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by Laurie Manna

My life as an adult has always been fast moving, an eventful ride that I have taken with enthusiasm. And then, sha-bam! I was diagnosed with Early Onset PD, and I was totally unprepared for the news.

I had spent 10 years as a full-time single mother of 2 great kids, owned a home and worked full time as a pre-school teacher with a class of 22 4 & 5 year olds. I also tried to find time to date and have a social life. The last 2 of those years I was dating and preparing to marry a terrific guy I am now proud to call my husband. We made it through a one and a half hour commute, sold both of our homes, built another, moved in together and took a trip to Jamaica to get married. WOW - it seemed as though life would now slow down and settle into a normal routine and become less hectic, and it did.

However, small inklings began taking place inside me that I slowly became aware of. Why could I not handle stress as well as I had been? Why was I dropping things for no apparent reason? And, why was I carrying my left arm at my side all of the time? I was not adding my symptoms together, let alone becoming aware of what they might mean. I went to see my internist because of head-aches and casually mentioned these things as a side note. In hindsight, I now realize how lucky it was that I did mention these things to him because he recognized the symptoms and referred me on to a neurologist, with a pretense of it being for my head-aches.

So, as my husband left for a business trip to Germany and my children prepared for the upcoming Halloween happenings, I headed off to the neurologist. I thought I was there to get a script for head-aches. Now I know how fortunate I was that he recognized my PD symptoms. He took me through a routine neurological exam. He told me that he suspected that I had PD.

This news came as a total shock to me and I felt as though I had been slammed up agaianst the wall! I could not breath. All I could picture was Michael J. Fox, with his body in continuous motion. I left the doctors office in a state of shock. By the time I walked back into the school where I taught, I was shaking and crying. Both school directors took me into their office and let me sob as they held me and cried also. When I had regained composure, they sent me home for the rest of the day.

Then I had to tell my mother - a no-nonsense single mom who has always felt the need to, "make it right" for her children! I was not prepared for her reaction. She refused to believe me,told me that the doctor was wrong and I was wrong to believe him. I was desparate for her to accept this news so that she could begin to help me, but I forgot that she would need time to grieve and accept just as I would.

Next came the most difficult part - telling my new husband, with a 7 hour time difference between us, was not going to be easy. When we did connect, I tried to make light of my doctor visit so I could tell him in person when he got home. I was a bad liar and he pressed for the truth. Through lots of miles and tears we slowly began the acceptance process. He wanted to leave immediately and come home but we both knew he could not leave due to the importance of the events planned for this trip. Somehow we both made it through the rest of the week and were reunited. I remember a lot of talking and hugging during our discussion, but 1 thing stands out clearly that I will never forget: My big, strong, athletic husband vowed to me that he would do the very best he could to not only take care of me but take good care of himself so that he would be able to be my caretaker when the time came. I had never loved him more than at that moment!

I am almost embarresed to admit this, but I also remembered something else that day. When we were married 9 months earlier on the beach in Jamaica, we looked out over the ocean and saw the sun's rays streaking down through the clouds. My children had always called these "God's Fingers." So, I exclaimed to my new husband that we would be O.K. in our new life together because God was giving us a sign. We laughed at the time but I have come to believe in signs since then.

It has been a long journey these past 6 years of my life, but in a strange way its been a gift. I say that because I now realize the things I try to remember daily. They are:

  • Michael J. Fox and anyone else who goes public with a disease as nasty as this deserve mega-praise.
  • PD is an on-going process. The race between coping with it and it advancing is always on!
  • Face your PD in others examples as only YOU are ready to deal.
  • We all must go through the same process-shock, fear,anger, grief and acceptance in our own time and in our own way.
  • Appreciate all of the good things in life, it can end in an instant.
  • When things are really tough remember, this too shall pass.
  • We all have difficult things in life to deal with. No one gets a free pass!
  • Accepting help is not a weakness. Be grateful for those willing to be there for you.
  • PD is not who you are. Don't let it become all-consuming in your life.
  • A prescription of laughter and humor is truely the best medicine one could take!

Perhaps these 10 things would not have come to light in my life if I had not developed PD. I am certain this illness has made me a stronger person, not weaker. I will continue to fight!Posted by Laurie Manna on August 08, 2009

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