A Decade of Methamorphosis: by Maria De Leon

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It has been nearly ten years since my life changed drastically – which reminds me of the saying” be careful what you wish for.” It was about the last time that I  remember feeling pure exuberant joy- as if your heart were going to leap out of your chest and take flight.

I said that I wished I could get a new start in life and reinvent myself in my forties..well my wish came true…and I Never been happier. But the journey has not been without struggles, without tears, frustration, depression, and utter rage at other times the battle seemed all uphill. Along the way, I also suffered many personal losses that nearly toppled me over but thank goodness for the small victories and the BIG overwhelming grace of my Heavenly father who has seen fit to see me through till today.

Yesterday, for the first time again I felt a spark of joy building within me and a faint leap of my heart took place within my chest; and all is right with the world. Don’t get me wrong, there is till much to overcome and much to learn about this illness and myself. Yet, I remain hopeful that together we will find more and more therapies, treatments to allow our loved ones suffering from this cruel disease to feel hope and joy once more.

I simply love the blue morpho butterfly- maybe because its beginnings are ordinary like all other butterflies yet it grows to be one of the largest most beautiful butterflies in the world captivating millions of people worldwide with its iridescent beauty. This always fascinated me especially now as I live with a chronic illness which tends to slow me down. I often think about the  30 million insects that exist  around the world composed by 600,000 of species of  species or so yet few insects can draw as much attention and affection in others towards this animal for its uniqueness. having Parkinson’s makes me a bit slow and clumsy just like this butterfly whose flight is one marked by slowness and punctuations due to the incredible span of its wings which is too heavy for its body yet its ability in flight is one which few other predators can master making the blue butterfly difficult to catch. the top wings are not blue colored rather have scales which allow light to reflect off this mirror like surface making it seem blue while its under side which is brown makes the butterflies appear as if the disappear through space as the fly giving them a mystical quality.

They excel gracefully above their limitations just as many Parkinson’s individuals do fooling people in thinking we are slow and dull meanwhile when our inner beauty is expose it is unlike any other. We, too, defy the laws of nature doing and performing above and beyond what our natural capabilities would have us do. Their life is short lived as some of our is due to our illness but that does not diminish in any way the joy others feel to be around us and us with them. Nor is our joy diminished as we capture a glimpse of the natural beauty of this fabulous creature. The world is much more colorful due to their existence just as the world is much better for our transformations after living with PD. This is  because many  like myself have been metamorphed into something much more beautiful than we were before our disease when we were self-righteous, inpatient, living for the moment, without faith, much joy, peace nor self- control, focused on the wrong priorities and truly miserable and unhappy within.

copyright-2016

all rights reserved – Maria De Leon MD

In Search of the Right Pair of Shoes: By Maria De Leon

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Those of you who have been following my blogs for a while and have read my “Parkinson’s Diva,” book will know how much I love a good pair of shoes. Shoes are an extension of ourselves; they speak of our style and who we are without having to utter a single word. plus just as a well tailored outfit makes a woman so do a beautiful well fitted pair of shoes can make a woman feel special, elegant, and capable of conquering the world even if she does not much wealth.  thus, I am always in search of the right pair of shoes that will empower me for whatever situation I am facing at the moment that will complement my attitude style and of course my ever present red lipstick.

Shoes have always been a passion of mine with so many styles and colors to choose from I could go crazy. However, when I began experiencing lower limb dystonia and the pain became more intractable, the first thing I did was rid my closet of all my favorite shoes which I believed were contributing to my pain. I was forced to wear orthopedic shoes which made me feel so self conscious and worst these did not help alleviate my pain.  I missed wearing my stylish shoes and especially my heels which I was accustomed to wearing since I was a teenager. Then came the disequilibrium followed by frequent falling which led to even more trouble after I herniated a lumbar disc. there was no way I could wear my 3 inch stiletto heels any longer. But I was determine that Parkinson’s was not going to dictate how I dressed or what I wore on my feet which made me feel uniquely feminine just the same. So I started my long search for ‘cute,’  comfortable yet ‘stylish’ shoes. Although, over the years I have acquired a new collection of  attractive shoes which have also provided me with the support I needed, I always felt that the range of styles had been dramatically decreased just because I had certain limitations. this meant sacrificing some of the color I love as well as variety of style.

