How I’m making the most of my life with Parkinson’s disease

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by BioNews Staff |

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A graphic image accompanying Parkinson's community spotlight stories.
A blond-haired woman is seated on what appears to be a road, where she holds up a multicolored medal. She wears a brown T-shirt with a cartoon owl face and black shorts with the number 476 attached.

Charlotte Juarez after participating in a 5K as part of a recent Walt Disney World Marathon; she and others helped raise more than $100,000 for Parkinson’s research at the event. (Photos courtesy of Charlotte Juarez)

This is Charlotte Juarez’s story:

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s two years ago, at age 51. I was devastated. Before that, I’d hardly been sick, never needing to see a doctor other than my primary care physician. I ate well, exercised, and thought I was relatively healthy, but the diagnosis made me feel as if my life was essentially over.

Once I realized what I was dealing with, however, I was determined not to let Parkinson’s define me. I’ve been going nonstop since.

I joined several online support groups soon after diagnosis and was disheartened to hear from so many living with Parkinson’s who felt hopeless and alone. Others stated they knew how important exercise is for those with the disease, but they were unsure how to start when it wasn’t part of their regular routines.

That led me to launch my YouTube channel, The OWL (for The Old White Lady), with exercise and motivational videos to encourage others with the disease to stay healthy and positive. I pledged to donate 50% of any revenue the channel generates from ads toward Parkinson’s research. I also post videos of my experiences with the disease, which I hope are relatable and encourage others to know they’re not alone in whatever they’re going through.

A woman with reddish brown hair in a long pigtail stands on a road with a hill of green grass behind her. She wears a white T-shirt and brown paints and carries a mostly white flag, featuring the image of a cartoon owl on a branch.

Juarez at the 2022 American Parkinson’s Disease Association Optimism Walk in Virginia Beach, Virginia, carrying a flag with her signature owl image.

In 2021, I joined the Davis Phinney Foundation as its first ambassador for Virginia, which has let me provide resources and support to people with Parkinson’s, both within and outside my state. I’m currently working on connecting with the many support groups throughout Virginia to offer Davis Phinney resources and share my journey with Parkinson’s.

More recently, I started a small business making polymer clay jewelry. I’ve always enjoyed crafting and fell in love with this particular activity, so I decided to parlay it into something meaningful to me. My business, PD bijoux, features the slogan, “Jewelry made by one person with Parkinson’s to help everyone with Parkinson’s.”

As with my YouTube channel, I donate 50% of my sales to Parkinson’s research.

Having Parkinson’s has given me a lifetime membership to a club I never wanted to join, but I’m making the most of it. I try to stay active and positive and do what I can to raise awareness and funding to go toward finding a cure and improving the lives of those of us with the disease. I’m an optimist and believe I’ll live well with Parkinson’s, but I’m also a realist and accept that my future is uncertain.

But isn’t that true for everyone, with or without Parkinson’s? There are no guarantees for any of us. This disease has helped me focus more on the moment and better appreciate each day, so that’s what I try to do.

My family has been my greatest blessing through all of this, and I’m grateful to have their love and support. As for me, I’ve wanted to make a difference in some way. I never expected it to be through Parkinson’s, but I’ve found a community of resilient warriors. I’m grateful to be on this journey with them!

In recognition of Parkinson’s Awareness Month in April, the Parkinson’s Community Spotlight campaign features a series of stories highlighting the real-life experiences of people affected by Parkinson’s disease written in their own words. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more stories like this, using the hashtag #ParkinsonsSpotlight, or read the full series.