What’s Your Secret, Michael J. Fox?

Photo source: Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research

Michael J. Fox has had Parkinson’s Disease for 26 years. Yet, he is still smiling. At 55, the father of four is happily married to actress Tracy Pollan, and his mind is still as sharp as a tack. Against all odds, he has continued to act, earning his 18th Emmy nomination last year for his role as lawyer Louis Canning on The Good Wife. His Parkinson’s foundation, meanwhile, has funded more than $700 million for research into Parkinson’s disease. This is all after doctors told Fox more than two and a half decades ago that he only had about ten good working years left.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a debilitating disease that affects neurons in the brain. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As PD progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally. Primary motor signs of Parkinson’s disease include tremor of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face; slowness of movement; rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; and impaired balance and coordination. So how is Michael J. Fox doing so well, after such a long bout of this awful disease?

According to Fox, he “laughs at his own symptoms.” That’s his secret. He also follows these six rules for surviving adversity (in his own words):

  • Exercise, especially if you have Parkinson’s disease. “We’ve learned it will prolong your ability to operate positively in the world.”
  • Pacing: “It helps me think — the physical motion creates intellectual motion.”
  • Acceptance: “It isn’t resignation, and it freed me to actively deal with and endeavor to change my situation. I like to say, ‘My happiness goes in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.'”
  • Honesty: Don’t remain silent or ashamed about illness. Once Fox went public with his condition, he says, “it was empowering to have people understand what I was going through — I immediately felt better.”
  • Optimism: “I hate when people say, ‘You’re giving them false hope.’ To me, hope is informed optimism.”
  • Humor: “I laugh at [my involuntary movements and the scenes they create]. There are times when I love these things.”

Muhammad Ali would Never Quit

What many people don’t realize is that 13 of Michael J. Fox’s 18 Emmy nominations and five of his nine Golden Globe nominations came after his diagnosis. That sounds impressive, but it aligns perfectly to how he’s dealt with the reality of his disease. One of his biggest motivators has been Muhammad Ali, who never gave up!

Muhammad Ali suffered from Parkinson’s for 32 years before his death last June. When Fox told the world about his diagnosis, Ali called him to say, “Michael, now that you’re in it, we’ll win this fight.’”

Another motivator was the feedback generated by Fox’s public embrace of his condition. Doctors reached out to him, and he reached out to doctors. The Parkinson’s community reached out to him, as well, and he felt empowered, knowing there were people who understood what he was going through.

It’s All About Attitude

Linda Maitan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 69. According to Linda, the doctor diagnosed it quickly, saying, “It is a degenerative disease, no cure and the medicines don’t work very well!” He sent her to a neurologist for a second opinion which was the same as his.

At first, Linda wondered how this could be happening to her. She was the healthy strong one who took care of everyone else. She never smoked or drank, and she watched her diet and exercised. Unfortunately, there are no answers.

She found the right medications, and moved closer to her daughter. She reached a resignation about her symptoms, which kept changing as time moves on. Although she is uncomfortable with the attention her symptoms cause, she controls her feelings remembering that she cannot change other people … only herself. She tries not to dwell on what others may be thinking.

According to Linda, the trick to living with Parkinson’s is keeping a positive attitude along with keeping one’s mind busy with hobbies. During the past four years, she has picked up oil painting, and has completed about fifty paintings so far. She gives them as gifts to family and friends and the activity helps her to forget her symptoms. She also loves caring for her house, reading, gardening and 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles.

She keeps moving and doing as much as she can. She feels as if her body is gradually going downhill, but the aging process is taking its toll too. She just lives in the moment … one day at a time.

Linda says, “(t)he longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company … a church … a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past … we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable.

The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you … we are in charge of our attitude!”

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month

Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating disease that affects neurons in the brain. Nearly one million Americans are living with Parkinson’s, and approximately 7 to 10 million people worldwide have the disease. Each year, 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and this number does not reflect the thousands of cases that go undetected. As you can see, it is important to have a positive attitude if you have PD, similar to Michael J. Fox, Muhammad Ali, and Linda Maitan in this article. To increase awareness, show support, and raise funds for a cure, millions of people around the world are recognizing April as Parkinson’s Awareness Month.

Do you or a loved one have a degenerative disease, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s?

At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and their loved ones. We can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs. We help protect your hard-earned assets while maintaining your comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring your eligibility for critical government benefits. Please call us to make an appointment for a consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888

Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435

Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041

DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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