Now, as I have begun to expand my horizons once more I felt I needed something more akin to my style. so for weeks I have been in search of the perfect pair of shoes which could accompany me in all my travels as I lecture around the country. It is always hard to find something elegant yet with a simplistic attractiveness that would give me the confidence required to do my job while maintaining my equilibrium and not causing pain.

After much probing through various sites, I hit the jack pot! I was simply ecstatic. I had finally found beautiful, colorful comfortable shoes that were not too high less than 2 inches most in wedges, kitten keels, sling backs, peep toe, and flats. I was in heaven. only problem is that they are pricy and no longer having a doctor’s salary these are beyond my budget. http://www.beautiFeel.com Even the name of the company was perfect and seemed to suit me. However, I quickly formulated a plan, with the assistance of my fashionista friend in crime who is equally gaga for beautiful shoes. I would invest in THE ONE Perfect pair that would accompany in all my travails. Meanwhile,  I am dreaming of a wedge, sling back peep toe shoe with black and white stripes similar to Kate Spade designer shoes with a small red flower on top ..

A Parkinson’s diva can dream as it is the shoes that allow a woman to conquer the world.. and some day I will again despite this Parkinson’s disease!

Meantime I have redecorated my guest bathroom with paintings of stiletto heels and powerful messages that inspire me to keep going in this race.

copyright-2016

all rights reserved – Maria De Leon MD

Honor your body: by Maria De Leon

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strong

 

Coming to terms with the feelings and emotions brought on by the new changes in your body is a huge part of living with a chronic illness like Parkinson’s. Especially for us women who may already have issues about our bodies before the diagnosis occurred. Therefore, in keeping with the fact that we are all Divas and we recently celebrated International Women’s Day –  I want all of us to be kind to ourselves. We are beautiful!

When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, my body image was the furthest concern from my mind. All I wanted to know was which medication I was going to take first and how fast would I be able to return to normalcy never expecting that my body image would change in more ways than one ….most of which were unexpected.

Of course neither did I count on getting recurrent thyroid cancer soon after my Parkinson’s diagnosis which brought on a new set of concerns and life changes along with a whole slew of side effects related to both the radiation and the new PD medications.

I was never considered thin but I was shapely in a good way, so I was told, but suddenly my weight ballooned to over 200lbs due to lack of thyroid hormone coupled with inactivity brought on a severe and total body wash out. For nearly a year, I slept almost 24 hours a day, I could hardly dress myself much less drive or care for anyone else …even sitting up to watch a movie drained me completely. Of course at that time, I was just trying my best to survive and live my life as best I could…far from my mind were the thoughts of diet, calorie intake, or weight concerns.

I was more concerned about my hair loss…although, realistically no one other than me was worried about eventually becoming bald since I have been blessed with an enormous amount of hair. Yet, it was very distressing to see hand fulls of hair on my pillow each time I awoke and see hand fills more fall as I tried to wash my hair – poorly I might add due to both Parkinson’s and thyroid disease. I was so weak I could not even hold my head up ..the little I did walk was always with my head down..which was interesting to notice everyone’s shoes. On a rare occasion, I ventured out to the store with my friend, as I was pushing the cart rather holding on to dear life I noticed a beautiful pair of Royal blue high heels pass on by and I so wanted to know who was the woman wearing such exquisite pair of shoes to a grocery store. I concentrated all of my efforts to get a glimpse of the woman by cocking my head forward and looking up…when I realized it was an older woman ..probably 70 years old, a tear trickled down my cheek – because here I was in the prime of my life and I could not even do basic self grooming much less wear a beautiful pair of shoes (my favorite thing to do).

Ambulating slowly, changes in vision, stiffness, tremors, balance problems are all readily acknowledge ways in which Parkinson’s affects a person living with PD but the aesthetics aspects are not high on the list like changes in skin, hair, and of course weight issues.

