A Decade of Living with Parkinson’s Disease : By Maria De Leon

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IMG_3284He  {God} Frames our lives in pictures

Last few days, I have been thinking about all the blessings in my life; especially since I just celebrated another birthday. I have marbled at the beauty that has taken place in my life over the last decade. As we visited Victoria, B.C. and witnesses one of the most beautiful gardens (Buchart Gardens) I have ever seen while (more importantly) being able to enjoy the fragrant aroma of the myriad of flowers, I knew God’s hands were at work in my life. I then was reminded of the book made into a movie ‘THE SHACK.”Image result for limestone quarry inn victoria images

Sometimes, we feel in life while struggling with this illness { and any chronic disease for that matter} that there is so much chaos, uncertainty, doubt and pain that we feel powerless. We may even feel defeated, angry, and unwilling or perhaps unable to go on fighting/living.  we feel that our days of being valued and worth something is behind us. just as perhaps the  like the quarry of lime stone in B.C. once felt proud of its rich minerals coveted by many. But, then it came a time when Parkinson’s came into our lives and we felt like  that quarry seeing its minerals simply dissipate leaving a barren waste of a landscape. Where I once thought I was defeated and had reached my potential, I have learned I was just beginning; just like all of you who suffer with an illness. As I contemplated the pictures of a barren land then beheld the transformation before  me I simply marbled at its beauty. So too I have moved from weakness to strength from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity.  Realizing that all that goes around us looks like a BIG mess without any order and wonder why bad things have to happen to good people? Yet,  in reality is the combination of seemingly bad things intermingled with good things that allow for growth and blessings. Sometimes, we develop narrow vision focusing on one tree or flower, in our case ourselves or our own problems that all we see is barely a glimpse of a frame of an entire picture. But, when you take a step back the entire scene is revealed.  You will then see the beauty of the garden (your life)  in its entirety.  If you allow it, it might even take your breath away as it has me.

Like the garden I visited, I went from a productive highly regarded person to a barren soil with (I felt) nothing to offer. Yet, all I needed was the right soil to become productive once more. The rich soil has come about from meeting so many wonderful people around the world along the way; while fighting to make lives better by getting involved with the women’s initiative, being part of PPAC and PF (formerly PDF), and the MJFox foundation . Learning to live in the present enjoying each moment as it comes and changing the focus of my lenses outwardly rather than inwardly to me and my problems has allowed me to enjoy the small victories and grow from the defeats. Moreover, my once barren land has once again become rich, in a different way than before, due to the contribution of more skilled and talented people than I to create a beautiful legacy which hopefully can be reaped a 100 years from now when PD will be yet another disease that was eradicated like polio and smallpox.Image result for limestone quarry inn victoria imagesImage result for limestone quarry inn victoria images

These areas were once sunken and lifeless…the two pine tress you see on the right are called the “tree of life” and marked the entrance to the quarry.

These gardens began with a single person not being content with the state of  their surroundings. Although, Mrs. J Butchart was not about to abandon her home and place she loved she did not enjoy the view and chose to do something about it. It takes only one person with one positive attitude followed by a positive action to begin a whole chain reaction that can bring about change for everyone to enjoy. I believe all of us have seeds of greatness inside of us, we just have to stop ( takes initiative and determination) and make a conscious decision to  disallow our window from being framed with negative thoughts and shift our focus to positive ones.  One day, you and I will be allowed to see the completed scene in all its glory so don’t despair. Take one step at a time- this garden has taken a 100 years to reach is current beauty-pray, rest if you must, but never give up. so just because we have PD we don’t have to make him welcome and let it take over our lives – we still have control of our attitudes and where we choose to focus our sights on.

 

 

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All rights reserved- Maria De Leon MD

Finding Inspiration All Around Us: by Maria De Leon

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With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” Eleanor Roosevelt  

 We are all planned, planted and pruned for a purpose by God.

The last month, as all of you who have been following my blogs have discovered,  I had a small set back which has led to some decompensation due to having PD as a chronic underlying illness. This is not entirely uncommon especially for those of us who are as complex as I am. But, as  bad as I have felt most of you know that I am not one to give up or just sit around ….although I must admit I have been sleeping a lot more than usual. Nevertheless, I am determined to get back to my base line and able to continue traveling and speaking so besides having a ton of doctors appointments which have required someone else to drive me in one or two occasions, I have resumed water therapy.

