Parkinson’s and Exercise

by Keith Gehshan

It was May 2014; my husband had gone for his first colonoscopy in April and was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. He had surgery to remove the tumor and was about to begin a long 6 months of chemotherapy. Life was a little stressful. It was at that time that I noticed my hand shaking on and off. Of course, this was just stress; our lives had been turned upside down by my husband’s diagnosis. However, the shaking didn’t stop; instead I noticed it happening a little more frequently. Something just didn’t seem right. After seeing my family physician in July for my annual physical, she recommended that I set up an appointment with a neurologist. I could tell by the look in her eyes that she agreed – something just wasn’t right.

August 15, 2014, the day I had my appointment; a day I will never forget. As my husband was in the middle of chemotherapy treatments, I went to the appointment alone. I was going to a specialist; you were usually sent for tests and would then have a follow up appointment to discuss the results. One can imagine my shock that after some physical and dexterity tests that the neurologist informed me that I had Parkinson’s Disease. I couldn’t. I was 52 (young as the neurologist refers to me for Parkinson’s Disease) and very healthy. How could this be? I thought Parkinson’s was a disease that primarily affected older individuals. As I thought in my mind, how could I be so “lucky” to be one of the minority to be under the age of 60? Needless to say, I left the office in a somewhat stage of shock. I admit there was crying and self-pity for a few days after the diagnosis. I also felt like I was alone. How could I share this with my husband when he was dealing with his diagnosis and treatments? How could I tell my children who although are young adults (ages 21 and 18 at the time) when they were also dealing with their dad having cancer? I realized then that I had to take control of my disease so I could continue to be there for my husband and family. I could not let the disease take control of me. I have a long life to live and want to live it to the fullest.

Through a Parkinson’s organization, I connected with Margarita, a Parkinson’s Disease Advocate. She provided me not only resources and education material, but was also a person to lean on to share my thoughts, concerns and fears. She encouraged me to become as educated as possible and helped me realize that although I am not able to control the disease, that I could control how I lived my life. Margarita also encouraged me to keep moving – to consider exercise as one of my medications and never miss a dose.

I knew I had a choice: let the disease control my life or have control my own life. Out came the gym clothes and I think the people at the gym were surprised to see me! One of the first mornings I went to the gym, I came across a paraplegic who was at the gym training. He was in a wheel chair and pulled himself out of the chair and onto a bench to lift weights. I would see him occasionally over the next couple of weeks. We had an opportunity to speak and he shared his story with me and his philosophy about not letting an illness or injury take over your life. I truly believe that people come into your life for a reason and I am so grateful he did.
Although I didn’t see this person much anymore, he gave me the motivation to keep moving. I researched exercise recommendations for Parkinson’s and found high recommendations for boxing. Articles I read talked about the benefits of boxing for the disease – coordination of movement, balance and overall general exercise. So I thought, why not? I came across an ad for a free kickboxing class and signed up.

Walking into the first class at Tiger Schulmann Kickboxing, I didn’t know what to expect … could I do this and could I do this with my illness. I made it through the first class, spoke with Joshu Teran, and then was hooked. He understood the reason I was there and was confident I could do it. That was almost a year ago. I have been working with both Joshu and Shihan Simpson and even advanced a belt level! (That may not seem like a lot in the world of mixed martial arts, but to me it was significant.) The support I have received from them has been incredible. I am pushed and encouraged to keep going. Shihan may not realize the impact he has had on me, but when he gave me my new belt and told me he was very proud of me in that I kept going despite my situation, it brought tears to my eyes. Again, people came into my life at the right time for a reason.

It’s been over a year since I was diagnosed. Not saying it is easy every day, but I have come to terms with my disease and made the commitment to myself to not let it take over my life. With continued support of people in my family and others in my life, I know I can have a full and rewarding life.

So my advice to others impacted by Parkinson’s:
• Get educated on the disease. Knowledge is the most valuable tool you can have
• Reach out for support. You can’t and shouldn’t be alone. You will be surprised where you can find that support.
• Exercise. Find something you like and something you will stick with doing. It can make such an impact on your life. As one sign posted in the kickboxing gym states; “Take care of your body. It’s the only one you have.”
• Live life!! Don’t let the disease control you.

P.S. My husband is doing well and is in remission!

Teresa Keyek Fritsche
Allentown, PA