By Lillian Gallego
In the summer of 2009, after turning 57 years old, I noticed a slight shaking of my left thumb. I thought it was just a twitch and ignored it. Months later, my entire left hand began shaking and continued into my left arm. The shaking became so intense that my muscles hurt. I felt as if there were bees buzzing inside my hand and up my arm; that was the only way I could describe the feeling. There were days when my hand became so stiff that it was hard to hold things. The shaking became worse when I was tired, sick, or stressed. I held my hand in front of me rather than down at my side because it lessened the tremors. I had difficulty sleeping because I was unable to relax. Meeting people for the first time was very painful. I saw them look directly at my shaking hand and then at me.
I knew something was wrong and needed help. I went to my M.D., who recommended I see a neurologist. After two MRIs and many tests, I heard the awful words, “You have Parkinson’s disease.” I felt as if I was hit in the chest and couldn’t breathe. Thankfully, my husband was with me or I might have passed out. I was put on medication for stiffness and eventually medication for the tremors.
I’ve always been a strong person and felt if you do something, do it to the best of your ability. Be proud of your accomplishments. I’m still the person I was before Parkinson’s disease (PD) and will not let it stand in my way. I’ve survived divorce, raising two children, and poverty. I will not let this disease get the best of me, stop me, or make me sad. I must continue to fight and be strong.
Having a caring and loving family is important to me. They enveloped me in a feeling of security and in a place of safety, knowing my strengths and weaknesses. They are my rock and my strength, taking away the pain, the fear and the stress. The joys in my life are my grandchildren: they’re my best medicine. Just seeing their smiles or hearing them laugh gives me much happiness. All the pain, suffering, and stress are gone, and I feel calm and relaxed. How truly blessed I am to have them all in my life.
For the past 35 years, I’ve volunteered and advocated for different organizations. I now advocate for myself and others with PD. Being a member of many PD organizations, I’ve acquired much needed informative information, raise funds for research, and facilitate a support group. In addition, I support many PD organizations, attend walk-a-thons, and communicate with elected officials to support continued research. I converse with many in the PD community around the country. We’ve developed a friendship and bond between us that holds us together with support, strength, and hope. I know I’m not alone in this struggle.
Nearly 200 years ago, James Parkinson published the first detailed description of an illness he called “The Shaking Palsy.” Today, an estimated seven to ten million people worldwide live with PD. In the United States, as many as one million people are living with PD. The cost of this disease in the United States alone is nearly twenty-five billion dollars a year. This includes treatments, social security payments, loss of income, medicines, and surgery. Over the years, significant advances have been made in research and treatment. This must continue in order to help the millions who suffer with PD.
Thanks to medication, physical therapy, and diet, I am able to lead a productive life. I have found strength again in my mission to help myself and others. Together we stand strong to fight this disease in hopes to someday find the cure.