We have a new instructor who is simply wonderful and understands well the complexity of the body especially for those of us who have neurological illnesses like Parkinson’s disease and incorporates techniques of tai-chi, yoga, and cardio all in water settings. while doing these exercises I have discovered two things. one, that I am weaker than I thought ant two that even though I feel great while doing these exercises afterwards I feel completely wasted due to severe nausea and vertigo it triggers. However, within this same setting I have encountered several of my patients who I was not only delighted to see but also glad to see they were engaging in therapy.

One particular patient has completely inspired me to continue despite the ill effects it has produced. because I know this too shall pass as I always say but recently I heard someone say that it would pass like a kidney stone. That is exactly how I feel, slow and at times down right excruciating. Yet, my discomfort no matter how painful is nothing comparable to what some of you have endured and what some of my patients have suffered. particularly, this courageous lady who has a most severe neurological disease which has now left her nearly paraplegic with severe upper extremity tremors. But having this illness has not stopped her one bit. You will see her around town frequently in her motorized wheelchair doing for herself and others. Similarly, she is there in the pool without fail trying her best to follow the instructor. Last session she nearly drowned a couple of times. somehow I doubt that this minor things in her mind will keep her from coming back. Knowing that she has endured  for a lot longer than I have and continuous to fight daily has given me the courage to persevere and deeply admire her inner fortitude. so, when Wednesday comes I will take some Zofran prior to my exercise therapy and I will be there working at getting myself well once again and encouraging her to continue while keeping a closer eye on her so no more incidents of near drowning occur like having life guards near by and having her wear a life vest.

So you see, all you have to do is look around and you are apt to find some inspiration in your life . No matter how bad we think we might be or have it there is always a reason to go on fighting. it may take a bit longer but I know I will be among you chatting and visiting once more very soon; because in the end we are always worth MORE than we feel and there are no strongholds greater than God.

Image By Andre Kohn

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all rights reserved – Maria De Leon MD

Looking for the Lovely in Life: by Maria De Leon

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Suffering creates patience and patience builds character and character builds hope.”

Romans 5:3-5

 

It is easier to find things to be happy about when things are looking up and everything is going our way. However, when we are faced with a chronic illness, especially as our strenght diminishes looking and finding lovely things around us, which reminds us of brighter days and better tomorrow’s, is not always an easy feat.

I love the word lovely…it means beauty beyond compare. Something that is worth loving and fighting for. In the Bible Queen Esther was described as lovely. this is the same word I would use to describe the love of my life- simply lovely!

Lately, as I have once more been confronted with declining health, I started thinking about this word which unfortunately is not use very much in our society. the power of this word led me to think about the loveliness of God in my life through the years. Now more than ever, I wish to again hold on to that loveliness and beauty  as I find myself being torn yet again about knowing what needs to be done from a doctor’s perspective  while being terribly unhappy as a ‘impatient’ patient that needs to submit herself once more to the medical scrutiny and becoming a test subject to determine my full health issues and get back on track.

As I gear up for an extensive week of testing which involves, poking, prodding and a bit of educated guessing I really have to focus on the lovely things in my life to get me through this rough patch where I may become worse before I am better; or discover another bad problem which I am not ready to accept or deal with just yet. All the while trying to maintain my composure, hope, faith, and a daily routine especially as the new school year is about to commence with all of its challenges and demands.

When we are down and troubled we as humans sometimes just want to quit and give up . But this is the time when we need to persevere the most.

How do we persevere in the midst of trials and hardships?

We do so by finding the lovely in our lives. Looking for lovely is akin to remembering someone we love deeply and is no longer present or near by.

I am sure you are all aware of what I am referring to. when you love someone wholeheartedly, everything reminds you of that person.

Similarly, when you are down and trying to hold on conjure up those images of people and places which brought great joy and comfort. Think about all the situations in the past which seemed bleak  yet; you were able to overcome through perseverance. Look around at the beauty of a sunset, or the colors of the changing seasons, or the calmness of a wintery scene. All of them are beautiful in their own unique way and serve a purpose.

Appreciate the changes that are inevitable as the seasons. Look forward to new discoveries, new beginnings, times of rest and pruning as we welcome the unexpected changes and surprises. Me suddenly having a mini stroke and pulmonary embolism certainly was out of the blue and unforeseen but  I am learning to embraced it as a way to enhance my patience, since this has always been one of my worst traits. As the above verse came to mind, I guess in order to achieve patience one must suffer. I got a disease that makes me slow in more ways than one. But, patience is not the end goal rather than living a life full of loveliness and hope as my character is further enhanced and stripped of things that make me less than lovely and keep me from my work of helping others.  So as I undergo further testing and evaluation, I will meet friends that remind me of beautiful things, I will cherish the love of the man I love, talk more with God and appreciate His goodness in my life even as I write this. Then use what I learn to take the next step in my journey in life with Parkinson’s disease.

