Fiona Morsink Ryan was totally unprepared for her diagnosis.
Understanding all her test results were clear, in 2016 the mum-of-two went to see the neurologist by herself, expecting a routine appointment. In fact, her life changed that day.
‘She told me I had Parkinson’s,’ Fiona remembers. ‘Age 46 it was young onset. She was very positive and said there were lots of new drugs and research being done, but of course I was in massive shock. I called my husband and broke down.’
From having a slightly stiff left arm a few months earlier, Fiona was now being told she had a degenerative and incurable disorder that would gradually inhibit her movement and could lead to dementia.
‘I knew it would get worse, but nobody knew when or how quickly. The not knowing made it even harder,’ she tells New Idea.
‘I’ve got two boys still at school, I was working full time, we were moving house. It was all very stressful.’
Telling her sons, Owen, now 15, and Toby, 11, was hard and she still doesn’t know how much they understand.
‘They are always there with a hug if I need one,’ Fiona smiles.
She was prescribed a raft of medications to manage her symptoms, which now include stiffness down her left side and shaking hands.
‘I realised stress makes it all worse, so we are already having to adapt our lives,’ says Fiona.
‘I’m trying to move out of the corporate world where there has been little support for my condition, and we are looking for a smaller home.’
It’s also made the family reassess what’s important, and travel dreams are no longer shelved for retirement.
‘I don’t know how I will be in five or 10 years’ time so we have to do things now,’ Fiona says. ‘It’s hard to rise above the stress, and Paul and I worry a lot, but we also have to try to enjoy life now, while we can.’
Parkinson’s is typically seen as a condition affecting older people, but around 20 per cent of those affected are of working age, and many are in their 30s and 40s, says Fiona.
‘It’s been hard for my mum,’ she adds.
‘She keeps saying she’s so sorry I have this, but of course it’s not her fault. Nobody knows quite how it’s caused. We don’t have any family history.’
Two years on and Fiona is still very much coming to terms with all the unknowns of her condition, but she is also busy fundraising and assisting in any clinical trials.
‘I’m happy to put my hand up as much as possible,’ she says.
‘I have to hope there will be a cure in my lifetime, but I also can’t rely on that.’
Parkinson’s is the second most common neurological disease in Australia after dementia, with 32 Australians diagnosed with the disease every day.
For World Parkinson’s Day on April 11, the Shake It Up Australia Foundation launched its Pause 4 Parkinson’s campaign with the aim of raising awareness.
The foundation was established by Clyde Campbell, a father-of-three who was diagnosed in 2009 at age 44.
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