Carers in touch
When Ruth BrinklerLong was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 48, her whole family went into shock. But Ruth held her emotions together and promised she wouldn’t let Parkinson’s beat her. Four years on, Ruth says in a strange way, Parkinson’s has done her a favour. “The shock diagnosis made me realise there’s more to life than money or work. Now, I wouldn’t change my life for anything. I get huge satisfaction from trying to support other people with Parkinson’s.” Ruth wants to encourage other people facing any life-changing diagnosis that there is always something positive to come out of a difficult situation.
Ruth had experienced severe pains in her shoulder and noticed that her righthand side was weaker. She thought nothing of it and continued working in her job at John Lewis, where she had been employed for more than 30 years.
She and her husband, David, enjoyed life to the full but eventually the pains got so bad, Ruth’s GP sent her for a series of tests. She will never forget the moment when a hospital consultant called for David, pulled the curtains around Ruth’s bed and told her she had Parkinson’s disease.
“It was a huge shock. I couldn’t take it in. The consultant told me not to look up anything on the internet, apart from on the official Parkinson’s website, otherwise I might scare myself. Of course, I took no notice and by the time I got home from hospital, I had convinced myself that I would very quickly be in a wheelchair.”
After a few days, Ruth made a plan to cope with the changes in her life and make the best of them, so she took early retirement from the job she loved. Today, she is a shining example of how someone in the prime of life has faced a devastating diagnosis but used her situation to help others. She is chairman of her local Parkinson’s support group and often helps out at national events. But she’s the first to admit it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
“I find it very hard to get going in the mornings and my brain wants to do more but my body won’t let me. If I have a low moment, I give myself a talking to and tell myself that a lot of people are worse off than me.” She’s also a firm believer in exercise to help keep her symptoms at bay and does three classes a week including Pilates and Tai Chi. She wants to encourage people with Parkinson’s and their carers to get in touch with their local group. “People are often reluctant to join a group because they think it will be all doom and gloom, but we have a lot of fun and laughter. If you look at me, you wouldn’t think I have Parkinson’s, but I do, and it helps talking to other people who understand. “Strangely enough, having Parkinson’s has been the making of me. I want to make a difference and I’m determined to do that.”
■ World Parkinson’s Day is on April 11. Call 0808 800 0303 or visit www.parkinsons.org.uk
‘Having Parkinson’s has been the making of me’
Ruth has used her diagnosis to help other sufferers