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all rights reserved – Maria De Leon MD

(inspired by Bible study of same name )

Grey Matters: By Maria De Leon

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Lately, I have found myself thinking about the areas of my life in which things do not fit neatly into a box.  As Forrest Gump said; ‘Life is like a box of chocolates and you never know what you’re gone get.’

One minute everything is all ‘hunky-dory’ and the next thing you know life is a train wreck; we are not even sure what hit us.  As many of my dear friends and their loved ones have suddenly taken ill and some gone to be with the Lord, making decisions about my (our) health and that of others we love appears more complicated than I (we) ever imagined. Even as a physician, the answers are not always clear cut or black and white.  Some of the decisions we have to make on behalf of our loved ones seem like they are more complex as we age.

Learning to make the right decisions is something that does not come easily if you tend to live your life in the grey areas as I often do these days- not by choice but by sheer life’s design. For instance, sometimes what I want as a patient is directly opposed to what I want as a doctor or know that needs to be done as a doctor or neuroscientist to advance the science. As a neurologist, I know that medicine is much an art as it is a science. Perhaps even more than we realize. As with everything in life some have more passion and talent for the art than others.  This means a lot of trial and error (more for some than others) to reach the right combination of medications and treatments to make me (patients) better. However, as a patient and an Inpatient, one at that, I want to feel better yesterday and don’t like to have to feel like a Guinea pig when trying new treatments.

In this age of Obamacare, doctors are  under a great deal of pressure to see as many patients as possible in a short amount of time just to stay afloat in the business side of the practice – but as a patient no one wants to feel like just another number. We desperately need someone not only to listen to us as people with living with a chronic disease; but to also to understand our needs. This is where having knowledge of both is greatly needed to arrive at the right decisions in the care of any patient.  I am extremely glad to know there are new centers popping up in various universities like John Hopkins University that offer classes in ethics and decision making to prepare doctors, health professionals as well as researchers to understand the complexity of decisions that need to be made on a daily basis regarding others life’s.

Sure it’s easy to recommend no driving when clinically mandatory but what if this is the only person who drives in the family on whom everyone depends on for transportation for school, work, shopping, doctors’ appointments, extracurricular activities, etc. ? Of course this decision will be met with a great deal of antagonism more from the person being asked to quit driving as well as from the rest of the family; as opposed to a person  who is retired has no young kids and has others in family who can do driving!

After watching the heart wrenching story of ‘me before you’ based on the novel by JoJo Moyes by same name.I am torn even more as a physician and patient with the struggles of others and even my own wishes should I ever become in a state where there is no more quality of life. What is morally and Ethically correct does not always align with the patients’ or family wishes. Should we be allowed to play God? Who decides? When do we decide? Are there consequences to this type of thinking? Are our decisions sound? or emotionally charged based on what we may be feeling at the time?  Me Before You

There is no easy answer and ultimately we all have to make our choices based upon our convictions and religious beliefs. However, as a Christian and physician, I know for a fact that miracles do occur, that God always has the last say, that physicians make mistakes and new advances always in the horizon. Plus, I also know that we tend to make poor decisions when we are emotionally exhausted, fatigued and in pain. I have had enough pain in my life to know that it does not take very long before it begins to grate on your nerves and those around you. However, I have also learned that nothing, even the worst, pain last forever!

Therefore, it is important to always allow some passage of time and reevaluate your wishes and decisions because feelings and circumstances change. One should never underestimate someone’s will to live and fight either or vice versa. However, this does not mean we should give up, take our own life, or worst ask others to take our life. It’s one thing to stop medications, it is another totally different to stop feeding, watering, and oxygenated if needed to survive. Many times as a physician, I had to abide by families wishes on a patient that I would never have given up on and many other times I have wonder why we were forced to hang on to someone who was only existing. As you see I have cried many times for others. I cried so very much at the movie, I just mentioned, and was so extremely disappointed in the ending – which unfortunately has happened several times with people chronically ill who want to terminate their own lives.  Aside from the fact that he was euthanized, as a physician I found several problems with this. Seems like sometimes, as he did in movie, we (he made) make  a decision based on emotionally charged depression and frustration and others feel guilty about their own health and pleasing the invalid they go along with these irrational thoughts even if they themselves do not agree. Sadly, even when circumstances change they feel they must stick to a plan agreed upon and are not willing to allow for life’s variables such as love lifting depression to derail their initial thought. As a caregiver, team player, physician, and person with PD, I encourage everyone to reevaluate their wishes and desires every so often especially taking into accounts new treatments and new life’s circumstances.

