Local resident hopes to establish Parkinson’s support group
Five years ago, Missy Strunk and her family were at Gatlinburg’s Rod Run enjoying a relaxing and fun-filled April weekend when she suddenly began experiencing severe headaches. Not realizing that her life was about to change dramatically, Missy returned home only to begin experiencing tremors in her arms and legs a few days later. After a year filled with CT scans, MRIs, appointments with doctors, and worsening symptoms, Missy was finally diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“It was something I would never have dreamed would happen to me,” she said of the diagnosis. “People should never take things for granted. I was one who did. I look back and wish I had done more of the things I enjoy.”
Now, in retrospect, Strunk remembers how, at times, her hands were just a little shaky,
“I chalked it up to just being tired,” she remarked. “People need to get checked if something is wrong. Go to the doctor and don’t overlook small symptoms. Life is too short.”
April is designated as Parkinson’s Disease Awareness month. According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic and progressive movement disorder involving the malfunction and death of needed nerve cells in the brain, called neurons. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As Parkinson’s progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally.
As many as one million Americans and an estimated seven to ten million people worldwide live with Parkinson’s disease. 60,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed every year. While the average age of onset is 60, approximately four percent of individuals are diagnosed before age 50. Well known actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed at the age of twenty-nine.
Parkinson’s is characterized by tremors, slowness of movement, rigidity or stiffness, and poor balance and coordination. Additional symptoms may include pain, dementia, fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, urinary problems, and anxiety.
There is no current cure for PD, however, knowledge is growing and researchers are making advances in understanding the disease. Treatment options include medication and surgery to manage symptoms.
For Strunk, the symptoms of Parkinson’s have manifested themselves thus far primarily in the forms of shaking, short term memory loss, fatigue, and sensory deprivation. Strunk, who always stayed active by working and doing for others, has found it difficult to receive help from others with simple daily chores. Prior to beginning treatment and getting her medications regulated, she often needed help to just feed herself.
“If I don’t take the medicine correctly, I shake, rattle, and roll,” Strunk says with small laugh.
Strunk, who also suffered a mini-stroke last year, depends on medication and physical therapy to help treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s. However, at her last doctor’s visit, Strunk’s suspicion that her tremors have progressed was confirmed.
“All of my tremors had primarily been on my left side and head,” Strunk explained. “But I have noticed some tremors in my right hand, primarily when brushing my teeth and feeding myself. I hoped it wasn’t true but the doctor confirmed the tremors in my right hand.”
Strunk finds great comfort in continuing her work in the community to help others.
“I’m trying to get out more,” she stated. “I’ve never been embarrassed about getting out, but it is just so hard physically. I want to stay active in the community because I know God has a reason and purpose for me if I can still help others.”
Strunk depends on Facebook as a communication tool for her many community projects. Strunk works diligently to supply backpacks, blankets, and coats to those in need. She hosts three special events for the residents of Cumberland Manor each year and is active with the Garden of Hope. She is also instrumental in the “Thinking of You” basket program which distributes special “pick-me-up” baskets for cancer patients who are going through treatments. Strunk and Michelle Marnhount were very active in the “Angels” Christmas gift program.
“Our community has been great to help those in need,” Strunk commented.
Strunk’s current goal is to establish a Parkinson’s awareness support group. With the nearest support group being in Bardstown, Strunk would like to establish a group in McCreary County that would also serve surrounding counties.
Strunk remains upbeat despite her battle with Parkinson’s.
“I would give so much to do the activities I did before Parkinson’s,” she voiced quietly. “However, I know there is a reason for this. Maybe, through my sickness, I can help someone else. One thing I miss so much is cutting grass at the cemeteries where my grandparents are buried and feeling like I’m doing something for them. A lot of people would complain about cutting grass, but I miss it. Those are the little things you miss the most.”