A retired Gulf Harbour business consultant has written a new novel based on her experiences since being unexpectedly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease four years ago.
Mary & Me by Robyn Cotton is about two women with Parkinson’s who live 200 years apart – Rose, whose story is based on Robyn’s own journey, and Mary, who lives in London in the early 1800s, when surgeon James Parkinson first observed and described the neurological disorder.
Robyn decided to write the book last year during lockdown to share what had helped her to cope since her life was turned upside down. She had been seeking a cure for a tremor in her arm when she was first diagnosed, but didn’t think at the time she was old enough to get Parkinson’s.
“I suppose I suspected it, but when I was diagnosed it was still a shock because I considered myself too young – I was in my mid-50s,” she said. “But it was early onset Parkinson’s.”
Once she had recovered from the initial bombshell, she was determined to find out as much as she could about the condition and how she could slow its progress. She carried out extensive research and found that two of the most important things were diet and exercise – more specifically, a low-carb keto or fasting diet and a wide range of different exercises to stimulate the brain.
Robyn gave up her consulting business to focus on fighting the disease and her efforts have paid dividends – she took up an extensive exercise programme and even completed an Outward Bound course for ‘Parkies’, her nickname for fellow patients.
“I’m doing really well. After four years, I feel really good, I feel strong and fit and comparatively well compared to where I might have been,” she said.
She believed that without making the effort with her diet and fitness, she would be in a very different place, not least since Parkinson’s slashes levels of dopamine – a “reward” chemical – making patients prone to depression, lethargy and apathy.
“It became a passion of mine to persuade people with Parkinson’s to live positively. At the end of the day, it’s a choice we have to make,” she said. “Stuff happens and we often can’t control it. You can’t stop it happening, but you can control your response to it. And I think we can control fear, but you have to set your mind to do it. Fear is like darkness – you can shine a light in.”
Robyn wanted to share her experiences and educate people, but not in a self-help book style. As she had already written one novel – A Skylark Flies, about a girl assaulted on her OE to Scotland, and based on her own experiences – she opted for the same genre.
“I wanted to do it in a creative writing style and make it an easy book to read to be informed,” she said.
Parkinson’s disease is the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world, with cases predicted to double in the next 20 years • Approximately 1 in 100 people over the age of 60 have Parkinson’s disease and the average age at diagnosis is 59 • One in 20 people with Parkinson’s first develop symptoms under the age of 40 and men are one and a half times more likely to have it than women • Constipation and a loss of smell can be early symptoms – one theory is that it starts in the gut or olfactory gland • Parkinson’s is caused by degeneration and loss of nerve cells that produce dopamine. Lack of dopamine can prompt a range of symptoms including stiffness, tremors and depression • Parkinson’s is not just a movement disorder – it can affect the nervous system, blood pressure, swallowing, bladder function, the skin and sleep patterns • The cause is unknown, though research is focused on potential triggers such as pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals and head injuries • There is no known cure, but drugs and treatment can manage symptoms • Exercise maintains mobility and there are indications it may alter the trajectory of the disease. • No two patients are the same – everybody can experience different symptoms. Info: www.parkinsons.org.nz/
Win This Book
Hibiscus Matters and Robyn Cotton have two copies of Mary & Me to give away. To enter the draw, ‘like’ Hibiscus Matters on Facebook and message us your name and contact phone number with Mary & Me in the message. Or, write your name, address and daytime phone number on the back of an envelope and post to Mary & Me Giveaway, Hibiscus Matters, 21 Florence Avenue, Ōrewa 0931.
Entries close Friday, June 4. Mary & Me is published by DayStar Books and costs $28.95. It should be available in local bookshops, but if you buy direct from Robyn she will donate all proceeds to Parkinson’s projects, email email@example.com