For instance, I had a patient with severely advanced Parkinson’s disease who had tried everything and was now bed bound unable to swallow and was having trouble breathing due to severity of muscle rigidity. He was placed in the nursing home thinking he would be transferred to hospice soon after. Within a few weeks of him being there, Neupro patch came out, so I had to try. Would you know it that he was able to regain motor function, feed himself and ambulate on his own. He left the nursing home and lived the next 4 years to the fullest.

Remember, ‘as long as there is life there is hope’… immortal words from an ancient slave who became a writer. (Life of Cicero)

Sometimes is good to step back and re-evaluate disease from a different perspective even if it does not fit neatly into someone else’s idea of what life should be like with PD as long as you are living to your full capability- must continue as if cure was already on the way!

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all rights reserved – Maria De Leon MD

How to Become A Parkinson’s Woman Who Does NOT Quit!: By Maria De Leon

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I have  fought the good fight, I have finished the race- I have kept the FAITH!”

~2 Timothy 4:7

I feel like I have been gone from you a long time and perhaps by the standards of today where everything is done in a hurry and we want things yesterday…I have.

But, sometimes in order to continue serving and working we must take time to replenish our soul. So, this is precisely what I have being doing the last month and 1/2 to be a better motivational speaker and writer but above all a much better person. Of course, I took time to celebrate another wonderful year of life. I am particularly grateful to say I am getting to that age where age is just a state of mind and not an actual number since 10 years ago I was told I might not be around longer than 6 months!

All the traveling I have done over the last 7 months doing women & PD  work along with motivational speaking to various Parkinson’s groups has been a wonderful experience allowing me to meet all sorts of incredible women  and people across the country who are living with and caring for loved ones with PD.

You women are my source of inspiration- women like my friend Nan Little who despite having PD was able to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

What I have learned in my own journey of life and with PD in the last decade is that strong women NEVER quit on themselves or others no matter how challenging the task is or how though the going gets.

My own personal strength comes from my faith in God and believe you me when I tell you this is by no means perfect. I falter a lot and have to start over sometimes multiple times a day ….

I have learned 5 secrets which strong women who never quit employ- this from a Bible study on Ruth. Ruth was a woman who lost everything…her family, her husband, her friends and her own faith for a while but never let go of HOPE. I am sure many of you like me have found themselves in this situation.

What then must we do to Persevere?

When all we want to do is QUIT and hide under the covers or we simply just don’t FEEL like we can go on a second longer? 

#1 We must ACCEPT our present circumstances even if we do not like them. No one enjoys a hard lesson, having a hard life, or having PD. But, having Parkinson’s may be the way to a more refined life (happier, better you). I know that although I don’t wish I had PD I have become a kinder, nicer, more caring, more patient person than I was before.

#2 We must FOLLOW THROUGH despite our feelings. These days we give to much emphasis to how we feel and what we feel; but sometimes feelings can be misleading and can paralyze us. We must have enough discipline and conviction to keep moving forward whether we like it or not. This is what got me through all those years of struggling as a student with little money and little to eat because I had a goal to become a doctor! Even if I did not like the hours, walking across a deserted Parkway lined with homeless people at 3 am, in the middle of winter storm and had to walk across miles of plowed snow blocking side walks freezing my knee caps and face off –  I HAD to go! The same with PD. Sometimes we use it as an excuse to forgo commitments and become undisciplined in our life. Yet if we learn from a strong woman like Ruth despite her anger, despair, brokenness, and sadness she still went out to pick up the left overs in the field to eat.

I have discovered in my own life that when you are willing to follow through no matter what things just happen- you suddenly find yourself in the right place at the right time meeting the right people. That’s how I chose my undergraduate which led me to becoming a Parkinson’s specialist and found PDF who also led me to you fine women.

#3 We must Keep our hands OPEN. When you are accessible, people can come to you freely and can count on you. You can’t very well be a mentor to others or support others if you are not approachable and are mean, bitter and off-putting. Life will always be messy before it gets better.