Although, initially all my weight problems or at least the majority were related to my thyroid over the years my weight has gone up and down due to Parkinson’s medications which has been rather frustrating. Then of course are all the tons of steroids that have been pumped into me for asthma and recurrent back pain.

Even though some people can experience weight loss, most of us women have just the opposite effect. this is because the medications tend to cause bloating, water retention and increase our  cravings for sweets (this is all Parkinson’s patients), compounded by the fact that our bellies protrude more due to age, possible hysterectomies and slow gi motility and we are fighting an uphill battle especially when our activity decreases due to physical manifestations of the disease. plus, although it has not been well studied but i have seen it time and time again an increase in weight in women who have had DBS surgery. so all these things together may cause us undue stress when we no longer can fit into our favorite dress. Yet, our doctors simply state, “you must lose weight!” without really understanding all that is entailed.

But, when your kids start noticing that you where a lot of ‘stretchy pants’ – the message is clear. What to do next?

So you start with  accepting your body and learn to appreciate it and enjoy it. Never give into self pity or despair. Someone once said that ‘body acceptance is a journey not a destination.

Begin by loving yourself and start by making small changes- change the things you can like eating healthier, exercising more, seeking a nutritionist advice,  joining a support group. However, we must also remember that one of the biggest contributors to weight increase is poor sleep. As a PD patient we all know how hard it is to sleep sometimes. all last year i took advantage of this to stay up all night writing but although I seemingly accomplished a lot I only manage to add insult to injury when it came down to my health and weight issues.make sure that if you are having sleep issues you speak to your doctor and start by having a routine – no t.v. in bedroom, keep room dark and cool and no electronics before bed time; of course daily exercise in the am helps with this as well.

Acknowledge how you feel – its not vanity to want to look good but is more important to be HEALTHY – a heavier person can be healthier than a less heavy one so don’t get hung up on the actual number on the scale. don’t hold yourself up to an unrealistic standard which can only be harmful- talk to a caring and knowledgeable physician or medical professional. Always focus on the POSITIVES!!!

I am enjoying my life and doing what I can to minimize any further weight increase while working once again on losing unwanted pounds -. getting plenty of rest…when my body calls for it and sleeping at least 8 hours a night. Proud to say, I can now parade around in my own beautiful pair of blue high heels even if it’s just for a short period of time.

@copy right 2017

all rights reserved by Maria De Leon MD

 

 

 

Queen for a day! By Maria De Leon

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The other day mom and I went out for a stroll and decided to stop and get something to eat at one of the local restaurants for brunch. As we walked in to a packed restaurant, I noticed everyone was wearing a tiara. One lovely lady stood out as more royally than the rest, she had a larger crown and had a purple robe on- she Must be the Queen I said to myself under my breath. as we were being escorted to the only table available in the middle of the room full of tiara wearing women I suddenly felt naked and out of place without mine. I leaned over and whispered to mom, “if I had known it was wear your crown day, I would have brought mine. ”  But then I remembered that a Diva  does not need a tiara to feel special, she is unique and special all in her own way. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to see a room full of women who enjoyed life as much as I did and wanted to know what this event was all about? Any club where you get to go out in public and wear a tiara is just my  kind of club as long as it empowers women.

Mom and I had a great time wearing our own invisible crowns sitting among all the other divas who were sipping mimosas and laughing out-loud just as we were. Of course as soon as I got home I had to find out who these women were. I discovered to my great astonishment that we had lots in common, how I had never heard of the Pulpwood Queen Book Club I could not believe.

Turns out this was a nation wide phenomena of a women’s book club having their girlfriends weekend in my own home town which only made sense since the group was founded not far from here in 2000 by Kathy Patrick who now runs “Beauty & the Book”- to depict that reading is always in style. so like me, they too believe that knowledge is not only powerful but sexy and attractive and a way for women to conquer anything they put their minds to it even PD as long as its done with  distinction and style.

What I love about this group especially its founder is their willingness to hear the voice of women and help them share their message across the country while getting a nice coiffeur. You simply can’t beat that.

