It has been a very long time since I sat down to write for Parker’s Climb. I have not been here since posting our Mt. Kilimanjaro summit photos; but Parker’s Climb is still a part of my soul! The climb and the very special year of fundraising for the Michael J. Fox Foundation will always be a part of me – for as long as I live!
In the year leading up to the Parker family Mt. Kilimanjaro climb for Team Fox, I had a very different sense of purpose. I was training harder physically than I have ever done before. I spent a part of every day researching and writing for the website. The Parker’s Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro Expedition For Parkinson’s Research was so much more than climbing mountains. In my mind it was this distant journey to “the cure.”
Physically, I was training to climb mountains, but the real destination that I was longing for was a place known as “The Cure.” It never really occurred to me how I would feel one day when I had reached the summit and came down without that cure!
As I was standing at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro surrounded by my family, I had no idea that I would one day feel a bit of disappointment when it was over. How could I have known? The only thing I knew for certain during the seven days up that mountain is that we would get there. I never doubted it for a second – well maybe just one!
I have shared the story that my Mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease just two days after we returned from Tanzania. Her testing began just days before we boarded our plane for Africa, but I asked not to get the results before we climbed our mountain. In my heart I suppose I knew the answer – but the final diagnosis was not something that I could carry up that mountain! It was not a part of my plan and I had not prepared for it. In reality I had never contemplated that diagnosis even for a second! I am now certain that it would have crippled me before reaching the summit had I known.
Even though Geoff and I were familiar with Alzheimer’s disease which claimed his mother two years ago, I really never fully comprehended what that diagnosis felt like for Geoff and his brothers.
I believe that there is a unique pain that comes from learning that a loved one has a brain disorder. Perhaps because so far, there have been no cures for brain disorders. When Geoff was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he seemed far calmer than me. For the first time in my life I could not stop the tears – all I could say was “I feel as if I cannot breath” and it took months for this feeling to subside.
When we got the diagnosis for Mom it was accompanied by the overwhelming feeling of losing my breath. I literally felt as if I were standing at 17,000 feet again, fighting for every ounce of air to reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I learned once again what it felt like to open my eyes in the morning with tears streaming down my cheeks – before my conscious mind was really fully awake.
Certainly I do not think that my pain was any different than the pain felt by those whose loved ones are diagnosed with other diseases for which there is no cure. Or the pain that is felt for those whose loved ones pass away suddenly without warning. And I must include that my feelings cannot be compared in any way to those who have actually gotten these diagnoses. My pain was just that – it was my pain, and only I could feel my pain.
These feelings I have come to understand are a lot like climbing a 19,340 foot mountain and struggling for every breath. You experience this tight feeling in your chest but finally, there is a point during the descent that you no longer fight for every ounce of air that fills your lungs. You just breathe.
I tell you this story today because a little while ago I was reminded that the cure for Parkinson’s disease, and the cure for Alzheimer’s disease is a much longer journey than I have traveled thus far! My work is not over yet and there is still much left to do in finding these cures. I am not at all sure what this means yet, but I am sure that I will somehow continue to work to help find these cures.
My friend Enzo Simone has just returned from introducing the 10 Mountains-10 Years movie across Europe and Montana. His quest to find the cure for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease is taking The Army of Change up ten mountains, over a period of ten years. The Army of Change has put many miles on their climbing boots already, but they too are still on this long journey.
Enzo’s quest to find the cure for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease is a very personal mission too. He like me, did not know that these two diseases would one day have such prominence in his life, but they do.
Enzo – thank you for carrying this message across Europe and the US. You are an amazing General of this army my friend, and you are changing so many lives! Your video inspired me to write and to realize how much work is left to be done! Today I found a little of my voice in the fight against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and there is something liberating about that. I guess like the journey up the mountain, I had to go Pole-Pole – Slowly – Slowly, one step at a time!
I am happy to share that Geoff is doing great. He continues to prove that physical activity is the strongest method of slowing the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Mom is doing incredible also! Most days I still question her diagnosis because she is doing so well – but time will certainly tell. We have pondered what comes next for Parker’s Climb and the Parker family who set out on the journey for the cure. A year ago today, we were 248 days away from Mt. Kilimanjaro and that seemed like an entire lifetime away! Who knows where our journey will take us from here.
You can see Enzo’s video by clicking on the Parker’s Climb Facebook link here – and while you are there don’t hesitate to visit the Parker’s Climb – Team Fox page to make a donation to The Michael J. Fox Foundation. One day, I promise you will hear much more about our quest to help end Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. There is still so much work to be done! pkp
This post is dedicated to our friend Wayne J. Whitman who passed away suddenly on September 24, 2011. Wayne was my friend and constant cheerleader for more than twenty years. He became one of Geoff’s best friends and golf buddies. I have never known a person who was more genuine and kind in everything he did! Wayne took friendship to a whole different level – and he will be missed.