CHAMPs > Parkinson's CHAMP

November 2013 - Banana's Bunch

I have been married for twenty four years to a wonderful man, Stephen and have two beautiful daughters Claudette (21) and Natalie (14). My story begins with my mother, Candelaria who liked to be called Candy. At the age of 56, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD). My mother suffered with this disease for fifteen years. I watched how her health deteriorated both physically and mentally. When my mother passed away in February, 2005, my husband suggested that we do something in her memory. Through my research on the internet, I came across the Parkinson’s Unity Walk. I immediately signed up and formed a team called “Candy’s Angels” in memory of my mother, to raise awareness and funds to help find a cure. For seven years, I participated in the Unity Walk in memory of my mother.

In August, 2010, I started to notice pain in my upper right arm and I was unable to move my fingers on my right hand. I started to get frustrated because I am right-handed and I wasn’t able to grasp objects. My handwriting started to become small and jerky, and my right arm did not swing anymore.

This went on until February, 2011. The pain became too intense and I developed a tremor along my right side. I went to see my doctor who then referred me to a neurologist. I saw three neurologists that year. The first neurologist, who treated me for seven months, couldn’t give me a diagnosis. My symptoms were getting worse. I started to think I might have Parkinson’s disease. I mentioned this to my first neurologist because of my family history. He told me “No, that’s impossible.” So for my own sake, I went for a second opinion. The second neurologist examined me and within 45 minutes gave me three different potential diagnoses. He told me it could be one of three different neurological diseases - CBD (Corticobasal degeneration); PLS (Primary lateral sclerosis); or PD (Parkinson’s disease), and sent me to see a movement disorder specialist for further evaluation. This specialist confirmed it was PD. My husband comforted me by telling me not to compare myself to my mother, “Parkinson’s affects people differently and you are more active and exercise more than your mother did.”

I was completely devastated. How can this be? My mind was flooded with questions. Why me? For years, I was told that PD wasn’t hereditary. I have two older siblings and they are not affected. Later I would find out that my paternal uncle also had PD. I have it on both sides? Again, why me? I was angry because I always took good care of my health with proper diet and exercise.  

I told my family and my in-laws of my diagnosis and they were very upset, especially my daughters who saw how their grandmother suffered. Now their Mother has it. Most importantly, they questioned whether or not they may get the disease. This is another reason why it is so important to raise awareness and to find a cure.

How do I deal with PD? I exercise regularly under the supervision of my movement disorder specialist. I have fallen in love with cycling and do some weight machines for strength. It helps me a lot. I have become friends with people at the South Orange Family YMCA who are going through or overcame some form of illness and we have created our own unique “support group.” I look forward to seeing these people every day. I take each day one at a time and most importantly, always look at the brighter side of life.

Every year, I look forward to the Parkinson’s Unity Walk. It’s one of the things that I hold close to my heart. It’s very emotional for me to be part of this Walk. I started participating in the Unity Walk in memory of my mother and now my family and friends walk to support me. As of April 2011, my team has a new name. We are now called Banana’s Bunch. Why this name? “Anna Banana” has been my nickname since kindergarten and it kind of fits my personality. The Walk is a great opportunity to visit the informational booths, speak to doctors, find out information on the latest advancement in treatments, and most of all, to spend the day with people who support and love you.

I have Parkinson’s disease but Parkinson’s disease does not have me.

Anna Costa
Team Captain, Banana’s Bunch