Women’s Health & Sexuality: By Maria De Leon

“It’s not the size of the boat but the motion in the ocean…”

(Image by Ross Webb)

There I was, in the middle of a crowed classroom, addressing students and faculty alike about human sexuality  and talking about “orgasms” and “premature ejaculation,” with not as much as a wave of discomfort when it suddenly dawn on me – I had somehow morphed into Dr. Ruth (Westheimer)- iconic sexologist of the 80’s. I chuckled inside a bit as I continued lecturing. If someone one had told me that a shy, introverted young girl with “rose-colored” eye balls  and little world experience would become this carefree, self-confident, mature woman expounding on the issues of sexuality, I would have died laughing in utter disbelief.

Nevertheless, with age along with living with a chronic illness has given me a new found freedom one and  voice to help women of all ages deal with chronic illnesses particularly those with chronic neurological diseases such as PD. Having treated many women over the years as well as living with PD myself, over the last ten years, has made me realize the need for awareness and much needed dialogue in this vital aspect of  every woman’s life. because sadly until only a few decades ago, there was a misconception regarding women’s sexuality which  was promoted by men, I am sure ( some sort of ploy to keep women under control),  that women have a decrease libido compared to men. This of course is entirely false, although as in men there are some women who have greater sex drive than others.

Yet, despite the fact that when chronic illness strikes sex and intimacy are unwittingly place in the back burner for many of us, sexual expression and sexuality is still at the top of our lists. this is one of the factors we deem important when we think of quality of life. However,  it seems to me that for centuries women have gotten the short end of the deal in this department thus going on for years suffering both physically and emotionally from lack of  appropriate care.

Here are some tips to become a SEX Goddess again ( at least in our own minds!)Rita Hayworth 1941:

First, it is important to recognize that both men and women suffer from sexual problems when it comes to chronic disease like Parkinson’s. Although, some of the issues are inherently different we share many things in common such as fatigue, depression, hormonal changes, lack of energy, medication side effects, stress and anxiety all of which can put a kibosh to our libido. Therefore, it is imperative that you feel free to discuss these issues with your physician as soon as they arise and not make it a “door -effect” as I like to call it… I.E. “oh by the way doctor, I have this problem when I have intercourse,” as you are walking out the door of the examining room. of course we must also remember that like the infamous “birds and the bees” sexual prowess’s can be wide and varied depending on partner, experience (history of trauma, or abuse), culture, religion, etc.

For us women the reasons for sexual dysfunction- this refers to

  • lack or loss of sexual desire
  • anxiety during intercourse- muscle stiffness, loss of bladder control
  • pain during intercourse- recurrent urinary infections
  • dryness- this is one of the most common problems from autonomic dysfunction (decrease blood flow) ; hormonal changes
  • trouble achieving orgasm
  • vaginismus- muscle contract involuntarily preventing penetration

How to prevent Parkinson’s from hijacking your libido and sexual desire:

Having sexual problems may feel like an insurmountable task to overcome thus may be tempted to throw in the towel and give up and give into disease.  however, with lots of love, patience, and persistence you and your partner may begin to enjoy a healthy sexual interaction that does not always mean sexual intercourse in order to be satisfying and fulfilling. Sometimes SEX ( BIG and BOLD) is just s e x (barely present) yet equally rewarding.

Since vaginal dryness is a HUGE issue- try lubricants ( water based best) don’t be afraid to stop and use more if needed. Hormonal replacement topical or oral can also go a long way for this as well as help with some of the loss of libido issues.

Of course fatigue and poor energy can be a disastrous problem when trying to be at maximal arousal- thus try different times of the day or night when you are most awake and energetic- I guarantee you will sleep better and burn off a few calories in the process.

Incontinence- many of us with PD especially as disease advances may find ourselves dealing with this pesky and extremely embarrassing problem. Don’t hide or avoid intimacy altogether, instead talk to your partner and your doctor. Padding the bed with some towels or disposable urine pads like the ones used in hospital, which can be purchased at a medical supply store, can help ease the discomfort and allow you to relax.

Don’t neglect your relationship, find other ways to be intimate. I love when my husband massages my back especially since it is so stiff that I almost appreciate that as much or more depending on my mood than intercourse. spend time cuddling, or touching each other, bathing together. a single touch (hug) of 7-8 seconds can release as much natural neurotransmitters ( serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin) to make you happy.

Above all make time for one another aside from “caregiver/partner” and “patient.” This of course a lot of communication, which has to happen daily.

When all else fails or in conjunction to above  ( this will give best outcome) along with medications to help treat specific problems like infections, dryness, anxiety, incontinence, etc.; there are alternative treatments such as behavioral therapy for individuals and couples, sex therapy, acupuncture, yoga and meditation to name a few.

