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The Day My Family Was Diagnosed With Parkinson's Disease

Almost three years ago, after a long fight to receive a diagnosis, I sat across from my doctor and heard him say four little words that changed my life forever, “You have Parkinson’s disease.” In reality, what he should have said is, “Your family has Parkinson’s disease.” It has taken me almost three years to realize this truth and understand that this was not just about me, it was about us.

“…in sickness, and in health…”. Almost 24 years ago, about this time of year, my bride and I were standing face to face, looking into each other’s eyes, making this very promise. Little did we know the path then that we would be on now. Unknown to us, our journey would consist much more of sickness, and much less of health.

Up until that point, it had mainly been my fight. Yes, I had parents, sisters, extended family, and friends sharing this journey with me, but here stood a beautiful young woman who was choosing to join me on this journey.

At the time, I had rheumatoid arthritis, but it was in remission, and the prospects of it staying there were good. Besides, if it flared again, I could just have more operations to correct the problem and we would move on.

But that one chronic illness then became another health issue, then another, and yet another, until here we sat today learning that I now have a degenerative condition called Parkinson’s disease. There was no cure, nothing that could stop it. We could only treat the symptoms, try to slow the progress, and pray for a miracle. From here on out, our time together would be “in sickness.”

Not only did I receive a life-changing diagnosis, so did my family. I had to learn to endure living in a body that was failing me, while they had to helplessly watch my decline. Different paths, but both painful. Three years ago, I wrote that I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but what I should have written was – my family was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Just like me, they were battling this sickness.

Just like me, they were hurting emotionally.

Just like me, they felt they were watching their future die.

Just like me, they felt isolated and alone.

Just like me, they had a hard road to walk.

But unlike me, they were in the shadows. They were the forgotten ones of this fight. They were the ones many did not ask about when checking to see how I was doing. In some ways, their road was more challenging and difficult.

Three years ago, we were diagnosed with Parkinson’s and had to face a very new reality – a reality that could destroy us, but they had a choice.

Just like me, would they sink into despair or cling to hope?

Just like me, would they give up, or keep fighting?

Just like me, would they let it tear us apart, or bring us together?

Just like me, would they choose bitterness, or treasure the joys we still had?

Just like me, would their battle cause them to lose their faith, or cling more tightly to it?

Just like me, would it sideline us, or help us find ways to help others?

Just like me, they had a choice, and that choice would determine the course and path our family took as we battled this disease. It was a choice that would determine if we, as a family, came through this destroyed, or even stronger than before. It would either rip us apart or cause us to cling more deeply and closely to one another. That choice would be determined by how we viewed this battle – was it my battle or was it our battle?

It is easy when you are the one diagnosed to perceive it as your battle alone, but after three years, I have finally realized it is our battle, and I am only alone if I choose to view it that way and fight by myself. By doing that, I only hurt those with me more deeply and rob them of the opportunity and blessing to love and support me on this journey.

Not everyone is so blessed – thankfully I am. If your family is not this for you, find your tribe, your “adopted family” that will walk this path with you, and support and love you “in sickness and in health.” Thankfully, I have a family that took my diagnosis as their own and chose to walk this path of our diagnosis together. Each family has a battle, and whatever that looks like, you can choose to walk it together, or alone. Our family’s battle is Parkinson’s, what’s yours?

Getty image by Simon Skafar.

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