I can still remember the first time I noticed something wasn't quite right. I was sitting at a nursing station in a nursing home in Pampa, TX in July of 2016. I was typing a letter to a physician on my laptop as I reviewed patient charts. I had always been a fast typer. I was suddenly aware of the fact that a couple of my fingers weren’t keeping up the pace with all of the others and I was making a lot of errors. My hands felt stiff. My mom has had arthritis in her hands for years. I remember thinking that I must be getting arthritis too. My solution was to take ibuprofen when my hands were hurting and I started using an external mouse instead of the touchpad on my laptop. Over the next 18 months I continued to have a series of strange symptoms emerge. The fourth toe on my left foot always felt like it was curling under. My left wrist was frequently sore and stiff. I assumed it was a little carpal tunnel from pulling heavy charts off of chart racks with my left hand for 20+ years. My left leg jumped around uncontrollably when I drove my car, much to the amusement of my two daughters. I noticed my left calf often hurt and when I walked in heels, my left shoe made a ‘clomp clomp’ sound when it hit the floor instead of the normal light ‘click click’ sound of the heel of my right shoe. My left arm began to draw up to my torso when I walked. My body hurt all over, all of the time. These symptoms didn’t happen all at once and I was usually able to come up with some reason or explanation for them, or so I thought.
By January 2018 I began having a lot of pain in my left foot. I saw a podiatrist who insisted that I had a stress fracture. He put me in a medical boot and told me to stay off of the foot as much as possible. I was a wife, a mother to two girls, and I worked as a full time consultant pharmacist. I had no choice but to be on my feet a lot. From the moment he put the boot on me, my pain increased immensely. After a week I called his office and told him about the pain. He prescribed a knee walker to use at all times in an effort to help me stay off of the foot.
Over the next three months, I saw the podiatrist for check-ups every two to three weeks. The pain continued to increase and I felt terrible all of the time--I was miserable. The podiatrist continued to insist that I had a stress fracture and told me that this was my fault because I wouldn’t stay off of the foot (even though I was using the knee walker for everything except when I showered). By the middle of April 2018, I was having trouble completing tasks at work and decided to take a leave of absence. I began making appointments with other physicians. Something was definitely wrong and deep down I knew it was much more than just my foot. I was scared and denial wasn’t working, so I knew I needed to get this figured out.
I made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in feet and ankles. He took x-rays and examined me. He told me that I did NOT have a stress fracture or any evidence of a past fracture that had healed. He recommended that I see a neurologist. I told him that I had an appointment with one at the end of April. His somber response was “make sure you keep that appointment”.
When I saw the neurologist for the first time a few weeks later, he ran all kinds of
tests. If you’ve never had a neurological exam, it’s hard to describe. They have you do all sorts of odd things (I remember skipping down the hall, or at least attempting to, at that particular visit). He drew several vials of blood for testing. He ordered an MRI of my head, neck, and spine. He scheduled nerve conduction testing. The results of all of those tests revealed nothing. I had continued to decline during the first six weeks of my leave from work. The pain in my foot
was so bad that I was walking hunched over on the ball of my foot and my arm was still drawing up at my side. Everything hurt all of the time. I could not even tolerate a blanket or sheets on my left leg when I was in bed at night.
My neurologist was stumped, so he sent me to Houston, TX, to see the head of neurology at Houston Methodist Hospital in June 2018. It was supposed to be a three day hospital stay for extensive testing. By the second morning of that visit, the team of doctors and nurses working on my case entered my tiny hospital room and told me something that would forever change my life. I had Parkinson’s Disease. The moment those words were spoken it felt like my entire world crashed around me. As a pharmacist who specialized in geriatrics, I saw elderly patients every day with advanced Parkinson’s, so I knew exactly what my future would most likely look like. I couldn’t believe what the doctor was telling me. I was a 44 year old, otherwise healthy female. This wasn’t possible. Parkinson’s was a disease that occurred mostly in males and the average age of onset was early to mid 60s. I responded to their diagnosis by saying, “But I have a 12 year old,” as if that would change their minds about what was happening to my body. I looked over at my husband for some sign that everything was okay. He was staring down at his lap. Trying to maintain his composure, he couldn’t look at me. I can only imagine what he was thinking in that moment.
For the next several minutes the neurologist talked about physical therapy, exercise, finding my ‘new normal’, blah, blah, blah. I remember bits and pieces of what he said, but my mind wasn’t focused on him or what he was saying. I was sobbing and thinking about my two daughters and how this would affect them. I couldn’t protect them from this. Parkinson’s is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease for which there is no cure. This battle would be a part of me for the rest of my life and theirs.
My husband and I flew home the next day. Talking to our daughters about my diagnosis was the most gut-wrenching conversation of our lives. We weren’t prepared to share the news with everyone and I was concerned about my career, so we decided that, with the exception of our family and a small circle of close friends, we would keep my diagnosis private. The four of us spent the rest of the summer huddled closely together, rarely out of arm’s reach of each other. We were privately grieving and our comfort was only found in our faith in the Lord and each other.
During this period of grieving, our older daughter was beginning her senior year of high school, a time that should have been full of fun and new beginnings as she planned for graduation and her upcoming move to college. Our younger daughter was trying to navigate the cruelty of middle school and becoming a teenager. I know that my diagnosis cast a dark cloud over that time for them, and my heart still aches when I think about how hard it must have been-- neither of them confiding in a single friend during that time. I know it was not easy, but I am so proud of the way they handled our situation. They are my inspiration and the reason I won’t give up.