So go ahead embrace your sexuality and you like me may want to say

“I want it all!

I believe in love, lust, SEX, and romance

I don’t want everything to add up in perfectly neat equation

I want mess and chaos

I want someone to go crazy out of his mind for me

I want to feel passion, heat and madness.

I want it ALL!” (Mirror has two faces)

 

Thanksgiving leads to True Happiness: by Maria De Leon

“In all things give thanks..” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

as the years go by, I find that it is the small things in life that truly matter. It is these things that make a life worth living and worth remembering – so this thanksgiving season I like to express my gratitude for the small things that punctuate my life in the midst of another wise ordinary life.

You may say, how can living with PD be ordinary? Living with PD Makes life more challenging for sure – as I sit here fiddling with my heart monitor , which I am to wear for the next month, because the battery light keeps going on and off interrupting my train of thought as I compose this blog.  different, yes- absolutely!; but not less ordinary than any other persons life who struggles with his or her own burdens.

is not my living with PD, being a doctor, a mom, a wife, a cancer survivor or having any extraordinary talents which makes my life so very special filling my heart with overwhelming gratitude towards my God, my family, and friends.  rather my gratitude and sense of fulfillment has come about by the challenges I have thus far overcome thanks to my God and the opportunities that have come my way for which I was never qualified yet was chosen to do.girls (few of the women I worked with)

One of the best examples of this was undertaking the task of teaching and working with a group of women over the last four months. I have lectured and taught for years in various settings but I have never been instructed to carry on a class for this length of time in a non medical subject.  Never had I been especifically called to teach and instruct women on ways to Become empowered as women, wives, daughters, mothers, and professionals to other women like me who are dealing with chronic neurological disease in their lives many at younger age than me or are caregivers to loved ones with dementia. Certainly, I felt at the time and still do that there are many other women who are much more qualified on the subject matter than myself. Yet, it was me who was asked to do this job when I walked in one day to make a donation to a women’s ministry.  My initial instinct of  trepidation was met by an inner voice  which said:” you can do this because I am with you.” Thank goodness I did not let my  fear of the unknown keep me away from one of the greatest privileges of developping, mentoring, and growing along side women who were facing similar challenges in their lives as many of us women who live with a progressive disease do. As they learned to conquer their fears of living life with a progressive debilitating illness and an uncertain future, they found support in one anther and realized that self – love is the beginning to a well-adjusted life even in the midst of adversity.

I have long realized through my career and personal life that the only way to grow and discover new things is to leave the safety of the shore. Because women have always been one of my passion’s especially those with neurological disease ; hence, the reason for putting ink to paper developing a woman’s mantra for living well with chronic disease –Parkinson’s Diva. With this philosophy in mind, I set out to learn how to become a better mentor and teacher to 12 beautiful women. What happened is that although my PD symptoms were giving me heck and my memory is atrocious due to amantadine, we still shot we still learned the fruits of the spirit in sign language.

As the last two weeks of class neared by, I wanted them to know how very special they were and how proud of their progress I was. So, I gave each one of them a tiara to remind them of their “diva-neess” and accomplishes thus far. I reminded them to put on their crown daily literally and figuratively especially when confronted with adversity or situations that may threaten to strip their power and confidence. I spoke of how important it is to always rise to the occasion no matter how impossible it seems because the reward will always be worth the sacrifice.

In the end, what we choose to do with our abilities and talents, as well as what we choose to focus our attention and energy on really determines our capacity to develop empathy for those around us. Subsequently allowing us to realize how very blessed we truly are. My chest swelled up with pride and humility, for having been given the opportunity to be a part of these women’s journey even if for a short time. As, I saw one of the women entering the stage to receive her diploma wearing a sparkling tiara, Suddenly, the nausea, shortness of  breath, leg restlessness, and back pain I was feeling dissipated watching her glow on stage. Thus, I gave thanks to God for allowing me this opportunity to witness this precious woman become empowered taking control of her destiny as a stroke “Diva” raising up to meet the challenges of living with her stroke at a young age while being a single mom.

Thus, I give thanks for the simple joy of making someone else’s life a bit better simply by being me – “Parkinson’s Diva”

My goal is as one of my favorite American writers and poet  R. Emerson would say:” ..to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch..to know even that one life has breathed easier because {I} have lived… this my friends is what I am most thankful for this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Food for Thought on the Future of Health Care: by Maria De Leon

Now that the new president has been elected, politics aside, I am a bit excited and hopeful about the possibility of new, much needed in my opinion, healthcare changes.

