Whenever a celebrity's diagnosis is made public I'm always asked for my reaction. "What do you think about..." is the first question I hear from friends, colleagues and occasionally other media groups. It's happened with Linda Ronstadt, Robin Williams, Kirk Gibson and again today with the announcement that the Reverend Jesse Jackson has Parkinson's Disease.
I try to lay low before I react because I don't want to overreact. It's a very emotional event. It's sad to see someone else join our community. It's also a reminder of our own issues with the disease, no matter what stage we're in. It's a reminder that there is no cure for Parkinson's and because of it's degenerative nature, things are likely to get worse.
I wanted to see some news reports before I formed any opinion or made a statement. I watched as Reverend Jackson made his announcement and talked to reporters. It looked like he was moving slower-check. His speech was slower and a little slurred-check. Both are PD related symptoms. He also mentioned his diagnosis took more than a year-CHECKMATE!! Most of us in the Parkinson's world had that same experience.
Parkinson's is mostly a senior citizen's disease. Yes there are young-onset cases of Parkinson's, such as what occurred with Michael J. Fox, but the average age of diagnosis is sixty-two. A lot of the PD symptoms are also signs of aging. That's one reason why diagnosis is so difficult. Jesse Jackson is now seventy-six years old. His father had Parkinson's Disease. That combination made him the perfect candidate to get Parkinson's. So while the announcement today is sad, it's neither shocking or surprising.
There are a few good news things. People can and do live long and productive lives with Parkinson's. We're told that we'll probably die of something other than Parkinson's Disease. Muhammad Ali lived more than three decades after he was diagnosed. Attitude plays a big part in this. Jackson said all the right things. He's going to fight this by taking his meds and with physical therapy. What we always hear is to keep moving, keep active. It sounds like that's what Jackson is going to try to do and good for him. Hopefully he can do that for a long time.
So to answer the question in the title, what does Jesse Jackson's diagnosis mean for the Parkinson's community?
Although it's sad for him or anyone to have PD, anytime a celebrity announces they have a particular disease it raises awareness. Parkinson's will be one of the lead stories on the news for a few days and donations start to come in. That will help with research and in funding programs that makes Parkinson's patients life easier and better. Jackson also said he wants to be involved in fundraising and trying to find a cure for Parkinson's. All of this is a good thing and that's the real effect of today's announcement.
To the Reverend Jesse Jackson: Welcome to the Parkinson's community. We've got your back.
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