I am a 51-year-old grandmother of one, mother of two, and wife to the best man I know. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in June 2017.
I had been seeing a neurologist since 2015 because of daily headaches. At one of our appointments in 2017, he noticed a problem with the way I was walking. He pointed out that I was dragging my right side and that I was not swinging my right arm. He immediately ordered a DaTscan.
I went to the scan appointment alone because I truly believed they were going to tell me that the test was negative. That day, the physician’s assistant looked at me and said the words that would change my life forever: "Your test results indicate that you have Parkinson’s disease."
I did not react well to the news. I started to ask questions, but with every word, I cried harder. She gave me no empathy, just a prescription that was supposed to help with the tremors. I tried to make a follow-up appointment on my way out and I couldn't even manage that. Walking as fast as I could to my car, I got in, started the car, and began to sob. My husband didn't know how to react to the news either. We weren't talking to each other; not because we were angry, but simply because we didn't know what to say. I got through the first week, then the second, and so on, but I wasn't feeling any better.
A few weeks after I received my Parkinson’s diagnosis, I finally paused the crying enough to really think about things. I started doing research on the best neurologists who specialize in Parkinson's, and I found out that one of the most renowned neurologists in the country is right here in Las Vegas. His name is Dr. Mari, and he works at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence. It took me about three months to get an appointment there, but I already felt better about making progress toward treating the disease. I stopped asking, "Why me?" and started asking, "Can I improve?".
At my appointment, Dr. Mari put me through several physical tests and confirmed the Parkinson’s diagnosis. He changed the medication I was on — since I hadn’t followed up with my previous doctor, I wasn’t taking the correct dosage. He also put in a referral for physical therapy, explaining that this PT was set up specifically for my symptoms. It was not necessarily to help with pain, but to help with movement, so I agreed to go.
I met with the physical therapist, and we went over everything. At my first appointment, she tested how many steps I could take in 6 minutes. I was only able to take 375 steps, when the average amount is 1,800 steps. Other tests showed that I was also experiencing problems with reach and balance. We set up weekly appointments to work on improving my mobility.
Five weeks later, we had a “test day” to see how much my symptoms had improved since starting physical therapy. I began with the walking test, and when the 6 minutes were up, my physical therapist was smiling from ear to ear. I had walked 1,696 steps in 6 minutes! I knew that I had more work to do, but I knew I could do it. My vertigo was gone, I could walk at an almost normal pace, my balance was really improving, and I had my confidence back. I continued to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, and I got better and better.
Fast forward to Spring 2019, I got a team together for Moving Day Las Vegas. While I was there, I met Darbe Schlosser from Recalibrate Motorvation. Her program received a community grant from the Parkinson’s Foundation, and she asked me if I was interested in becoming a client. Of course I was! I was gifted with 16 boxing sessions, where she taught me how to extend my reach, build my stamina, increase my balance and reaction times, and move my feet and arms at the same time again.
As I continued my battle with Parkinson's disease and I started to feel almost normal again, I began to wonder about my new purpose in life. I could no longer work as a social worker; due to a cognitive problem related to PD, my mind couldn't handle the stress and paperwork involved. I started to realize that I could design art pieces out of everyday products. I had never experienced this kind of creativity before, but I decided to try. I began painting, designing, and drawing one-of-a-kind pieces.
Is it possible that Parkinson's can be a blessing? I believe, in my case, it is a blessing. I have a whole new purpose in life, and while there are times when I don't feel well, I know that when I am feeling good, I can spread positivity through my writing and creation of art.
Anyone who has been given a life-changing diagnosis like Parkinson’s should know that, with a little research, you can find help and resources.
You are not alone. Call our Helpline 1-800-4PD-INFO (1-800-473-4636) for answers to your Parkinson’s disease questions.