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Cookin’ up cash for Parkinson’s group

Thursday March 25, 2010

ChronicleHerald.ca - Maureen Brisson was horrified when she went online and looked at what was in store for her.

It was nearly eight years ago, and she had just been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.'

"I read all the things that were going to happen to me and I was terrified," the youthful-looking Bridgewater grandmother said of that chilling period.

But at 64, Brisson is more active today than most seniors — attending yoga, belly fit and zumba or Latin dancing classes at the Lunenburg County YMCA, as well as running the local chapter of the Parkinson’s support group.

Her limited movements, however, are a constant reminder of her illness, she said.

It takes her twice as long as it used to to whip up a batch of pancakes or bake a cake. Anxiety often builds up in her body, and her voice has changed as her throat has begun stiffening. Her fingers are less nimble, but that doesn’t stop her from doing her cross-stitch.

As Brisson talks about how Parkinson’s affects her, her right hand starts to tremble on the kitchen table, and her right foot taps rapidly on the floor. That happens, she explains, when she’s excitable.

A warm Christmasy smell emanates from the kitchen stove behind her and Brisson quite nimbly goes over to stir the pot. The dried fruit stewing in port — "the good stuff," she smiles — will be served this Saturday morning at a fundraising breakfast called Porridge for Parkinson’s.

That might not sound terribly appetizing to some, but Brisson said pour some maple syrup on it, enjoy some of her compote, and you’ll change your mind. The breakfast will raise funds for the Lunenburg-Queens County Parkinson’s Support Group.

After she was diagnosed, Brisson said it was a good six months before she got up the courage to tell her two adult daughters she had Parkinson’s. "It’s shaming. You don’t like anybody to know about it."

But once she started going to the support group meetings, she got to know other people like herself — some older, some younger — who were going about their daily lives and functioning quite well. "There’s no shame anymore," she said.

She learned a lot about her disease thanks to this group and the support it is afforded through Parkinson Society Canada. Brisson ended up becoming chairwoman of the group, which she said is a great help to her. "It’s necessary for those out there who are having difficulty getting information, and to come to terms with their disease. It gives you confidence and some strength to think they, too, might be OK."

Her Parkinson’s is progressing very slowly, but Brisson concedes her illness does take its toll and it’s hard to keep up the energy to run the group. Its members are hoping someone who is not directly suffering from Parkinson’s will take over the role of chair.

Just putting on the breakfast this Saturday is a challenge, she said, because most members of the group can’t help out in the kitchen or serve the food. They’re relying on friends and family to help out.

"I used to be able to whip up breakfast," said Brisson, but says her husband Fern is the one who makes the pancakes now, even though he is connected to an oxygen tube because of lung disease.

"It takes me oh so long to do anything," she said. Just to turn from one task to another, or to use kitchen utensils that are so familiar to her hands can take an age. But she did bake up a batch of peanut butter, oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies.

Brisson stays busy, and she stays active. But there is always one thought at the back of her mind — who’s going to take care of her when she can no longer care for herself.

Her daughters live in British Columbia and the native of Yorkshire, England, has no other relatives here. She married Fern eight years ago, and then they built their pretty new home. But Fern is quite sick and Brisson’s disease will progress. "I worry about the future," she said.

As she sees her guest to the front door, Fern comes over, the oxygen tube trailing on the hardwood floor behind him. "We live each day to its fullest," he said, smiling warmly at his wife as he puts his hand lovingly on the back of her head.