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Living Every Day: Marketing Rep Battles Parkinson's with Upbeat Attitude

Posted by Elizabeth Gunther | Bay City Times June 14, 2009 09:00AM

Carolyn Weaver oversees marketing for three Bay City firms and travels across Michigan and Missouri meeting clients, conducting training sessions and appearing at trade expos. Weaver, a 57-year-old Freeland woman who has Parkinson's disease, says she is blessed with a positive outlook and a great support system in the face of her condition.

There is life after a diagnosis.

Whether the words that come out of the doctor's mouth are "cancer," "pulmonary disease," "multiple sclerosis," "rheumatoid arthritis," or any other acute condition, medical experts say it's still possible to hold onto the good things in your life.

But it takes focus.

"When you're managing yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, you're operating on all four cylinders and you're more able to carry the challenges you face," said Gerry Bishop, a Covenant HealthCare medical social worker.

Ten years ago, when doctors told Carolyn Weaver, a Bay City native who now lives in Saginaw's Thomas Township, that her foot tremors were actually Parkinson's disease, she was incredulous. She and her longtime husband, Ron, had raised two children, had a nice home, and she had recently returned to the workforce. How could she have such a debilitating disease that she knew nothing about?

But Southfield doctors Peter LeWitt and Danette Taylor, who specialize in movement disorders, soon confirmed she was suffering from "textbook" Parkinson's.

Carolyn Weaver's response: "How do we attack this thing?"

Their answer: "Medication and a positive attitude."

"I told my doctors, "If having a positive attitude is the key to living with Parkinson's disease, then this will be a piece of cake, because I've always been blessed with a positive attitude."

"If you curled your toes as hard as you could and left them that way all day, then you get an idea how Carolyn feels all the time," explained Ron, her high-school sweetheart and husband of 37 years.

For three or four years after her diagnosis, things were OK. But then Weaver's condition began to deteriorate. Sitting for any length of time became intolerably painful, so restaurant meals and car vacations, for instance, were no more.

But new pastimes emerged in their wake. For the first time in her life, Weaver found a creativity she'd never known before. Home decorating, scrapbooking and gardening are just some of the newfound outlets that bring her joy and are not inhibited by her disease.

With a strong work ethic and a positive attitude, Weaver's work life continued to flourish. As a marketing representative for Berner Medical Systems, Lakeshore Diagnostic Ultrasound and RediMed, she travels across Michigan and Missouri meeting clients, conducting training sessions and appearing at trade expos. Often she rides to meetings with co-worker Tom Kaliszewski in a large van, which allows her to move around. But other times she and Kaliszewski will fly to appointments with owner Bill Berner in his Piper Lance.

"Even when she's not feeling well, she works so hard. She's a courageous lady," Berner said.

For the past 18 months, though, increasing bouts of "freezing" -- a common Parkinson's symptom where you feel your feet are glued to the floor -- threatened to sidetrack Weaver.

"The freezing just keeps happening more and more often. It's so embarrassing when you freeze in front of a stranger. I stagger around and look like I'm drunk. And if they try to touch me to help, I lose my balance and fall down," said Weaver, who recently underwent surgery to repair a rotator cuff torn in a fall.

Rather than give up, Weaver found a solution -- a furry one.

This summer, Weaver will receive a service dog from Paws With a Cause, a nonprofit group that trains assistance dogs nationally for people with disabilities. Paws With a Cause trainers will teach the dog to help Weaver when she freezes and, hopefully, prevent falls by bracing on command when she needs to recover her balance.

"I'm really excited about getting the dog. I think it will make me feel more steady. My 5-year-old granddaughter, Olivia, is anxious to get the dog, too," she said.

Finding solutions to obstacles is part of what keeps Weaver going strong. That's why she volunteered to be part of the first Parkinson's Disease Foundation's Clinical Research Learning Institute, created to increase awareness about clinical trials for future treatment.

Only 25 people from across the nation, including Weaver, were chosen to be part of the first gathering, held last July in New York. These first graduates of the Learning Institute delved into the basics of the clinical research process, allowing them to better serve the entire Parkinson's disease community by promoting involvement in clinical research.

"I truly believe that if more people get involved in clinical research, I feel it would move us ahead -- not by months, but by years -- toward a cure," said Weaver, who is already presenting her information to support groups through Michigan Parkinson Foundation.

It was an empowering trip for Weaver.

"Until then, I hadn't met a lot of people with my disease who were stepping out and staying active. It made me realize how big the picture is and how much I can make a difference," she said.

Weaver believes she is able to maintain her positive outlook because of the overwhelming support she receives from her husband, children, doctors, coworkers, family, friends and faith community, Peace Lutheran Church in Saginaw.

"I can't imagine going through a disease without the power of faith. I rely on it so much. My faith gives me the strength to encourage other people and to help them realize they can get through whatever obstacles they are facing," she said.

Parkinson's disease

• Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder that is chronic and progressive, meaning that symptoms continue and worsen over time.

• Nearly 1 million people in the United States are living with Parkinson's disease. The cause is unknown, and although there is presently no cure, there are treatment options such as medication and surgery to manage symptoms.

• Parkinson's disease can cause several different symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of Parkinson's disease are tremors, rigidity, slowness of movement or impaired balance and coordination.

• For more information about the disease and the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, please go online to

© 2009 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.


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Source Date: Jun 14 2009
Source Publication: Bay City Times
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