I then thought that all you beautiful Parkinson’s Divas out there and I should start acting more like Queens even if for a day! Not in the nasty kind of way, demanding and having everyone do everything for you while you spend all day at spa getting massages, along with manicures & pedicures. Although, this may be a very nice treat once in a while to help relieve some of the stress of living with PD or caring for someone with Parkinson’s disease. Rather learn to walk with class and confidence as a true diva/queen should to show PD who is really in control.

Queens are always

  • polite and kind towards others. Sometimes hard to do especially when we are in pain. take a deep breath and count to 10.
  • they enjoy and feel great pride and self-worth in helping those in need, especially other women with PD.
  • learn to deal with the mundane and not so fun stuff of our disease with pizzazz.
  • think like a queen – only positive thoughts- we are after all the sum of our thoughts. you have been through a lot in your life and you are still standing, so a little PD will not topple you over.
  • practice your smile- makes you more beautiful and exercises those facial muscles as well.
  • always look dashing- ready for any occasion- don’t forget your favorite lipstick or scarf, etc.
  • finally remember that what ever set backs you may have it is only a stepping stone for greater and stronger victories.

Finally, remember it is the Queen who protects the king (and his house) in the game of chess as in real life!!

In the meantime, working on spreading the word on women’s issues in PD through a women’s book club.

 

Woman to Woman: How to be a Successful Parkinson’s Mentor Even When You Think You Have Nothing Else to Give. By Dr. De Leon

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photoDo I Have the stuff mentors are made off?

First, when you are diagnosed with a chronic illness like Sacha and I have as countless other women out there who have been given similar prognosis have wondered at one time or another whether they still had something to teach? When an illness such as Parkinson’s disease first strikes invariably we feel at a loss and maybe a bit like the wind has been taken out of our sails. Some perhaps have even felt like their best years were behind and their dreams were now over so how could I imagine asking anyone to become a mentor?

Well, I want you to close your eyes and think of someone who was there for you at some point in your life when you truly needed a friend or some guidance-are you smiling now? I bet that person brings all kinds of warm fuzzy feelings. Now, you are really thinking, I REALLY don’t have the RIGHT stuff! But, when you stop to think about it that person that took time to see you through the tough times and encouraged you to grow and develop your talents was not a super human being – wonder woman with a cape and truth lasso leaping tall buildings performing heroic deeds although they might have seemed like that to you. Instead these wonderful creatures we learned to lean on, depend on, trust, and bring into the fold of our families started as mentors giving the best part of themselves in such a way that they helped us become the very best we could be. We all have unique talents and skills which could be used to build and foster others talents. After my diagnosis, I thought I would never be able to work with Parkinson’s patients again and ten years later I am more deeply involved in the lives of so many people with PD throughout the world in a level that I never would have thought possible. Because I was fortunate to have many great female role models, one of whom continues to play a vital role in my life even after the change in career and onset of PD that I feel compelled to emulate her (Dr. Mya Schiess) as a great woman healer and mentor.

Remember, the best way to succeed in life and be truly happy is to do something meaningful for another human being- this is a biblical principle.

When you become involved in someone else’s well- being you suddenly begin to heal as well. Give it a shot. Don’t worry about being qualified. No one is ever truly qualified until they begin the journey. All it takes is a genuine desire to help others.

Still not certain?

Can you answer any of the following?

  • I have fallen, failed and been hurt
  • I have endured disappointments
  • I want a better world for my children
  • I too live with a chronic illness and feel a need to help those with similar plight

If you answered YES to any of these you have the STUFF to be a Mentor…me

 

What is the role of a Mentor?

Now, that you have seen how truly gifted you are and how you may begin to feel better about your lot in life through mentoring, you are still wondering if you have what it takes. After all, you don’t have much energy these days and sometimes you feel like all you do is go to the doctor or take care of others already being a mom, a wife, and a million other tittles imposed by those around you.

I would suggest start with practical things that would benefit someone with your same plight or interests. For instance, if you have another woman you are trying to help (can be someone older or younger) may offer her a ride to the store or doctor if she needs it and your schedule allows it (you are already going in that direction or to the same place). This way you are being of assistance to another and not costing you much time or effort. Yet, the sentiment is extraordinarily regarded. So be a servant.

