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.

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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.

In­set pic­ture: GLENN FER­GU­SON

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