Call Our HELPLINE: 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636)

Wendy Miller

Spoiler: This story has a positive ending!

In 2012, I was 61, and started noticing a tremble in my right thumb, I wrote it off to ergonomics. It seems we librarians and journalists are prone to computer-related symptoms. I had it checked and all seemed fine.

Things worsened—more tremors—so I went back to the neurologist. Finally, in late 2013, I was told I had “mild Parkinson’s disease (PD),” given a prescription and a wish of good luck. I own that I am a worrier, so that experience took me to a dark place and a search for a second—hopefully different—diagnosis. When I got the same answer, I decided to go to the Mayo Clinic because I needed to go deeper.

It was confirmed, with great sensitivity, that I had very mild “tremulous Parkinson’s.” Mayo is known for caring for the whole person, which they did exceptionally well, giving me hope and an excellent prognosis. Before leaving Minnesota, my neurologist reassured me that the medicine would have a nice honeymoon period, and added, “Stay positive and exercise.”

I have always been an active “fitness flirt,” though not athletic. In the 30-year lead-up to Parkinson’s, I had done Jane Fonda and Lotte Berk (the Barre precursor) and had always been a walker. I went to the YMCA almost every day. My personal trainer got me into great shape, and prepared me to walk a half-marathon. Those activities were healthy, but also quite ego-oriented.

But now my motivation was different. It was all about function and health.

Because PD is idiosyncratic, I began, with the love of my supportive husband, optimism encouraged by Mayo Clinic, and the steadfastness of many understanding friends, designing a customized regimen to arrest the disease for my age, symptoms, goals and dreams.

I continued with the Y, with walking and personal training, but also started private Pilates work with a phenomenal trainer. I attended classes for Drums Alive, a fun program for coordination and brain health as well as cardiovascular fitness. I discovered a fabulous local program called Bodies in Balance that combined balance and agility, cardio and stretching, cognitive strengthening and weight training, resistance bands and wall work; we even work out our fingers! I boxed and swam and studied posture. I went to Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery in Arizona so experts could assist me in tailoring my program.

In case this sounds like overkill, these activities are spread out overtime. I could get obsessed, but that would be exhausting and spiritually counter-intuitive.

What started as a personal health mission burgeoned into much more. I have since become a certified group fitness instructor. I have done some modeling—a job that requires stillness (not exactly tremor-friendly). While I am still a work in progress, it pleases me when even neurologists can’t find visible symptoms.

I do take medicine, but a very small dose. What I take in larger quantities is physical activity and it has been, as Mayo Clinic assured me it would be, an essential part of my treatment, bringing me calm, community and hope. 

mail icon

Subscribe to get the latest news on treatments, research and other updates.