It started with a tremor in her right hand, a little tremor. And the loss of interest in books.
For Erica, in her 60’s, with a history of physical activity–swimming, skiing, hiking, biking, the tremor was incidental.
A nurse in her professional life, she paid attention to it. Finally, at the Toronto Western Hospital at a movement disorders clinic she was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease.
“I was in denial, which can be very useful,” she says. “I didn’t really know what was going on. Frankly I’d had other symptoms but I thought they were menopausal… bladder urgency, no sense of smell, changes in my sleep pattern, lifelike dreams, a bit of depression, very emotional, lack of concentration… typical traits of the middle-aged woman moving to the next phase.”
While medication has taken care of most of the symptoms, the tremors continue, and they attack various parts of her body.
But, Erica is carrying on. You might say…
You might also say she’s shouldering the load that is her health and all that brings, as well as the load of doing something about it. Loved deeply by her friends, Erica and a girlfriend from nursing training in Montreal 45 years ago, partnered up and joined a number of Barrie friends and decided to tackle 20,000 feet straight up Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, Africa.
The five women (Jocelyn Green, Joyce Lindsay, Reta Currie (Erica’s nursing friend), Sandy Bokalam and Erica began to gather sponsorships for their climb and targetted Parkinsons Research as the recipient of the funds. To date they’ve raised almost $40,000. What’s really interesting is how Erica felt as she joined her friends, walking sticks in hand, to make the climb.
“We go very slowly so we acclimatize to the lack of oxygen. You’re never out of breath like you would be from running because you’re breathing deeply and heavily and you’re walking. I’d breathe and meditate, in a way, like I learned in yoga… a special kind of breathing that puts you in a rhythmic state.
It was a case of one step in front of the other. With each step Erica carried with her the faces of people who supported her in this climb… her husband, Jim, her kids Andrea and John, her grandchildren, her friends in Barrie and elsewhere.
“The place is stark. It’s an old volcano and the earth there is raw.” It took seven days to go up. It took two days to come down.
And now that she’s back, she’s involved in a research project on Parkinsons. A disease of the brain, Parkinsons throws a series of challenges that are different for each of its targets. Cognitive problems. Fatigue. Balance. (that’s the one that Erica’s really struggling with) The symptoms vary patient to patient but the challenge is the same for everyone.
Erica is philosophical as she talked about her her life. She looked back to the 70’s when she and friend Roberta Beecroft designed workshops for women at the Barrie Y, celebrating being moms with kids. With enthusiasm for her friend Kathy Irvin she continues to volunteer with Hospice Simcoe. Erica looks ahead with the optimism that has taken her through her life so far… “I’ll be doing everything that comes along.”
The Kilimanjaro climb, however, is the life lesson… if reaching the peak had a sense of exhilaration with it, that had to come from the soul. The peak was completely fogged in, fighting wind and blizzard snow. “We couldn’t see a thing.”
Erica looks back on the climb and talks about how much fun they had, cared for by two guides and 20 porters. She’ll remember the laughter, the challenge, the achievement. “It’s not the summit that counts; it’s the journey. Our trek made that very clear.”
PS You can get up close and personal with Erica’s climb by going to: http://bit.ly/kilimanjaro2011