As a physician and patient I have seen the drastic changes and not for the better, I might add, brought on by the recent year’s Health Care laws. These atrocious laws began targeting the medical practice since I was in medical school but only worsened in last several years culminating in a complete overhaul affecting the lives of millions of patient’s as well. As a physician, I have met only a handful of people whose’ ‘Affordable Health Care Act’ (AHCA) actually benefited while the majority of people like myself have only suffered. This is not even mentioning the breakdown in the establishment of medicine as we knew.

I don’t think I am alone when I say we need change desperately!

The first sign that that things were going array was the continues reduction of payment imposed by government on doctors with an increase intrusion of the government into how doctors practice medicine insisting on many new requirements such as electronic records-EMR (which are extremely expensive to buy and maintain to say the least) before they would compensate for our services and time. Thy also try to impose how we practiced medicine by attempting to dictate what medicines we should use on our patients .No other sector of society would tolerate such intrusions and governmental dictation on how to practice trade not related to government. Subsequently because of increased paper work and requirements doctors have been forced to increase their patient volume just to maintain their overhead and make a living. This, however, has created much discontent among patients because now (we) have to wait longer hours (even longer than previously) and be seen even shorter time because the demands on doctors time has tripled and quadrupled (especially in neurology where many physicians have left the field altogether) plus their need to make a living. Before I sold my practice, at the beginning of all these changes I was already forced to hire more clerical workers just to keep up with the demand of paperwork imposed on us. This alone was extremely stressful because it meant working longer hours just to come out barely even at times.

The increased wait time at doctor’s office or to be given an appointment by a physician especially a specialist like an MDS has created immediate discontent in all involved; but mostly in us patients who fail to see the big picture and attribute all problems in medicine to the only person we see- the doctor. 

For us patients feeling like we are not as important with the ever increasing impersonal settings with little eye contact and minimal physical interaction due to the constant need for doctors eyes to be focused on the machines required to document things and send prescriptions leaves a bad taste in our mouths particularly when already feeling scared, vulnerable and ill increasing our feelings of distrust and discontent towards our health care providers who are only human and trying their very best to tend to our needs while feeling multiple internal and external pressures. So please try to put yourselves in their shoes before exploding and feeling as if your time and your personal needs are not being taken into account.

Furthermore, the fact that prescriptions are now almost required by all pharmacies to be emailed can be another off -putting experience at the doctor’s office especially when computers fail. Dealing with equipment failure in our offices is not part of our training when it relates to EMR, which invariably happen much more than you think, is extremely frustrating and costly. Dealing with these government imposed issues of technology serve only to detract from the time spent with patient greatly impacting the patient –physician relationship. And in this society which demands immediate satisfaction for our needs, a one chance encounter is nearly doomed to failure with such high expectations from our parts.

Two personal Examples of technology deeply affecting the patient-doctor relationship are the following scenarios 1) when I was in practice my computer system crashed and took nearly a week to fix so my staff and I had no idea who was scheduled for following day to call to remind of their appointments; but worst we had no idea who would be showing up to our office. So not only did we not have charts ready (thank God no EM records yet) but could not check on their lab results nor the benefits beforehand for new patients. But, at least we could pull the charts and make new ones when patients arrived. Needless to say this caused a lot of confusion, headaches, and delays to all involved. 2) Fast forward a few years later now as a patient, I went to visit my neurologist and her system was down at the university, she had no chart, no record of my tests ( fortunately I am always prepared and had my own copies) and could not email my meds. She spent half of her time trying to email my meds then finally had to write down in a separate sheet to call in or email later.  I could empathize with her pain and frustration. Knowing that she was dealing with this all day would probably leave something out so I called the office another day to remind staff of which meds I needed.

Thus, we find ourselves in a Catch 22- 

Compound these frustrations on the physicians side by fact that patients are getting sicker and using up more hospital visits because they can’t afford their medication, are in never ending donut hole, and no longer can have medication samples or assistance as easily as before Medicare part D was instituted. Patients no longer have continuity of care essential to successful treatment because they go from Doctor to Doctor therefore never building a good rapport along with a long term care plan essential for any chronic illness. Furthermore, many patients feel flabbergasted and bamboozled because the affordable care is an oxymoron. Moreover, the majority of patients and hardworking individuals are getting less and less for their money. We are paying higher premiums yet have access to fewer doctors, medications, ancillary specialists, and qualify for fewer diagnostic test. We are forced or pressured to see more physician assistants (PA’s) and Nurse practitioners (NP’s) if want to be seen sooner or closer to our homes which can be disappointing for many who expect to see an actual physician especially in regards to specialists. Yet, these patients unjustly are paying the same premiums although the insurances and government pay less for the services provided by these other providers.

