May 20, 2011

My reflections on last week's discussion of living with Parkinson's

There were interesting and thought-provoking responses to my posting of Phyllis Richman’s piece in the Washington Post about the real challenges of living with Parkinson’s. Some of the responders suggested that humor helped them deal with their own Parkinson’s. In her classy response, Phyllis made it clear that she was not anti-humor, saying: “I absolutely agree that a sense of humor is vital to living with Parkinson's. Carefully cultivated, it doesn't wear off as quickly as levadopa.”
I encourage you to read  the rest of her remarks AND take advantage of her peace offering – her recipe for “DON'T-TELL-THEM-HOW-EASY-IT-IS MOUSSE.”
All the reactions made me think about the many different ways people deal with Parkinson’s, or any illness. (I’ve been recalling recently how so many of my friends coped with AIDS in the 80’s and 90’s, when that diagnosis seemed such a certain and shocking death sentence. Their valor inspires me today.)
I think everyone agrees how much humor can help us, especially during difficult times. Also most of us try to keep informed about our afflictions, and to follow prescriptions for dealing with it. Parkinson’s is very idiosyncratic (true of most diseases), and our responses are similarly individualistic.
Michael J. Fox and Phyllis Richman represent two different ways to respond that I think are reflective of a basic difference among those of us dealing with serious illness:
  • Fox perceives Parkinson’s as a major challenge that becomes a centerpiece to post-diagnosis life. Those of us in this camp (and I am one) adopt a “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” approach. We make fighting the good fight a key focus in our lives.
  • Richman sees Parkinson’s as just one of life’s challenges. She -- and those like her -- resist letting the disease take over their lives.
I don’t think one approach is better than the other. They're just different. And the difference is mostly in the way we view our lives, not how we actually live them. For example, Michael J. Fox doesn’t let his fight against Parkinson’s keep him from enjoying his family or pursuing his interests in writing and acting. And Phyllis Richman’s refusal to let PD take over her life doesn’t keep her from joining a Parkinson’s support group or offering chocolate mousse recipes to her fellow Parkinsonians.

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