Sometimes, what we really need is for someone to hear us. This is especially truly when we are first given bad news. Use the feelings that you felt and allow yourself to empathize and sympathize for some else in those same shoes. We don’t really expect anyone to solve all of our problems or cure our illness, but a shoulder to cry on is a much appreciated and highly valued thing. This simple act of listening and encouraging someone is typically the first step to a long meaningful relationship returning confidence and worth to the person in need. You can do this over the phone or skype but much better and more effective in person. Be a listener.

At other times, it may be required that you help someone make important life decisions based on your experience and their abilities – a great deal of finesse is required as well as love for the person you are helping for you will not be merely dispensing advice but actual counsel with purpose of making their lives better. A wise counselor always listens more than she talks. Use open ended questions. Be a Counselor.

Finally, you have been where your friend has not and know the perils and victories. Lead the path with love allowing her to make her own decisions. You cannot impose or insist that they do things your way to arrive at the same destination. They must try out things for themselves feeling what is right for them so they can be successful. Learning to find their own unique voice, talent or skill to share with the world that will make them shine just as you shine despite your illness. Sacha’s talent is art, mine is still teaching. Be a Guide.

AS we begin to discover what makes us different in the world of PD from our male counterparts, we should also begin to build up one another as women encouraging, lifting, educating, so that the women with PD that come behind us can be the next leaders, counselors, advocates, guides, researchers and friends for the next generation of women with PD who may even unlock the key to the CURE!

Remember ” A woman is like a tea bag- you never know how STRONG she is until she gets in hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt

@copyright 2015

all rights reserved by Maria De Leon

New Year’s Resolutions for a Life with PD worth Living!: By Maria De Leon

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Happy new year to all my friends, family, and loved ones! I would like to thank all of you first of all for choosing to walk with me in this PD journey through life. Having wonderful friends such as you by my side is what life is all about. As we commence a brand new year full of possibilities in which every page is waiting to be written, I would like to leave you with a few thoughts to make your journey with Parkinson’s, or whatever chronic illness, or struggle you are facing in life a much richer and fuller experience.  My learning after nearly a half of century of living can be summed up in five parts.

5 things I want us to keep in mind as we make our mark through the New Year.

  • Stand still
  • Listen
  • Learn
  • Have Faith
  • Give back

 

These things I have observed to be the fundamental elements for a life worth living. Although a few skeptics along the road have question my positive attitude and optimism in life as well as my experience with Parkinson’s. A few people especially women have told me that I must have led such a ‘charmed’ and ‘happy’ life to be so full of hope and optimism. As I nearly chocked on the caramel I was chewing on, I thought “charming” and lucky was not a word I would have ever used to describe my life. For dear readers, I have dealt with my share of pain and disappointments and seen the ugly side of human nature yet I choose to believe that everyone has something good in them and everyone deserves a second chance.

First, I was born with a severe birth defect which according to the doctors I was NEVER going to walk so I spent the first year of my life in all kinds of casts and contraptions. Yet thanks to the love of my mom, grandfather and the grace of God, the right doctor was found to correct my problem. Ever since I started walking I have not stop and don’t intent this PD to stop me either!

I also have had multiple cancers on top of the early onset Parkinson’s diagnosis which was an irony in itself.  I had a hard pregnancy making me unable to bear more than one child, yet the joy of being a mom of that one precious child has made up for all the pain. I lost several loved ones within a two year span in which the two most precious beings in my life were included. I tended to thousands of Parkinson’s patients through the years many of whom I watch die and have wept at their bed sides along with their families. I wept even harder at my dad’s bedside when he was suddenly taken ill with cancer.

Even though these are but a few of the struggles I have faced in my life, they serve witness to the fact that like you I too have had a life full of challenges of ups and downs. Sometimes life led me to dark unfamiliar places. I have struggled physically and emotionally with gut wrenching burdens which have stretched me to my limits and then pushed me further still. But, through it all I have learned that without these low valleys and dark places, I would not have found my strength, courage, and faith nor enjoyed the peaks and mountain tops as much. Each and every one of the experiences in my life has served to shape me into the woman I am today who is able to write to you and share her experiences with you to help guide your path with this chronic illness and give you hope and a ray of light for the dark days ahead.

