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Debbie Grubb: Invincibility gives way to realization

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Bernard Shaw once said that "youth is wasted on the young." I don't know that I agree entirely with his philosophy, but I understand what he meant.

When we are young, we believe we are invincible. It doesn't matter if we drive too fast or experiment with things that are better left untested. We believe we will live forever. The future is wide open. Tomorrow will come another time.

We don't think about danger or the consequences of our decisions. We ignore our parents' advice because we don't believe they understand what it's like to be 13 or 17, or whatever age we are. And when parents ask their children, "What were you thinking," the obvious answer is, they weren't.

With each passing birthday, I am finding the notion of invincibility being pushed to the background as reality propels its way forward.

Reality reminds me that breast cancer is common among the women in my family. So for decades, I have been doing the proper testing while preparing myself mentally for the moment when I would find it necessary to have the breast cancer discussion with my doctor. I was ready to hear the diagnosis and fight the battle with whatever weapons were available. I was prepared for breast cancer.

I was not prepared for Parkinson's disease.

When the symptoms started manifesting themselves early last year, I didn't think much about them at first. I was a little frustrated at the difficulty I was having signing my name or writing a note in a greeting card, so I either shortened the note or eliminated it entirely. I found it easier to print in capital letters, so my grocery lists were at least legible, even if it did look as though they were screaming at me.

But as the months went by, during my daily workouts at the gym, I noticed the left side of my body, my nondominant side, starting to get stronger while my right side was getting weaker. I started tripping because I was dragging my right foot. And then, my right arm started to tremble.

It took about 15 minutes of research on the Internet to put the pieces together. I was overwhelmed. I didn't even know anybody who had Parkinson's, except for the mother of a close friend -- and she was much older than I am -- and actor Michael J. Fox.

I prayed that it would be something else. Some nerves that were pinched or some problem with one of my vertebrae or a bulging disk. But deep in my heart of hearts, I knew what my doctor was going to tell me. And on that October day, my life was changed.

Parkinson's disease is not exactly what I had planned for the rest of my life, but I suppose God has other plans. I know He travels this road with me, so I cling to that. I will have bad days and good days, and my prayer is that as the years pass, my disease will progress slowly, and that I will have many more good days than bad and many more good memories to treasure. I know things could be much worse.

I also know that while this road will have its share of potholes, it is lined with a support network that I am thankful to have. My patient, loving husband, Mike, is right with me, as are my family and friends who pray for me and will be there to help me navigate this obstacle course and set me straight.

As my sister Jean said, "On those days when your body fails you, and you feel like you're falling, always remember that I am right behind you, ready to catch you." Invincible love. That's all we can ask for.

Debbie Grubb lives in South Charleston. She may be emailed at debg1214@aol.com.


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