After being diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2002, Maureen Brisson became a crusader in raising awareness about a disease that affects more than 100,000 people across Canada.
The Willoughby resident's awareness and fundraising efforts didn't start overnight.
She admitted feeling shame, initially, about having Parkinson's.
Then she decided to take a much more proactive approach.
"I realized I could be helping others who couldn't come out of the closet, sort of thing. That's indeed what happened."
Brisson is volunteering at the Parkinson SuperWalk being held on Saturday, Sept. 7 in Pitt Meadows, manning the registration desk.
The fundraiser benefits Parkinson Society British Columbia.
In Langley, a SuperWalk is being held on Sunday, Sept. 8 starting at 10 a.m. at the Riverside Community Room (9273 Glover Rd).
Proceeds from the fundraisers will go towards research to find a cure for Parkinson's and to continue to provide programs and services to the roughly 11,000 people and their families who live with the disease in B.C. Parkinsons is the second most common degenerative neurological disease, after Alzheimer's. There is currently no cure for Parkinson's. The most common symptoms are tremor, slowness and stiffness, balance problems and muscle rigidity.
As Parkinson's advances, most people have to live between the daily extremes that range from constant involuntary movement to not being able to move at all.
Brisson considers herself fortunate to be afflicted with what she describes as a "slow moving type of Parkinson's."
"But nonetheless there are many symptoms I live with daily which can be difficult to cope with," she said. "One of the hardest is how slow moving I have become... everything takes so much longer to accomplish."
The medication she takes has held the disease at bay, relatively speaking.
Brisson says her diagnosis, at 57, put an early end to her career as an administrative assistant.
"My fingers wouldn't move across the keyboard. I typed for 40 years and they just wouldn't move. And when I used to go to meetings, I would start trembling.
I put that down to nerves." Maureen's doctor sent her to a neurologist, who could tell by her movements, and lack of movement, that she had Parkinson's.
It was a Friday afternoon, Maureen recalled, when she learned the diagnosis that would change her life.
"I was too young to have Parkinson's," Brisson recalled thinking to herself. "I knew nothing about Parkinson's. I thought it was an old person's disease and Michael J. Fox was an exception."
Depression is an occasional visitor.
Maureen fears her grandchildren "will never know the real Maureen because she sort of disappeared when the Parkinson's came along."
Following her diagnosis Brisson became the chairperson for the Lunenburg/Queens Parkinson Support Group in Nova Scotia.
As chair she spearheaded a successful Parkinson's Information Day, and the first Porridge for Parkinson's Breakfast in Nova Scotia, which is still going strong.
All the while, she helped to raise the awareness in the community regarding living with Parkinson's.
Born in Yorkshire, England, Brisson came to Canada in 1966. She lived in New Brunswick and Quebec, and called Bridgewater, N.S., home for more than 33 years.
In November 2012 Brisson moved to Langley to be closer to her daughters Philippa and Catherine, along with her two grandchildren (Philippa's twins).
"I feel blessed I was able to move to B.C. to be closer to my two daughters," she said. "My family will be so important to me as the Parkinson's progresses."
"I'm still managing somewhat," added Brisson, who last week visited the PNE, where she took in the Superdogs show. "I'm very independent. It was hard for me to come out here. But I realized I'd rather go [to B.C.] on my terms than five or 10 years down the road when I'm not in such good health."
While there are days Parkinson's makes Brisson feel closer to 88 than 68, the disease hasn't slowed her entirely.
Through the years she has volunteered for a number of organizations such as Big Brothers, HelpLine, South Shore Walking Club, fundfaising activities with her church, and was the last president of the Bridgewater Ladies Curling Club.
Brisson has been an avid runner and completed a marathon when she was 40 years old. She's also a curler and walker, and for the past couple of years has taken up the game of golf.
"That's been the key for me, is exercise," Brisson said, who added, "Everyone I've met since I came here [to B.C.] say, 'You don't look like you have Parkinson's.' There's an image there. But people who really have the symptoms stay indoors. They don't come out."
Since 1990, the SuperWalk has raised more than $22.8 million nationally to fund research, education, support systems, and advocacy for those living with the disease across the country.
Participants can register for the Langley SuperWalk at www.parkinson.bc.ca.
They can also register on site starting at 9 a.m. More online at www.langleyadvance.com
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