Steven Sommer was a 35-year-old doctor when he was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrom. Now he is battling Parkinson’s disease and has written a book about dealing with illness.
THERE’S not many 47 year olds that would feel relief at a Parkinson’s diagnosis. But Dr Steven Sommer did. Forced to take a 10-year break from work to battle the misunderstood beast that is chronic fatigue syndrome, the Geelong man said news of the progressive neurological condition Parkinson’s felt like a diagnosis that family and friends would at least “accept”.
Now, the Highton resident has penned his personal and professional experiences in a new book 20 years in the making.
Finding Hope — When Facing Serious Disease follows his complete role reversal from full-time doctor to long-term patient.
Though he couldn’t foresee how the subject would transform, the idea for a book first occurred to him while he was working as a senior lecturer at Monash University and running meditation classes at the medical clinic he was employed at in the evenings to help patients manage their stress.
“I was seeing some amazing results in terms of people’s health ... and I was interested in how the mind affects the body’s health and published some research papers reviewing that topic,” he said.
“I found that the mind has a powerful effect on all aspects of our being, we separate them by mind and body when in fact they really interact together all the time.”
The experience peaked his interest in more holistic medicine and soon he was presenting to groups of doctors, nurses, high school students and people from all walks of life.
He played a role in the formation of the Australian Integrative Medicine Association and took on the job of president of the Whole Health Institute of Australasia; a non-profit, holistic health educational organisation but, by the time he had started to write a book about his findings, his own health took an unexpected turn.
Dr Sommer had been unwell for a few years with irritable bowel syndrome and found himself becoming increasingly tired.
“Normally I was exercising and swimming a kilometre in the pool three times a week and gradually I found I had to swim less and had to rest between laps,” he said.
“I was having to sleep all weekend before I could have the energy to get back to work on Monday.
“It was a gradual thing that then had a very dramatic end. I was totally exhausted and sleeping 16 hours a day. It was a very difficult time.”
In 1996, aged 35, he was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and forced to resign from his job looking out for the physical and mental needs of others, to f focus onn his own health.
Dr Sommer and his wife Tori, both originally from Melbourne, spent a few years living in Western Australia before returning to Victoria.
“We lived in Apollo Bay for seven years thinking that being in a lowstress environment would help me turn around,” he said.