#4 We must have emotional generosity It is easy to donate money or write a check or give of your time when everything is well and you have time to spare. But, what about giving what you don’t have? I once was going to a bible study of course I was running late as usual because my pills were not working, I was throwing up, I was having a hard time dressing and so on…you all have been there at one point or another. when I finally made it I was relieved to be there although was already feeling bad for not being able to come on time so I certainly did not need a sermon from one of the elder ladies who suddenly snapped at me for being tardy and pointed out to be that if she being an older woman could make it on time – I certainly could! of course, I’m don’t have to tell you that this did not suit especially since I was already feeling physically ill. although, at that moment I was feeling less than loving to say the least I held my tongue and asked her instead if everything was okay with her because she was not being herself? she broke in tears..  She had just being diagnosed with cancer! Needless to say, all my anger melted away instantaneously and even though I was feeling lousy I found somehow courage to stay with her and console her until she found relief. Interestingly, the more I gave of myself the more I found to give and ended up feeling better the rest of the day. The best way to have your needs met is to give others what you need!

#5 Finally, keep moving forward in faith even if you don’t see the end of the rainbow.. so many people have given up just before the crossed the finish line and this is a worst feeling to have. For some reason we women are the worst at this, we are impatient when we don’t see the desired results immediately but like climbing a steep mountain with winding treacherous paths, the best way to keep moving forward is one step at a time in the right direction and keep waiting!  I don’t want us to become like that famous woman who set out to row across the English channel and went on and on through all kinds of perils and overcome with fatigue, self-doubt and exhaustion gave up a few feet away because the fog had clouded her vision.

Cry if you must- but NEVER give up!

Sources:

5 habits of women who don’t give up by Niki Koziarkz

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all rights reserved – Maria De Leon MD

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.

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all rights reserved – Maria De Leon MD

Women & PD: by Maria De Leon

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My thoughts regarding my life with Parkinson’s as an MDS  mirrors those of a great warrior when she quipped  “it feels as if this life is not my life. It is a second life. People have prayed to God to spare my life and I was spared for a reason. To help others”…(with the same struggles)- MalalaIMG_1996

 

It has been a couple of weeks since I wrote down my reflections and introspection; but for a change rather than musing out loud I have been amusing myself meeting so many wonderful, valiant women with PD around the country. These women from Hawaii to Arizona have inspired me to continue advocating for women all around the world. They are evidence that the well rooted common public opinion regarding women as the “weak” sex should be reconsidered. Especially, when it comes to the notion of how women living with Parkinson’s should act within the realm of this progressive degenerative illness. Yes, it is true that still we have a great deal of work to do when at least a third of the world still treats women as property and as second class citizens; yet among each culture and ethnic background we find examples of women who are courageous beyond measure who are willing to stand up not only for themselves but for others. Women like Malala who despite her young age, she was willing to put herself in harms ways in order to defy conventional wisdom and the abhorrent treatment of women in her country earning her the Nobel Peace even at such a young age. Her story reminds us that a strong voice in the midst of adversity and imperceptible roar cannot be silenced.IMG_2001

Although, we are not in this country by any means putting ourselves necessarily in the path of death, as some women in other parts of the world are, trying to alter common place treatment of women within the medical confines – still takes a certain amount of bravery. To go against the firmly held beliefs of the masses requires discipline, fortitude, and incredible conviction …

As we are on the heels of Parkinson’s awareness month- I want to  encourage all women who live with PD on a daily basis to remember that their story is also my own. Thus, I am not unique in any fashion or form all I do is encourage other women to become empowered with knowledge and become self advocates of their own destiny and health care. There is great power in togetherness and standing unified in a cause for the betterment of all women and their health issues with PD. No longer do you as a woman with PD should face challenges alone unique to your gender since half of the population is of female gender.

Things to remember about PD in women –IMG_1982

  • Women tend to be diagnosed at least two years later
  • Hormones play a role – since early hysterectomy increases the risk of PD but also women who are menstruating have worse symptoms of PD during their menses and their period alternatively worsens due to having Parkinson’s
  • Women experience more dyskenisias than men; this could be due to increase sensitivity to side effects as most women are more sensitive to similar doses given to men but also because of the weight difference (more body fat in women- causing medications to linger longer in body)  and metabolism difference.
  • Women have more depression and men have more behavioral problems
  • Women although have less dementia then men they have worst quality of life overall. Perhaps, because they also have increased risk of strokes.

However, there is an increase in hope since women are beginning to bond and find ways to support one another, lift each other up and  advocate together for changes in the diagnosis and treatment of women with PD. For this reason we are working on getting a women support round table at this year’s WPC in Portland. Let me know if you are planning on going!!

Soon we will have flyers that you can share with others regarding  the issues women with PD face. Two sources already  exists – one is with http://www.pdf.org  and “life in balance” a newsletter for people & families living with PD provided by Parkinson’s support solutions (Azilect program) issue 1-2016 – http://www.parkinsonssupportsolutions.com ; 1-866-880-8582

 Join the team. Together we can #endParkinsons.