Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sam Fox, a Parkinson’s Odyssey

The bond between mother and child is unique and powerful. Mothers bring us into the world, they pick us up when we fall, and wipe the tears away when we cry. We always know everything will be okay because our mothers told us it would be. Their hugs are the armor that protects us. Their smile is the light in our day.

What would you do for your mother? What extreme would you go to? Would you climb the highest peaks or journey thousands of miles to help her if she needed you? I met someone who is doing just that. Sam Fox (no relation to Michael J. Fox) is an extreme athlete whose mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease more than 10 years ago. Sam who works for the Fox Foundation has begun his journey, Tour de Fox, which would be described in Greek literature as an epic odyssey. He will ride his bike 14,000 miles to each and every state in the U.S. and climb the highest peak in that state with a goal to raise 1 million dollars for Parkinson’s disease research to help find a cure.

My wife and I attended the Team Fox Young Professionals event this past Monday in Washington, DC, and met this dynamic young man. Standing well over 6 feet tall with long blond hair and beard, he looked every bit the extreme athlete. The most dynamic thing about Sam was how personable and kind he was to everyone. He is a rare person who pushes his body’s ability to move to its limits so people with Parkinson’s will never be limited in how their bodies can move. Sam is a true champion to our cause giving us hope that one day there will be a cure.
It was wonderful to meet so many people from the Michael J. Fox Foundation who work so hard to help all of us who are fighting Parkinson’s.

Leading up to this event, I was inspired by a photo of Sam and loved how it captured the movement of an athlete running.  I created my version of a Warhol print of this photo and presented it to him.

No piece of art or word I write could do justice to this incredible feat Sam has undertaken. 

I am Pat Younts and I Move to Live.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Parkinson's - A Poem

You see me a bent shaking form that sways, unmoving and rigid. 
My thoughts uncertain from the fog that clouds the day.
You cannot see my smile or my joy, my frown or my rage.
You cannot see it because of the silent features, a mask, now my face.
You see me and you stare. The reflection in your eyes paints the picture,
And you think that life sometimes is not fair.

I am not a landscape of autumn turned to fall, a tree that has no leaves;
Whose branches are broken, alone, no forest to be seen.
What you cannot see is what is inside of me,
A will that is evergreen.
I know that spring is coming, so for now I must stand tall.
I know the wind will bend me.  I know my leaves will fall.
My will never broken, for winter will one day thaw.

What you could not see inside of me is a great and beautiful tree,
And all the trees around me, all the trees like me.
Standing together, a forest now you see.
That picture that you painted, that picture is not me. 

I am Pat Younts, and I Move to Live.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Window of Opportunity, Living with the Reality of Parkinson’s and the Threat of Dementia

How do you handle adversity? What do you do when everything seems to be stacked against you? Many times you will hear there is no playbook on how to handle a situation especially when that happens to be Parkinson’s and cognitive issues. Window of Opportunity, Living with the Reality of Parkinson’s and the Threat of Dementia by Kirk W. Hall has done just that. This book is inspiring and direct, a playbook for families, spouses, and caregivers who are dealing with Parkinson’s and cognitive issues. As Kirk faced these challenges, he took it upon himself to share his story and give insight on how to cope with these difficult circumstances. I highly recommend this easy and quick read.  As someone who is battling Parkinson’s myself, I found that Kirk and I shared many of the same life philosophies and approaches to disease management. I found myself reading parts of this highly informative book out loud to my wife. 

Thanks for writing this valuable resource and sharing your story.

Kirk has also authored, Carson & His Shaky Paws Grampa and Carina & Her Care Partner Gramma.

I am Pat Younts and I Move to Live.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Do Dogs Play Ball in Heaven?

12 years ago our family got a wonderful blessing. We heard through a friend of ours that there were two dogs that had been abandoned in a shopping cart in front of the Pet Smart. Of course our kids wanted to go over to see them. I had an appointment with a client at the gym. We all went to the Pet Smart and there she was, a 3 month old black lab. Dad, can we keep her? My wife, what do you want to do? My answer, I need to go to the gym. I will let you guys figure it out. I remember my client asking me how my day was. I said we just got a dog. Really? he said. Well, I know when I get home, there will be a dog sitting there. I left it up to my wife and kids.  

As a young dog, Duchess was …well…that perfect combination of adorable and just plain bad. Weren’t there two steaks on the counter? Honey, where did that pecan pie go from Costco? This is the third keyboard in the last 5 weeks. The joy of a puppy. Naps with the kids and playing ball were her two most favorite things. Ask anyone who came over to the house and got the privilege of being handed a ball by her, then had to keep throwing that ball over and over and over. The cats and Duchess always seemed to get along. Truthfully I think she thought she was a cat for the first year, picking up many of the same wonderful habits without that entitled persona (all of you who also have cats know what I’m talking about).

