The Race of My Life

The Race of My Life

Participate or compete?

Prior to being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I used to participate in 5K walks and duathlons for fun. Now, I am competing in the race of my life, which is fighting back against the debilitating effects and progression of Parkinson’s. Some days, I stagger and fall, and other days, I am victorious. Tomorrow is always another day.

Courage does not always roar. Sometimes, courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” —Mary Anne Radmacher

Completing a 5K trail run in 2007. (Photo by XTERRA Planet)

The above photo was taken in 2007, the year I battled and survived tonsil cancer. I never thought I would be able to be pain-free again, let alone complete a 5K trail run in extreme heat. In 2015, I survived the suicide of my soul mate, Steve. We had been together for over 33 years, and he helped me through my cancer battle. Now it is just me, battling Parkinson’s on my own.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

I am living proof of that.

Complacent? Not!

My mantra (which I am not always good at living up to) is “I am better than yesterday, but not as good as tomorrow.” There is no rest for the weary. Those of us with Parkinson’s cannot let our guard down or allow ourselves to become complacent. Parkinson’s is a formidable adversary, and we cannot leave any stone unturned as we strive for our quality of life. When I retired from my corporate job of 37 years, I had planned to also retire somewhat from my rigorous daily exercise routines. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s within five years of my retirement.

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men [often go awry].” —Robert Burns

What is in my arsenal?

My best weapons for battling this disease are support groups, attitude, and movement. My Rock Steady Boxing classes give me a lot of bang for the buck. I get the support and camaraderie of others who have Parkinson’s, plus I get great exercise. Trying to project a more positive attitude has also helped me tremendously. There is no question in my mind that Parkinson’s has stolen my motivation; however, I can still draw on my muscle memory and discipline to get me moving every day. I developed these qualities over the years as a dancer and cyclist.

Who is my inspiration?

I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for someone with Parkinson’s who has never exercised in their life to start an exercise program. Chances are, they will also suffer from fatigue, apathy, and lack of motivation, which makes the prospect of having to exercise every day that much more daunting.

These are the people who inspire me to continue on and compete in the race of my life.

“Live to inspire, and one day people will say, because of you, I didn’t give up.” —Unknown

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Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

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At the age of 62, I started writing to inspire conversation about mental illness and suicide after my life partner, Steve Tarpinian, took his own life in 2015. Seven months after Steve passed, I was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. Now, in addition to Steve's story, I am telling my own.

3 comments

  1. Steve Walsh says:

    Great column Jean. I admire your courage. You’ve been dealt a tougher hand than most of us yet you keep fighting. I have a couple of comments I’d like to share. First – even on the days you stagger and fall you are victorious. Second – love your mantra. Mine is simply “Be a better man” from the Keb Mo’ song. If you aren’t familiar with the song check it out on youtube.
    Here’s the chorus.
    I’m gonna make my world a better place
    I’m gonna keep that smile on my face
    I’m gonna teach myself how to understand
    I’m gonna make myself a better man
    Finally – your point about inspiring others is dead on. You never know who might be watching and listening. Here’s an example from my life. A few months ago during one of my sleepless nights I wrote the following poem/prayer.

    I’m a Parkinson’s Warrior
    And although I did not choose this fight
    I will battle each day with all of my might.
    I will fight with conviction.
    I will fight without fear.
    I will fight for myself and for those I hold dear.
    And though in the end I may not win
    I will never give up
    I will never give in
    And so for these reasons dear Lord I pray
    Please give me the strength to fight one more day.

    I shared my prayer with my RSB buddy Bob who just happened to be a graphic artist. Bob suggested creating a bookmark with our boxing group’s logo and the prayer. We did and proceeded to distribute them to our local support and exercise groups. A few weeks later a gentleman approached me at a PD event, introduced himself and asked if I was the author of the prayer. I said I was. His response floored me. He thanked me and told me that he recites my prayer the first thing each morning and each nite before going to bed. I was moved to tears. It just goes to prove your point. You never know how you might be inspiring someone.
    Continued good luck in your courageous battle with PD. My money is on you. Look forward to reading more from you.

    • Jean Mellano says:

      steve, thank you so much for your kind words. they couldnt have come at a better time. i was having a bit of a pity party today and your words have uplifted me. i too am a graphic artist and would love to use your poem (with credit of course) and make a bookmark for my fellow RSBers. would you be okay with that?

      • Steve Walsh says:

        I’d be honored Jean. Anything I can do to support my fellow RSBers. Only thing I ask is that you send me some bookmarks when they are done. I love the Red and Black motif. Keep fighting and keep writing!

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