Moreover, the government and insurance companies have tried to convince everyone, doctors and patients alike, that all medications (brand and generic) are equal. The result is that previously controlled patients now are having many more break through seizures, migraines, strokes, dyskenesias, hallucinations, and falls to name a few because the changes in medications are proven to be ineffective or are no longer taking medication as prescribed because cannot afford. In my experience 7/10 times these things along with hospitalization can be prevented if either the insurance companies (which now falls under the government umbrella since AHCA was passed) would simply allow us doctors to do our jobs. Sadly, unless something is done there is absolutely no need for new research or new medications if they are not to be used in the treatment of diseases like Parkinson’s. I am appalled at the new attitudes emerging in this country calling for less medication. Stating that chronic pain can be cured with exercise- obviously these people never had chronic severe pain and calling for no or fewer medications again – they have never been in our shoes with chronic illnesses. Since I cut down the dosage of my medications because of ill effects on my heart my heart is good but my PD symptoms are no longer controlled. Am I happy to be taking fewer meds yes! Am I happy that I feel like awful without it – absolutely not! Is not just the feeling but the limitations on my body imposed by my disease without medicines that I can’t tolerate and will find a way to blend the two so that I can function better for me and my families sake.

Another issue with our current healthcare system is the substitution of brand name medicines for generic ones, which was initially based on cost, makes absolutely no sense anymore in regards to patients needs because generic medications now cost as much or more as brand name medicines both requiring an enormous amount of paperwork from your physician and their staff just to allow us to have things we need to get along on a daily basis. My husband is prime example of how the system has failed many. He has severe cholesterolemia (critical numbers) which was well controlled for years until the new healthcare changes occurred. Our insurance plan first kept increasing the price of meds then refused to pay for them so came a long list of trial medication causing a slew of side effects one worse than the previous each time and not controlling his cholesterol which is sky high..(Only thing that gives me comfort is the longevity of life in His family) we are at the point that all meds which he needs have been denied and out of pocket cost is about thousand dollars per month along with the multiple high cost medications I need this is not feasible. Thus, he is now trying a variety of over the counter supplements while I am praying he does not have a fat emboli causing him to have a stroke or heart attack.

So as I said at the beginning, we desperately need reform in the way doctors and patients are viewed (rather valued) by our government/society. With new changes perhaps the field of neurology can once again flourish and tend to the needs of an ever growing elder population in which Parkinson’s disease plays a major role. One never knows if things change enough I would be happy and capable of rejoining the ranks of my fellow neurologists and MDS to help PD persons like me without having to worry how I will be able to pay for my overhead and employees salary causing my own illness to spin out of control dealing with the external unnecessary burdens which have sucked the life of those still in the practice of medicine including my husband’s. Although, I am aware that with any new scientific discoveries, making new health policies and /or making amendments to existing policies can be a slow process but one we should all strive to see happen for our health and that of our children.

 

Contact your state representatives as well as the public policy branch of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research and let them know your specific issues with accessing health care, getting medications and seeing MDS in your area. Change cannot occur without first admitting there is a problem.

 

 

Caregiving is not for the faint of heart: 7 tips to make it work: By Maria De Leon

“Don’t dwell on the disease, value the moments. the pearls of wisdom, their smile and humor.” ~unknown

 

Whoever says caregiving is easy has never really been a caregiver; it is absolutely hard work. But, if you do it with love it will be the most rewarding thing you ever do in your life. I absolutely guarantee it.

Many of us will at one point in our life be called to play this role and provide full or part-time care for someone we love (i.e. – spouse, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, even close friends). Some of us may even have to provide care to multiple generations simultaneously known as the ‘sandwich effect’.

The caregiver role typically falls under the responsibility of women. Because women are often viewed as natural nurtures, we are often put in this role even if not fully equipped. I recently had the privilege of speaking at a Parkinson’s caregivers support meeting in Dickinson, Texas and was very pleased to see many men attending the meeting. With the perceived increased in young women with PD, I believe that this current trend will be shifting as men are suddenly thrusted into this role. The effect on the caregiver independent of age and gender is nearly always the same.  The caregiver struggles with issues of depression, anxiety, and isolation the longer the length of time performing this duty. These issues are further compounded by rising cost of health care, uncertainty of future, and inability to work as desired to better the financial situation due to the pressing need of that person to remain at home to care for loved one.