As I recall the words of that one woman who sneered at me as she was perusing my book looking at me sideways exclaiming “what gives you the authority to write about PD?” Simply put: MY ENTIRE LIFE JOURNEY with PD! So I am extremely glad I had the courage, thanks to some of those people who have gone from my life too soon, to write “Parkinson’s Diva ” Perhaps someone will find laughter and love once more in their life just as I have despite having and living with  Parkinson’s disease. If only one person has felt better because of my book, I have achieved my goal.  This lady unfortunately was only seeing in me the end product …a woman who has finally learned to accept herself just as she is flaws and all; who has learned patience thanks to PD, when you move like molasses you have no other choice!diva pic

Dear friends, I hope this year you work on being happy with yourself first before making anyone one else happy. This starts with being able to stand alone in solitude and fine tune your hearing to that small still voice inside of you, for mine has never let me down.

Learn to listen– I often quiet myself by first listening to my own breathing and heart beat until they are in sink and quiet. Take time to stand still at least once a day and replenish your thoughts and your energy, Then learn to listen to everything around you like the laughter of your kids, the rustle of the leaves, the whistle of the wind, the sound of the waves crashing on the beach, the silence after the snow has fallen. Particularly listen to other women. I have women friends from all walks of life and all ages because everyone has a story to tell that is powerful and unique and every one of these precious women has accomplished many feats most by the time they reach early adulthood. Make sure you absorb some of their goodness, soak in their wisdom for it is absolutely priceless. I had the absolute pleasure and privilege this past year of meeting and working with some of the most wonderful women both through the Christian women’s Corp & the Women & PD Initiative. Both had so much knowledge and wisdom to impart it was amazing.

Learn from these women, from your parents, your friends, and from anyone you come in contact with in your journey this year, for they too have a story and a lesson to share with you if you listen. Learn especially from those who love you and particularly from those who don’t. Learn to walk in someone else’s shoes as well as to see life through someone else’s eyes. Learn that in order to make a difference you must first take a chance.

Most things that were invented had to be thought up by someone who had to believe in his or her dreams even though no one else could see the same vision; plus think about it they had to have some kind of necessity, be in a low point in their life or be in the dark otherwise there would be no need to grow or change or invent anything. So with this comes Faith that things will work out for the best- that the darkness serves a purpose to hone our night vision. With faith comes hope for a better, happier tomorrow so don’t lose faith!

Finally you have to be willing to give back to others. Funny thing is that in order to grow and develop and actually enjoy life we must stop thinking about ourselves and actually think about others needs first. So this year I want you guys to renew your passions or find new passions, redefine your world, expand your horizons dream bigger dreams, have higher aspirations, broaden your visions, and  stand up for something worth fighting for like helping those less fortune than you in your PD community.

Provide caregivers a helping hand, fight in behalf of the kids with PD mom’s, aid the moms living with PD. Go ahead and confront the things that scare you such as living with a chronic illness and embrace it to the fullest. Make a difference in someone’s life, you can do this by joining me in being part of Women & PD initiative as a mentor, teacher, counselor, and friend. If you follow these guidelines throughout the year, you will discover as I have that by getting involved and truly listening to others and yourself you will change your own life. You will also be replacing laughter for the many heartaches as I have done many of which nearly broke me. However, now I have joys and rainbows where storms once were punctuated by many friends smiling at me along the way.

This 2016, I admonish you all to leave your comfort zone and take a leap of faith by doing that which scares you…interestingly once upon a time I was terrified of public speaking until I was forced to give a commencement speech in front of 1000 plus individuals. Now I do public speaking for a living. Go ahead I challenge you to Join me in me in daring to be yourself and a true “diva”  or “divo” (one that does extraordinary things with their natural talents) living a life with Parkinson’s disease worth living.
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