Proof that I was at Stanford (Would never be admitted today.)
“All Right Now” is the de facto fight song of my alma mater, Stanford University. It’s also the title of the Class Panel that we grizzled old alumni held during our class reunion. The theme was that life had thrown us some curve balls but we had responded with grace and resilience and we are “All Right Now”. The “curve balls” included everything from breast cancer to suddenly losing a spouse. I was humbled to be among such inspiring speakers and thrilled to get so many compliments from my classmates.
Laura with her fellow panelists.
Here are some excerpts from my panel participation, which was a Q&A format:
How did you react to the news that you have a chronic disease?
I really, really hoped the doctor was wrong!
I even wrote a blog post about a year after the diagnosis revealing that I harbored a faint (irrational) hope that the doctor would say, “Nah, we were just kidding about the Parkinson’s. You actually have a disease called…um.. ….”Zatzsiosis”, but it’s nothing to worry about.”
My actual reaction? I almost burst into tears. But it wasn’t because a neurologist said I had a regressive movement disorder. No, it was because the doc said the only thing I could do for the Parkinson’s was exercise at least a hour a day.
I hate exercise. And I had no time for exercise. So I retired.
Do you miss work?
Gosh, do you have to ask me that question? 🙂
No, I’m busy doing things I like to do. I travel, I sing in a community chorus, I dabble in swing dancing, I explore the beautiful Northwest, and of course there’s always the blog, which helps keep my mind exercised. I consider exercise my “job” so once I do my exercise “job” each day then I can go on to the fun stuff.
How do you keep a positive attitude?
The irony about Parkinson’s is that it depletes the very brain chemical, dopamine, that makes people happy and optimistic. So not only do I have to stay optimistic, but I have to try even harder than other people. “If you’re happy and you know it, you have dopamine!”
Michael J. Fox, kind of the poster child for Parkinson’s, wrote a book titled Lucky Man. I can understand this title. In some ways, I think of the Parkinson’s diagnosis as a stroke of good fortune:
–I retired earlier than I probably would have.
–It’s kinda fun to be a “reporter” again. I’ve learned a little about Parkinson’s Disease, but a lot about writing a blog.
–We moved from a 2-story house in Seattle with a circular staircase to a one-story Rambler in a Seattle suburb. We did this so we could better age in place, but we got many unexpected bonuses, chief among them, a lot of new friends.
Why did you start the blog?
I think the blog I started helps my attitude. The blog is called “The Magic Trick – Life with Parkinson’s” because one day I woke up and “as if by magic” my hand was tremoring. After the diagnosis, I wanted to find out more about Parkinson’s, and I thought writing would be a good way to organize the bits of knowledge I was acquiring. I also thought I would be tremendously trendy and unique to start a blog — Ha Ha.
But I did get to be an Official Blogger for the World Parkinson’s Congress last year, this is a big deal conference held every three years. I really enjoyed meeting other bloggers and other Parkies from all over the world. And I’ve met all sorts of interesting people who happen to have Parkinson’s who I have written about in the blog. This includes people with some unexpected jobs like sculptor and commercial airline pilot. So the blog is fun and keeps my brain active.
How does your experience apply to the rest of us?
Chances are, everyone in this room — everyone in our class — will either get a chronic disease or have a loved one with a chronic disease. Very few of us will die in a glamorous way: shot by a jealous husband or crashing our Tesla at the Grand Prix.
So, we’ll probably need to deal with some chronic condition that could go on for 20, 30, even 40 years. I believe attitude is key. You may go through those classic stages of grief – you know, denial, anger, bargaining, depression – but eventually, most folks end up at acceptance. I decided to “cut out the middleman” and go right to Acceptance. Acceptance isn’t the same as submission – you still want to have a fighting attitude — I think of it as “constructive optimism” — somewhere between Pollyanna and a Ninja warrior.
What lessons can you share?
A very important lesson: Be nice to your husband. I think Paul is still sort of in denial about my Parkinson’s, or more accurately, keeping himself in reserve for when I really, really need a “care partner”. In the meantime, I’m practicing (and failing) at not critiquing his driving.
Another lesson – very difficult for Stanford alumni, at least this Stanford alumni – is to have some humility. You cannot handle a chronic condition by yourself. You need to assemble a team. I am currently working with a fitness trainer and recently spent a full hour of her expensive time….walking…yes, I’m learning to walk. This winter I’ll probably be working with a speech therapist on…breathing…And if I get that figured out, then I get to move on to….talking…
I believe that part of humility is being open to where your team, your inspirations may be. One of my inspirations is a young woman at my gym whom I call Esperanza in my blog. Esperanza has very severe Downs Syndrome – I don’t think she can even talk- but she spends hours at the gym. I may have the fancy Stanford degree, but Esperanza does a great Zoomba.
YouTube Extra: Leland Stanford Junior Marching Band plays “All Right Now”! This ain’t your mama’s marching band – see if you can listen to it without jumping out of your chair and dancing around the room!