I have on an occasion or two been responsible for the care of several loved ones in my family. Although, in two instances the duration was relatively short, less than a year; at the time it felt interminable. The stressed soared through the roof as the demands physical, mental, and emotional increased along with my demands at home as a mother, wife and physician piled on. Also, my patience decreased with increased fatigue and physical exhaustion and in my grandmother’s case, I had help from a lady I hired to watch grandma while I worked and from my spouse during weekends and after hours. Yet, at times I felt as if I would be completely shattered under the heavy burden of life’s duties and responsibilities compounded by 24/7 care of a loved one at home. Having psychotic patients at the office, hospital as well as at home can be quite maddening at times. With my father the burden of long distance was also difficult since I was the primary decision maker regarding his health. Traveling weekly and staying away from home weeks at a time was also difficult.

Now, imagine the type of stress, frustration and anxiety a caregiver must succumb to in the presence of a chronic progressive illness such as Parkinson’s disease in a loved one who have no other outside help or assistance?

Compound this feeling and multiply it ten-fold in the case where both partners are chronically ill or are elderly – the result is a veritable hot mess ready to implode on itself at a moment’s notice. Sometimes it is absolutely impossible to tend to someone else’s needs when our own medical and personal problems are at stake. I know this all too well from my own personal experience. In dealing with my father’s cancer week after week my Parkinson’s symptoms suddenly jumped up a notch. This meant it was harder for me to stay in the hospital with him, drive to and fro my house to his, and tend to his needs and whims; not without causing me to feel at times like his illness was a major imposition in my own life. This meant forgoing medical treatment for my own medical issues, leaving my daughter and husband unattended frequently meanwhile the need for larger doses of dopamine rapidly escalated to keep up with the physical and emotional demands.

I have worked with thousand’s of patients and family members who have been caregivers (partners) for various lengths of time and the feeling is unanimous. Caregiving can be exhausting, soul sucking even if you allow it by not getting outside help and allow friends, and other family members to become part of the inner circle of trust. These valuable individuals can lend a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on, prepare a meal, run errands, do grocery shopping, sit with your loved one or simply hold your hand in times of overwhelming stress. Never forgetting that the key to successful long term care depends on a few factors.

Even when you have aid from outsiders, there is an amount of stress that comes about due to blurring of boundaries. It is difficult to maintain a private personal life or achieve quiet time if continuously bombarded with people at your home. We all need respite from time to time even if it’s just to sit alone undisturbed for an hour of peace to be alone with your own thoughts.

#1 open communication –know your loved ones desires and wishes and vice versa- dreams should not die because of illness rather be modified.

#2 get support – no man is an island, we are all connected and when one is ill the others suffer as well.

#3 take care of yourself first- can’t burn candle at both ends otherwise the flame will be extinguished much sooner and your loved one will suffer and wither faster.

#4 plan activities together and separate- have friends over, do book clubs, bingo, puzzles, etc.

#5 don’t sweat the small stuff -Laugh and share stories. So what if the house is not perfectly tidy as long as you and loved one happy.

#6 concentrate in the love- look at the situation as a glass half full not half empty.

#7 this too shall pass!!! When the loved one is gone like my dad and grandmother you would give anything to have them back. So savor the moments together. Life goes by in a blink of an eye!

Today is my dad’s death anniversary, he has been gone from us for 2 years but the laugher and the love remain. Miss you and love you dad!

Leave you with a Prayer-

 Unknown and often unnoticed, you are a hero nonetheless.

Your love is GOD at is BEST.

You walk by faith in the darkness of the great unknown,

and your bravery, even in weakness, gives life to your beloved.

You hold their shaking hands and provide the ultimate care; 

With your mere presence you provide immeasurable comfort

and courageously face the giant of PD and its despair.

It is your finest hour, although you might be unaware.

You are resilient and beauty excelled;

You are the caregiver and have been blessed for simply being there.

Parkinson’s & My Love for Fashion: By Maria De Leon

” Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” ~ Carolina Herrera

Image-“Red Shoes” by Ross Webb

 

As you all know I am a fashionista at heart and having PD initially put a damper on my love of shoes and actually diminished my collection because the initial foot dystonia and pain caused me so much discomfort that it was hard to work. In my profession as a neurologist, I had to stand and walk a lot. The burning, searing pain along with involuntary toe movements made it extremely difficult to wear some of my favorite shoes. Erroneously thinking it was the shoes I was wearing the culprits of my pain, I got rid of many pairs including some very cute and stylish red shoes which I absolutely loved. In my practice I was known as much for my shoes as I was for my hugs so having to change was a huge deal. Due to my severe discomfort, I was then forced to wear tennis shoes for the first time in my life which I absolutely abhorred but unfortunately it was the only thing I could stand on my feet.meshoes

Of course after my disease was confirmed, in the process of stabilizing my doses, it was difficult to walk with my stilettos and even chunky heels if they were higher than an inch. Because of initial poor balance and mild stooped posture wearing heels only served to shift my center of gravity forward causing severe back pain along with increased unbalance. However, even though there was a time of a year span in which I had to use a walker and barely able to lift my feet I never lost sight of being able to wear beautiful shoes again. Although, I did have to accommodate and find a new way of meshing the styles I love with the practicality and comfort required for someone who has PD. Fortunately, there are so many choices to choose from compared to even 20 years ago.

