Optimism persists despite Parkinson’s diagnosis

Amanda Jess
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STELLARTON – His hand shakes, not out of nervousness – instead, a symptom of disease. His wife grabs his hand to stop the tremor as he continues to describe the support he receives.

Dennis McGee can always count on his wife to hold his hand as it shakes, a symptom of Parkinson’s. The Stellarton man will walk in an upcoming fundraiser in Alma. AMANDA JESS – THE NEWS

For every negative thought Dennis McGee voices about his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2009, he has 10 positive comments to make – whether it’s about the volunteers at the support group he attends, the organizers of the Parkinson’s Superwalk, or his co-workers and employer.

“I could mention names, but there’s too many of them,” he says of the many people involved with the support group. “They’re there to listen to you and help you out.”

Over the course of an hour and a half interview at his home in Stellarton, McGee spends most of it praising those close to him, choosing to focus on the good in his life.

It was McGee’s wife, Gail, who first noticed the 62-year-old show signs of Parkinson’s five years ago when his thumb and forefinger started rubbing together.

“It just didn’t seem right. It was out of the blue.”

It took several months until he was able to see a neurologist, and by that time, he had already diagnosed himself with the neurodegenerative disease due to his symptoms and his family’s medical history.

“I made a joke about it. I had already decided (that’s what it was), so it wasn’t a surprise.”

On top of his tremors and slow movements, he also experiences dystonia – a disorder causing involuntary muscle twisting and contractions that can go hand in hand with Parkinson’s.

He still takes a lighthearted approach, inspired by his older brother’s ability to stay strong during his struggles with Parkinson’s and other illnesses. He smiles as he says his co-workers call him ‘shake and bake’ or ‘shaken but not stirred.’

He suspects continuing to work has slowed the progression for him, keeping him in shape because of the physical aspect of his job at Eastern Tire.

His productivity has dropped, he says, but his employer understands.

“They know what to expect from me.”

McGee has become a bit of a spokesperson for the local fundraising walk in Alma, and he knows once his name hits the newspaper again, he can count on his pledge sheets filling fast, mostly from co-workers.

“I never even tried (to get donations),” he says, adding that the generosity of those around him resulted in $500 being raised for education, support, research and advocacy.

Last year, walks across the Maritimes raised $152,000.

He’ll be walking in this year’s Superwalk on Sept. 13 at Northumberland Regional High School.

Registration begins at 1 p.m. while the walk starts at 2 p.m.

 

Amanda.jess@ngnews.ca

On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda

 

Sidebar:

 

What is Parkinson’s disease?

 

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease, affecting cells that produce dopamine, a chemical that carries signals between nerves in the brain, and control movement. There is currently no cure. Symptoms can be treated with medication and therapy.

 

Symptoms can include:

-       tremor

-       slowness and stiffness

-       impaired balance

-       rigidity of muscles

-       fatigue

-       soft speech

-       problems with handwriting

-       stooped posture

 

Information from Parkinson Society Canada

Organizations: Eastern Tire, Northumberland Regional High School, Parkinson Society

Geographic location: Stellarton, Alma, Canada

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