Duchess picked up a friend along the way, Dexter, her high energy best friend. Dexter would love to steal her ball and took the greatest pleasure from playing keep away. She would whine at us as if to say tell the brat to give it to me. A well-paced swat by her paw usually took care of the problem.

It was not Duchess who was the lucky one that we found her. It was us who had the joy of her absolute love and affection. We were the lucky ones. 

A few hours ago our Duchess took her last breath. She judged no one and loved everyone. I know many say that our animal friends don’t go to heaven. I don’t think it could be heaven without them. I know you have a ball in your mouth, wagging your tail and someone just figured out dogs don’t get tired in heaven. Love you Dutch.     

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Parkinson's and Art on the iPad

Thomas Jefferson, drawn by Pat Younts

I can lose myself for several hours drawing on my iPad. Many wonderful apps out there allow me the creativity to do art and graphics despite the effects of Parkinson’s. I wonder what the great masters would have done if they had an iPad or tablet and a stylus? What would their great works of art have looked like, or would they have spent too much time surfing the web for funny cat videos?
Mona Lisa, drawn by Pat Younts


Would Leonardo da Vinci have just snapped a quick photo of the Mona Lisa instead of going for the brush or by some theories (that it was in fact da Vinci’s self-portrait as a woman) reverse the camera and take a selfie and use an app to put some long hair and a dress on. Who knows? 

Napoleon Bonaparte, drawn b Pat Younts

What I do know is that it is a wonderful outlet  for me and safer than those power tools I enjoy using around the house. So as a tribute, I have recreated these works of art to look like the paintings of the artists despite shaking hands. If I can do it fellow parkies, so can you. Don’t let this disease kill your creativity. Use the tools at your disposal, find that outlet, and claim that personal victory.

I am Pat Younts and I move to live.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Don't Let Parkinson's Be a Sad Song

While swinging the golf club at my local driving range, I was enjoying a sunny afternoon and the Zen like quality of hitting one ball after another right down the middle… Well, some of them were down the middle. I was all by myself this afternoon. A perfect time to reflect on life and why someone would spend so much of it trying to hit a golf ball or so I thought.

The outside speakers at the driving range came to life with the sound of country music. I've heard it said that the rhythm of the music can help the tempo of the golf swing. Normally I don't pay too much attention to what's playing on the speakers at the driving range, but this day was different. I actually started to listen to some of the lyrics. 

So there I was, the jumbo bucket of range balls and country music with my undivided attention as I listened and worked my way through my golf bag one club after another. I believe it was somewhere around my five iron that I had the epiphany -- I don't want my life to be a sad song. As I listened to our crooner’s tale of woe of this poor man’s life, I started to become aware of all the things he had lost. I began to wonder how he could persevere in the face of such adversity. His dog’s tragic loss of his eye. The pain he must've felt after coming back home from a long day’s work at the factory to tell his wife the bad news that the plant would be shut down and he was going to be out of a job. Only to find a note on the table saying that she was leaving with his best friend. Imagine -- wife leaves you, no job, no way to pay for that fake eye for Sparky, the brunt of jokes and ridicule by the other dogs in the neighborhood… Well, at least he still had his truck or would have if not for the repo man who he never saw coming. If he did, he might have a chance to convince him for some leniency. Just a few more days to come up with the payment, but unfortunately according to the song Sparky was also dyslexic. He was barking at the back door instead of the front alerting him in the wrong direction as the bank made off with this truck. Now it would be just him and Sparky the one-eyed dyslexic dog or would've been, but sparky hearing the meow of the neighborhood cat at the back door, ran out the front to give chase. He would have seen that car coming if he lost his right eye instead of his left. 

Okay, I might be exaggerating and might have made up some of the lyrics of the song. Actually, I made up all of them.

My point in all this is that too many times in life we take inventory of our misfortunes, holding onto them, reliving them in our minds and experiencing the pain over again. I heard a poker player say once, I can't tell you too many stories about the poker hands I have won, but I can tell you about every bad beat I ever had. Parkinson's has dealt me a bad beat in life. It would be easy to write a sad song about it, but I choose to look at the gas gauge in my truck of life as half full. I look at what I have, not what I've lost.