PD has not stopped me from loving shoes and looking for stylish comfortable pairs that would work with PD rather it has become another challenge to thrive on. I have discovered that I am unable to wear high shaft boots without zippers – hard to put on and nearly impossible to take off. Never mind the off balance waddling that sometimes would occur if begin to shuffle while wearing them.

Thankfully, as I have improved with medication and therapy, I am so happy to put away my tennis shoes which I hope not to see again for a long time. So in the last couple of years, I have been once more augmenting my shoe collection. I find that sometimes, the best therapy for self-esteem and empowering of a woman particularly one dealing with chronic illness like those of us with PD is retail therapy especially shopping for beautiful shoes. This was certainly the case for me this past month. After being hospitalized and being poked and prodded over the last two months, I needed some new shoes to parade about as I slowly regained my composure and returned to my normal Parkinson’s diva self. Although, it began as a simple trip to the mall with no expectations, other than just get out of the house and spend time with mom it ended up being one of the most rewarding and fulfilling shopping spree I have had in a very long time. Particularly when we found this one shoe store that had so many new styles and colors for the fall season mom which happened to be 1/2 off. I love nothing more than buying beautiful shoes at an affordable rate. So I bought grey booties & stylish suede loafers, blue high heel espadrilles, red pumps, my very first pair of brown leather boots in a very long time (since brown is usually not my color), and an evening shoe which happened to be leopard print… no one can be without a high heel animal print to put some fun and mischievousness in a woman’s wardrobe.za

The outing was an exhilarating one which prepared me mentally to continue my PD fight to show PD go is boss. With my new fall collection at my disposal, I am poised once more to continue my work with women in PD alongside health professionals, law- makers and women with PD everywhere. Today, as I finished discussing my impressive shoe collection and latest spree with my sister-in-law, I came across an article I had missed about another young professional with PD who seems to love fashion and shoes as much as I do. She too appears to have amassed an impressive shoe collection as I. But, I must say that at least in her pictures her shoes are better displayed than mine which sometimes end up on the floor because I am too stiff to bend over to pick up. I, like her, am using my love for fashion to increase strides in the neuroscience of PD while empowering other women (you) with PD to do the same. Go ahead use your own fashion sense and favorite shoes to show PD, you still have the upper hand. As the moto for this blog site goes… ” a woman can conquer the world with the right shoes!”

Tips for wearing stylish but safe shoes  with PD :

Be accessory conscientious – don’t buy shoes with lots of traction if freezing nor slippery ones if tendency to fall

Don’t get frazzled and tied down – if you have tremors that are hard to control don’t want shoes with lots of stamps or dainty clasps which are nearly impossible to tie. Wear ones with big zippers on the side or one with big buckles better yet slip on if having trouble bending

Always keep a spare as I often do when I travel I wear lower heel more comfortable shoes that I can change easily when I arrive to my conferences and a more stylish chunkier heel or dressier shoe is called for.

Is there still benefit to doing a Levodopa Drug Holiday as PD treatment in this day and age? by Maria De Leon

 ” A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.”

~ Earl Wilson

 

As we celebrate Columbus Day weekend, I am reminded of another holiday we don’t uphold much nowadays– levodopa drug holiday! Since we were first diagnosed with PD and introduced to levodopa, all of us who live with this disease have come to realize the wonderful effect one little pill can exert over our minds and bodies making us forever be holding to it. Yet, as an addict that tries to recapture the first sensation or effect of a drug, we too continue to take our Parkinson’s drugs daily in hopes of making us feel like ourselves once more. But, as with anything that alters the chemistry of our brains, levodopa effects also wean over time requiring a larger dose to have similar effects on our bodies and minds. This in turn leads to greater potential of abnormal or unwanted side effects the higher dosages or length of time we take these treatments like dyskenesias. Even when you stop taking these medications, you can never go back to a de novo state – your dopaminergic and entire brain network is forever altered.

