Was a spray can of pesticide the cause of my Parkinson’s?

I remember a day caterpillars and bug spray rained down on my head

Christine Scheer avatar

by Christine Scheer |

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When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015, I had been living the dream. I had two lovely daughters, a wonderful and supportive husband, a terrific extended family, and many good friends. I loved my job; I lived on an organic farm, ate healthy local and organic food, and exercised regularly, so naturally, we were all shocked and couldn’t help but wonder why.

Why?” I asked, “Why me?” I didn’t fit the profile of somebody who would get Parkinson’s — a man older than 60. I was 54.

Surprising to me, I soon read that there is a higher incidence of Parkinson’s in farmers than in other vocations. One of the many farm-life things you can blame it on is the use of pesticides. My husband and I have lived on our farm since 1992, but we were certified organic, so blaming farming doesn’t make sense in my case because we didn’t use pesticides or herbicides.

My father and my sister both had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which also has links to pesticide and herbicide use. We grew up in the suburbs of Montreal so that doesn’t make much sense either. Where would we suburbanites need to use pesticides?

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I won’t dwell on ‘what if?’ and ‘why me’

My family had a mountain ash tree on our front lawn. It was an attractive tree with bright orange berries. One summer, when I was about 7 and my sister was about 10, this lovely tree became infested with caterpillars.

My dad knew just what to do. He got a couple of cans of bug spray. A can for each of us! My sister and I were pumped! My dad supervised us as we stood directly under the tree and took aim. My mother was watching us from the front porch. At 13, my brother was probably up to some shenanigans involving firecrackers.

Giddy with excitement, my sister and I pointed the spray cans right up into the branches above us and pressed down on the nozzles.

The results were instantaneous. Cue the music from your favorite horror movie! Caterpillars and residual pesticide rained down on us. We ran screaming, covered with caterpillars and wet with bug killer and tears.

My father finished the job off for us, thank goodness.

Both my sister and I think that incident might have been the catalyst for her and our father’s cancer and my Parkinson’s. Was it? We probably won’t ever know for sure.

What we do know, however, is that we can’t dwell on the “what if” and “if only'” and “why me.” Thankfully, my sister has been cancer-free for more than 30 years, but Parkinson’s disease is persistent and progressive. Like those darn caterpillars, it creeps up on you, chewing away your health. Sometimes, it chews a big hole in my hope as well.

There are good reasons to be hopeful, though. According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine website, people with Parkinson’s disease are living healthier and longer lives, and are being diagnosed earlier. There is better research to understand the disease and more clinical trial opportunities. Advanced treatments like deep brain stimulation are available.

So, am I still living the dream? Yes, it sometimes looks a bit chewed up, but that is OK.

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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Mary Martin avatar

Mary Martin

Excellent interesting and honest article.
Who knows why or what ?
As in each one of our problems there could be a thousand reasons.
If I did “this” if I didn’t do that” maybe maybe just do your best☘️

Christine Scheer avatar

Christine Scheer

Really, there might be half a dozen life events that caused anybody's Parkinson's, we will never know!

Carol Jeanne Dawson avatar

Carol Jeanne Dawson

Both my husband and me came down with Covid toward the end of 2022. Neither of us have been vaccinated against Covid. About 2-3 weeks after we both had recovered I developed a tremor in my right hand. As the weeks progressed the tremor became more pronounced and my family physician suggested I be seen by a neurologist to confirm his Parkinson’s diagnosis. The neurologist confirmed the diagnosis after she had ordered several scans of my brain. I declined medication at that time because I was concerned about possible side effects. As the tremor increased and my arm started becoming involved I agreed to begin treatment with a low dose of levodopa/carbodopa. It has helped somewhat but not totally. My point in writing is that I am wondering if the Covid precipitated the Parkinson’s. I am also wondering if any studies are being done on the possible relationship between Covid infection and Parkinson’s.

Christine Scheer avatar

Christine Scheer

That would be an interesting study, especially because both Covid and Parkinsons (usually) cause loss of smell.

Dave Garrett avatar

Dave Garrett

Hi Christine

I’ve had a similar experience. Parkinson’s at 56, non-Hodgkins lymphoma at 57. We had caterpillars in out trees in the front yard when I was little. I was standing under one of them when a pesticide truck came by and sprayed the trees. As far as I know that’s been my only exposure to pesticides.

Not sure if that’s helpful in any way, but it seems like a similar situation.

Christine Scheer avatar

Christine Scheer

Wow, such similar stories!

Mary Smeallie avatar

Mary Smeallie

Loved and related to your article. I grew up in upstate NY and have also wondered if I was exposed to chemicals as a youngster. I lived downstream from a chemical factory and woolen blanket manufacturer who used dyes and disposed of them directly into that river. In fact, being bus riders to school, we used to bet on what color the river would be each day as we crossed a nearby bridge. Ironic...sad...but we'll never know. So we march on and make the very best of each day.

Christine Scheer avatar

Christine Scheer

Yes, a sad, scary, kind of crazy but still kind of funny life event story. You are right though, we can only make the most of the rest of our days.

Sherman Paskett avatar

Sherman Paskett

Great food for thought. I am sure we have all looked in our past for the cause of our PD. I have spent many a wakeful night pondering the subject. But when the words chronic, progressive, and incurable are put together in the same sentence it doesn't really matter to us what caused the disease -- but it might help the next generation of sufferers. In my early years, as a nerdy electronics geek, I exposed myself to plenty of heavy metals, PCBs, and who knows what else and had a couple of serious bonks on the head--all things we thought nothing about then but come back to haunt us when we hear that diagnosis--so I resolved to not die of PD. It can be anything else, but not PD. My advice to anyone with PD is live your life to the fullest and go ahead and take a little risk once in a while.


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