fit. Every exercise I now do involves my whole body. On any given day we work on strength training, building up my core, balance, and cardio. Kettle bells, hand weights, medicine balls, elastic bands, and PVC pipe are now my friends. A sidewalk curb, staircase, or even an old tire can become an exercise tool. After a 30 year break, my trainer had me jumping rope again. Not an easy feat when you’re a 52 year old plus size woman.
I am in now in my fourth year as a member of the PD young onset club and my third year of exercising regularly. I am still in stage one and the only symptom that I have is a tremor in my right hand. The only medication I take is Azilect. I won’t deny that I have had to make adjustments along the way. My handwriting is horrible and I now use my left hand on the computer mouse.
I attribute my slow progression to the fact that I do exercise regularly. I work out at Cross fit three times a week for 45 minutes to an hour with my wonderful trainer. He takes the time to research Parkinson’s and creates work outs that work for me. On the other days of the week I ride my exercise bike and walk my dogs. Thanks to exercising I have lost 35 pounds while still enjoying my favorite foods, I have muscles that I never had before, and my blood pressure and cholesterol are excellent. I work as a middle school special education teacher, and I continue to enjoy all that life has to offer.
Recently I attended a Parkinson’s symposium that focused on PD and exercise organized by The Parkinson’s Voice Project. At the conference they reiterated the need for PD patients to exercise. A wide array of exercise choices were presented ranging from dance classes to LSVT Big classes. One message was loud and clear, people living with Parkinson’s need to exercise and big movements that incorporate the whole body produce the best results. I won’t lie to you, I don’t love exercising, and I probably never will but I can’t afford to quit. I would like to encourage everyone with Parkinson’s regardless of their size, age, or what stage they are in to exercise BIG.
Having Parkinson's is not a death sentence; it is a new way of living. I am optimistic that better treatments and eventually a cure will be found.