For me nearly 10 years of taking medications for my PD has meant recent development of serious side effects like arrhythmias and malignant hypertension as well as chest pains. These terrible side effects prompted me to start thinking more and more about ‘Drug holidays.’ As I have tried to regain control of my PD symptoms and my quality of life, by bringing a balance of drug efficacy and minimizing drug induced nasty effects, I began thinking about the many PD patients I have treated over the years. Several of my patients I was able to management effectively only by giving them a much needed ‘drug holiday.’ Of course a lot of this occurred before we had so many new drugs to choose from and DBS (deep brain stimulation) was not as widely used accepted or approved as of yet in our armamentarium against Parkinson’s disease. The purpose of these so called holidays was to restore balance and well -being for those having dyskenesias, motor fluctuations and other unwanted difficult to manage or live with side effects. The idea is not unlike that of Huxley’s Brave New World where people (in this dystopian society) took “soma holidays” to induce a state of total relaxation. In our case these much needed holidays were designed to improve or restore quality of life by decreasing drug dose and subsequently reduce side effects.

I am not really certain when we stopped offering drug holidays from levodopa as a another tool but it seems long gone are those days we neurologists / MDS used to employ this now unorthodox practice in the treatment of our advanced PD patients.

Why did it ever stop? Perhaps, because we felt that we could manage patients symptoms successfully with new drug treatments as well as prevent some of the unwanted problems altogether with the advent new, better, and more specific drug treatments. For the most part this has been the case since as a whole we are now able to delay dyskenesias by addition of longer acting, continuous delivery of drugs; yet there are some people like me that eventually will build tolerance to these PD drugs or somehow develop antibodies to treatment drugs as in other neurological disease states like Multiple Sclerosis – (or even be part of a small group of individuals who naturally possess antibodies to particular drugs such is the case with a small subset of people known to have antibodies to the class of medication known as beta blockers). Although no one has ever looked at this phenomena in PD patients to date, there are now new quick techniques emerging which can tell us with certainty what medicines we can and cannot tolerate. Perhaps we should start using and taking advantage of this new technology to aid our patients in being able to achieve a higher quality of life particularly in patients like us with chronic illnesses such as PD. All it requires is swabbing of the cheek and voilà. As I await for my own, I decided to undergo a levodopa holiday myself.

Although several studies have confirmed the benefit and was widely practiced during my training, some still believe the practice to be risky and controversial particularly for those in late or end stages of PD where this technique was believed to be best suited. This type of procedure always required close supervision by a physician and very often required hospitalization. We used to withdraw patients slowly of their meds and placed them on amantadine. Similarly, I undertook the same route of withdrawing myself of all my Parkinson’s medications while staying only on amantadine. I would not suggest anyone doing this on their own without first discussing in full with your MDS/ treating physician. If your physician agrees, he or she will most likely insist in a hospitalization or very close supervision. I discussed with my physician and was in the vicinity of the medical center everyday should there be any problems. The reason for the close monitoring is due a potential complete paralysis which can occur from a rapid sudden withdrawal (the common way of doing in the hospital setting). Of concern when doing this is paralysis particularly that of respiratory and swallowing muscles. I was at lower risk of developing profound paralysis because my disease is not end stage nor am I having motor fluctuations or dyskenesias and I was not taking a very high dose of levodopa. Furthermore, rapid withdrawal of levodopa can cause severe autonomic dysfunction and a syndrome known as neuroleptic malignant syndrome and/or ocular gyric crisis where eyes deviate involuntarily.

In cases of drug holidays, a gradual reintroduction is usually more successful minimizing potential for side effects than reintroducing drugs at previous dosages and schedules. Usually patients confirmed in a small study of 16 patients can go back to taking half doses which in turn result in fewer unwanted side effects.

Based on my knowledge and experience, I stopped all my meds except amantadine – felt wonderful for two ½ days especially intriguing were the fact that my arrhythmias, chest pain and extremely high blood pressure normalized immediately. After this, I slowly began having increased stiffness, slowness, restless legs, and hypophonia. As the week went by the severe stiffness of my axial muscles triggered an excruciating back pain leading to severe radiculopathy and difficulty walking due to pain and radiculopathy not to mention return of increased frequency and urgency which was not fun especially since I could barely ambulate. I then developed some mild swallowing difficulty. It was clear I needed to reintroduce my medications before I worsened. I resumed intake of my Neupro patch at previous dose which decreased my bladder symptoms and aided in my slowness and stiffness but brought on once again some irregular heartbeats. Thus, I opted to decreased dose to half which stopped abnormal heart beats but once again worsened my pain and stiffness. Thus, slowly I reintroduced levodopa but at a lower dose than previous which stopped the back pain and stiffness. However without the aid of the Neupro patch and Azilect the wearing off of levodopa was much more pronounced. Subsequently, I restarted Azilect which invariably led to an increased my blood pressure once more and irregular heartbeat. In the end I have decreased my levodopa only as well as taking alternating smaller doses of both Neupro and Azilect. I am doing great except I have to be more mindful of my dosing schedule otherwise I feel the wearing off much more pronounced- still tweaking.