I did physical therapy to regain my strength. Susan, my very best friend of over 30 years, was my physical therapist. The neurologist wanted me to do my PT in water and Susan worked at a hospital with, at that time, the only therapy pool in town. Isn’t it beautiful how God weaves our lives together for years because he knows exactly what our future holds? He knew that I would be receiving this diagnosis on June 13, 2018, and he knew how vulnerable I would
feel. He built my relationship with Susan for over three decades so that, at my lowest moment, she could be there to help build me up again.
After completing my physical therapy and returning to work, I began working out at the gym at a golf club just down the street from my house. I knew that exercise was the single most important thing I could do to slow the progression of my Parkinson’s. There are several physical activities that are beneficial for people with Parkinson’s but boxing kept coming up in my research. There was a local boxing gym in my community but I was too intimidated to try it out on my own. I loved working out and had been fairly active for the ten years prior to my diagnosis but I no longer trusted my body.
When I was about three years into my diagnosis I was scrolling through the Facebook page of Nick’s Fight Club, the local boxing gym that I previously mentioned. I came across a picture of a group of people at the gym. I recognized two of the people in the picture. It was a couple who lived in my neighborhood. Our children had all attended the same elementary, middle, and high school together. I didn’t know them well, but we were always very friendly and stopped to visit with them when we ran into them at various school activities and sports events. I picked up the phone several times over the next few months to call the wife, Laci, and ask about Nick’s but I lost my nerve every time. I wondered if they worked out there and if maybe I could join her for a class. I just needed a buddy to go with or someone to help get me started, but calling her would mean sharing my diagnosis and I had come to guard that piece of information with the ferocity of a lion.
One Friday morning in late April 2021, I ran into Laci while out shopping. I’m still not sure how I mustered up the courage, but I decided to ask her about Nick’s. When I told her about the picture I had seen and asked if she and her husband Bobby worked out there, she grinned and said that Bobby had recently bought the gym...I couldn’t believe it. Over the next 20 minutes I began sharing with her what had been going on in my life over the previous three years and why I was so interested in boxing. She told me that she was sure that Bobby did not know about the connection between boxing and its therapeutic benefits for people with
Parkinson’s. She told me that she was going to share this information with him and that she was pretty sure he would want to talk to me. The following Monday morning I received a text from Bobby inviting me to stop by Nick’s so we could talk, and he could show me the gym. We made an appointment for later that week. When I arrived, Bobby immediately put me at ease with his friendly personality. I could tell from our conversation that he was interested in what I had shared with Laci and that he had been doing a lot of research over the weekend before contacting me.
Bobby encouraged me to try a class at the gym sometime. I wanted to...SO much...,but I was scared. I just couldn’t always depend on my body anymore. I was competitive and, prior to my diagnosis, used to work out at a fairly high level. What if my legs didn’t cooperate? What if I fell during a class (balance is a huge struggle in Parkinson’s). What if I developed dystonia in my foot during class? I had all sorts of excuses, so I procrastinated and didn’t take a class.
A few weeks after our first meeting Bobby sent me an email. Not long after my visit to his gym, a man named Dennis (who also has Parkinson’s) walked into Nick’s. He had just moved to Amarillo from Las Vegas where he had been boxing and training with a woman named Darbe who specializes in training individuals with Parkinson’s. He wanted to continue his training and put Bobby in touch with Darbe. She had a desire to train and certify others to do what she does and Bobby had a desire to learn! He told me that he and Darbe had already started Zoom meetings and he and Dennis had begun individualized training sessions. Bobby shared that they had a working model in place if I was interested. In his email he said, “I’m not
promising much, just my time. Just knowing that we have something that seems to be a possible tool for your improved quality of life made me want to reach out.”
I was in tears by the time I finished reading his email. I had spent three years feeling alone with my disease and without many good resources for people like me with Parkinson’s in Amarillo. This opportunity was HUGE and had so much potential for the Parkinson’s community. I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Bobby and I began training two days after he sent me that email. Now, I head to Nick’s and put on my boxing gloves three times a week to train with him. We have now been working together for seven months. He has been an extremely patient teacher, and I am amazed at his knowledge of boxing and how he has incorporated that with what he has learned about Parkinson’s.
My intimidation about training at Nick’s faded quickly. It has been a positive experience from all aspects. The trainers and employees are some of the nicest people I have ever met. I always feel encouraged there. Bobby and his staff have created a welcoming atmosphere and I truly believe that anyone at any fitness level can find their place at Nick’s.
Parkinson’s is cruel and life with Parkinson’s is hard...REALLY HARD. I have pain every single day. My days are unpredictable and my body is unreliable. Some days the side effects from the medications I take to treat this disease can be debilitating. Seven months ago I had to go on medical leave from the job I have loved for the past 22 years. Parkinson’s has slowly taken away so many things that I enjoyed and were a part of who I once was. Finding Nick’s and learning how to box have given me back so much of the confidence I had lost. Every time I work out there I know that I am fighting back against this insidious enemy trying to take over my body.
In spite of everything, I know that I have so much to be thankful for. I have an amazing husband who takes such good care of me. My daughters and my parents have also been an unwavering source of support and understanding. I don’t know what I would do without all of them in my corner every single day. Words to describe how much I love them and appreciate their willingness to go on this journey with me simply wouldn’t do it justice.
I feel so grateful that I ran into Laci and decided to talk to her about my Parkinson’s. I am grateful that she listened and talked to Bobby about what I shared with her. I am grateful that Bobby took the time to research the benefits of boxing for people with Parkinson’s. I am grateful that he took the time to reach out to me and offer his help. Remember what I mentioned earlier about God weaving lives together? Who would have thought that causally visiting with Laci at an elementary school Meet the Teacher Night or some high school football games over the years would lead to this!
I am so glad that I stepped out on faith and decided to strike back at Parkinson’s. My prayer is that this amazing opportunity that I have been blessed with will reach the Parkinson’s community in Amarillo and encourage others to put on their gloves and fight back also.