Life with Parkinson’s is one day at a time
There were little things that made Patricia Ballentyne wonder.
She would sometimes have trouble walking up the stairs.
Sitting on the floor, playing with her grandchildren, she’d have trouble getting up again.
There was a slight tremor in her face and, later, a bit of a droop on one side.
And, there was the knowledge her mother had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she was 80.
Parkinson’s isn’t easy to diagnose; there is no definitive test for it.
Ballentyne was seen by a neurologist who started by removing some of the medications she was on for other ailments because they could mimic Parkinson’s symptoms.
At first, the tremor and movement challenges started to go but came back again. Eventually, about 18 months ago, she was given the diagnosis.
It’s a degenerative disease that has no cure and progresses slowly.
Basically, it attacks receptors in the brain that control movement, Ballentyne said — she’s now sure she had it for several years and confident at least half of the affected brain cells had been destroyed before she was diagnosed.
She’s in the early stage of the disease and finds that “sometimes the messages [from her brain] go through and sometimes they don’t.”
She can go for a walk and all seems normal but, then, she’ll get pain in her legs and her gait slows substantially.
Her right leg drags and her foot pronates inward and her right arm doesn’t move as it should.
Through it all, Ballentyne said, she tries to face each day positively.
“If I walk slow, so what?”
Fuelling her attitude is a deep faith in God and a belief that she has a role to play because of the disease.
It’s just another dimension to her life, she said, and a way to reach out to others.
It’s why she’s agreed to be the honorary Superwalk Walker for the Kamloops fundraising event this weekend.
“I’m an ambassador for a group of people struggling with a disease that has such an impact on their lives,” she said.
Ballentyne takes two drugs to combat the symptoms of the disease — and it was a struggle to find the right medications. One she was prescribed left her sleeping most of the time, while another left her nauseous daily.
At first, she was reluctant to get involved with a Parkinson’s support group that meets monthly because “I didn’t want to see where I was going,” but now, she’s attending them.
“You go through a grieving process and that’s normal,” Ballentyne said, “but, you can learn from others, too.”
The group meets on the third Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m. at Desert Gardens Community Centre, 540 Seymour St.
The mother of four girls and grandmother to seven, Ballentyne said she’s not sure if her children have thought much about the genetic component to the disease.
Her daughters and her husband are her caregivers, a role Ballentyne said often goes unheralded, but is vital.
“They have a huge role. They have a draining role.
“Often, they are watching their loved ones deteriorate.”
Her family is willing “to walk alongside me through this.
“As time goes on, you realize it’s a day-by-day process,” she said, “and I have to take it one day at a time.”
Cadets, firefighters help at walk
The 17th annual Parkinson’s Superwalk is at Riverside Park on Saturday, Sept. 8.
Last year, about 200 people took part, said volunteer Carolyn Dymond, and she’s expecting to see more show up for the event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The walk raised $27,000 last year, up significantly from the $10,000 collected in 2010.
Dymond, who got involved when her father-in-law was diagnosed, said she senses there is more interest in the disease, perhaps because of the attention it has received since actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed.
An estimated 110,000 people have been diagnosed with it in B.C., Dymond said, “so there are plenty of people here in Kamloops who have it.”
A key component of the walk is a silent auction, an aspect that was introduced last year to attract people who may not want to or be able to walk. Items include spa and golf packages, as well as art by local artists.
The Kamloops Mounted Patrol and firefighters from Firehall 1 will be in attendance, and members of the Black Maria cadets will help people who need assistance doing the walk.
Registration is at 10 a.m., and the walk starts at 11 a.m.