Good thing is that I was able to cut down not only my PD meds but also I have been able to cut down on my blood pressure medication. On the down side, reintroduction of medications has returned side effects I no longer had such as my nausea returned even with intake of Zofran and having wild crazy dreams due to medication effect. I trust I will develop tolerance once more and these will disappear.

So this holiday weekend I am once again enjoying myself with my family thanks to having had a nice drug holiday….

When all else fails take a ‘drug’ holiday and start a new with a new lease on life and better PD control.

I like to see this practice return as an option …how about you?

Sources:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/16005903_Drug_holiday_and_management_of_Parkinson_disease

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3793959

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17370308

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.1552-4604.1986.tb02969.x/abstract

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3793959

A week in the life of a Parkinson’s diva- by Maria De Leon

“It is a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together.” ~unknown

It is always nice when things work out serendipitously. What can be better than combining one’s own passions?  I tell you there is a great joy when your passions and interest and mesh together as it did this past week for me.

I was forced to be on a strict diet for the last 3 weeks in preparation for this past weeks poking and prodding in order to rule out any underlying recurrent cancer. Not being able to eat seafood, nuts, pasta, bread, or  dairy products was a challenge. Particularly when my to go snack is a handful of nuts. Plus, having teenagers around who are constantly foraging and gravitate top these same food groups did not make it any easier. I must admit it was hard and had to sneak in a couple of bites here and there of bread. Mom making fresh flour tortillas for breakfast did not help in the least.

So of course when my tests were done despite having severe nausea and feeling weak, I headed straight to an Italian restaurant to indulge in some lentil soup, and chicken sandwich loaded with mozzarella cheese, only after taking Zofran.

I was so extremely overjoyed to enjoy food once again that although the nausea seemed to have returned after eating, I could not pass the opportunity of visiting one of my favorite clothing stores-TALBOTS- love their red doors! Especially since there is none close to home. Plus,  I was sad I would have to miss yet again another great customer “party.” To my surprise, they were in the midst of hosting a fashion show. Of course this delighted me completely and quickly found a spot to sit. Initially, the nausea, heat and hot flashes from the small radiation doses I had received were extremely distracting. But as my husband always says “where there is a ‘Bebe’ (one of my many nicknames) there is a way.”  Surely I was not going to miss this fashion show and special prices event which I had stumbled into fortuitously just because I had some side effects to the treatment and was stiffer than usual.  So for a while I simply sat there quietly enjoying the ambience wishing I could feel better so I would not be sick in the middle of the floor. I stood once again and made my way to the table of delectable goodies to grab some cold water to take more pills when one of the attendants asked me how I was liking show. Trying to be polite and making small conversation so I could return to my seat, I asked how the models were chosen? she then proceeded to ask me if I would be interested in modeling for them at their next event.

Seems like suddenly I was experiencing another ‘Kamehameha’ moment all over. When we were in Hawaii over spring break while doing our usual touring, I began to experience severe discomfort which escalated to more intense pain in my back as we were walking. but suddenly upon reaching the site where King Kamehameha statue is located in Honolulu  because it is the headquarters for the T.V. show Hawaii- five- o, I became so enthralled that my pain and all discomfort dissipated completely- forever known in my family as the ‘Kamehameha effect.

Image result for king kamehameha statue in honoluluT

Having regained some energy, when the national sales manager Pam approached me about what I liked about their products and fall line, I seized the opportunity to discuss possible partnership to do Parkinson’s awareness just like they do breast cancer awareness. After discussing my role in advocacy, my platform on women’s issues in PD and explaining my love for fashion and need for women with PD to feel empowered over their disease, she was completely on board. although, they could not endorse PD as they do breast cancer awareness, she was willing to take back to headquarters and in meantime offered to partner in the winter for a charitable event with their red winter wardrobe line which could involve several stores in the Houston area. Although, nothing is set in stone as of yet, the possibility of this is taking place is terribly exciting, more importantly the seed was planted. Like all fruit trees  even though they must be watered and cared for, a fertile soil is essential for it to take root and grow. Lets hope this new idea takes and leads to greater awareness in women (gender) issues within the Parkinson’s community.

Furthermore, I was ecstatic about the possibility that I mentioned it to a good friend of mine who happens to be a drug rep for Azilect and she took was excited by this that she said she would talk to her superiors.

After spending a week in my old stomping ground (Houston Medical Center ) and seeing patient after patient with PD many of whom were young women- the time to take action is now and what better way to bring women of diverse backgrounds together and inform on PD then through a fashion show. After all, as one of the world’s best fashion designers who happens to be a Hispanic woman like myself  – Carolina Herrera, once quipped : “the impossible does not truly exist for (a PD) woman only time to achieve it.”

Together we are strong

Together we can #end PD