Oh… It seems our friend in the song on the way home stopped off at the local convenience store, took his last dollar and bought a Powerball ticket, and won the lottery. Sparky had the good fortune of a mobile vet who happened to be a former beauty queen that had answered the tie-breaking question, if you win this competition, what will you do with the money. Her answer, I will become a traveling veterinarian searching the roads for stray and injured animals. She nursed him back to health. Sparky's life was saved and he was reunited with his now wealthy owner and as for veterinarian beauty queen, you guessed it. She married the downtrodden hero of the song and they lived happily ever after. There that’s much better.

I am Pat Younts, and I Move to Live

Monday, March 31, 2014

Fear and Parkinson's

Why would I need a flu shot?

Fear is a funny thing. We have a fear of the unknown and we fear the known. One of our worst fears is that of the “it might be”, wanting and not wanting to know. I sat in the waiting room of the doctor’s office the Saturday after Christmas. My flu bug was not getting better and I was fearful it might turn into pneumonia, not what you want to happen especially if you have Parkinson’s. I was fortunate that the doctor could see me right away. The office was 10 minutes down the road. It seemed much longer as my beautiful wife reminded me about that flu shot I did not get. It was a wonderful way to pass the time at all those stoplights….ahhhh, what could any spouse wish for more than a good I told you so. 
Now the last time I was at this particular doctor’s office I was told that I would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s by the neurologist that I was being referred to, and I was. The way I looked at it was that I didn’t have anything until I was officially diagnosed. Sure I had a bunch of symptoms, but no official label of PD to go with it. What great news was I going to get this time.

“Put this mask on and have a seat,” the very friendly desk person told me. When I am out in public, quite frequently I get stared at because my hand tremors are quite noticeable. It bugs me a little. I would rather people come up to me and ask what I have than stare and whisper to each other.  “I wonder what’s wrong with him. Maybe he did not get his flu shot.” But there I was, doing that same thing I always complain about. I sat down and I was staring. I stared at this person sitting in the chair in front of me, just like people do to me. Her body moved uncontrollably from side to side as did her head. Her speech was unintelligible.  I overheard her husband telling the nurse that she suffered from Parkinson’s. My heart sank as I stared.  I wanted to put my arms around her and make it go away, but I couldn’t. “You can go in now,” the nurse said. I walked back wondering, “Is this my future?” and there it was, fear.

The phone rings

Now let me go back in time a few days before Christmas. I was home, yes, sick. The phone rings. I don’t get to it in time because I move slowly. Thank you Parkinson’s. I thought for sure that I was going to miss a great opportunity to speak to someone about my current phone plan or better yet the call you get that starts out, “Just wanted you to know I’m not selling anything, so don’t worry.” Feel free to use this response, “That’s too bad. I was really in the mood to buy something.” CLICK.  The answering machine picks up. The very cheerful voice is leaving a message for my wife, “Your mammogram has shown an abnormality in the right breast and you need to schedule an MRI as soon as possible.” I felt sick to my stomach as the fear set in.

The gift that was not under the tree

Christmas Day I felt as sick as I ever could recall, but I managed to come downstairs to open gifts with my family. Christmas morning is a grand event in our house and a big production. It was particularly so this year because the wonderful young man my daughter is seeing was here from Germany. My wife and I are thrilled that they are together and the look of joy on my daughter’s face having him be part of our family’s Christmas was truly a wonderful gift in itself. Like my daughter-in-law, he has been a blessing to our family. Those special moments helped take my mind off the lingering thoughts of that MRI and what it might reveal. We opened our gifts, but the only gift I wanted was not under the tree -- the one that would tell me that my wife would be all right. Fear was trying to take Christmas away from me.

It all came to a head  

We arrived to our dear friend’s house after the funeral of his father. It is difficult to find the right words sometimes to give comfort to someone who has lost a loved one. A life that was meaningful is one that leaves this world a better place and my friend’s father did just that, reflected by the children he raised with his beautiful and wonderful wife. Their long and loving marriage defining what happiness truly is. My heart was broken for all of them. Memories of when I lost my mom flooded back as I walked over to my friend. He thanked me for being there for him. I choked up. The best I could do was a grunt as I composed myself. I felt terrible. I could not get the words out. It all hit me at once:  being sick for that long, seeing the devastating possibility of Parkinson’s, the fear for my wife, and the grief I felt for my friend and his family -- a title wave of emotions that I had been trying to suppress. Fear, depression, and anxiety, all magnified by Parkinson’s. These are the symptoms that people don’t see. The ones that can do the most damage.

The MRI came back. It was negative and my wife was fine.  No poem ever written. No lyric ever sung could have be more beautiful than those words. My prayers go out to all those who are battling breast cancer. God bless and heal all of you.

Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is what you do in the presence of fear. Sometimes it takes courage to talk about your fears. Me, I wrote this blog instead.   

I am Pat Younts and I Move to Live.