I’m constantly asked, “Aren’t you angry that you missed out on so much in life? That things could have been different?” My answer is always the same. “No. Had I received a correct diagnosis at a young age, my life would have been very different.”
I have no doubt that had I been diagnosed with Dopa Responsive Dystonia (DRD) right from the start, I would have gone to a different college, never met my amazing husband, Steve, and wouldn’t have my three children. This weekend I realized it’s much more than that. I am changing lives. I, Jean Abbott, am changing lives by sharing my medical journey.
It all began when I received my correct diagnosis. I began writing my memoir, Misidagnosed: My Thirty-Year Struggle with a Debilitating Disorder I Never Had. A friend suggested that I begin blogging. I had no idea what a blog was, but Google steered me in the right direction. I soon became a contributor to The Mighty, was asked to give an interview to the UK Daily Mailand the next thing I knew the Today Show was knocking on my door asking me to share my story with the world. It was whirlwind; I was excited, yet I was petrified. I’m not a public person. And I’m not one to share my innermost thoughts with just anyone. In fact, I wasn’t sure if I could do it. Could I share my life’s struggles with millions of viewers? Though prayer, I quickly realized that I had to. I knew that if I shared my story, it would help at least one person. Surprisingly, it has helped many, including Sue Pascale.
Sue’s sister-in-law watched my Today Show interview and thought my medical journey seemed very similar to Sue’s. Sue, who was diagnosed with CP as a young child, was in her 50’s. She needed 24 hour care and was looking at nursing homes because she was having trouble eating and breathing. Her husband, Tom, watched the segment, and thought my gait was similar to the teenage Sue he remembered. Tom and Sue reached out to her doctor and she began a trial of L-dopa. Within an hour of taking the miracle drug, Sue began noticing that the tremor in her face had ceased. Within two hours she was able to change the channel with the remote, which that she hadn’t been able to do in a very long time. In time she was even able to walk.
My husband, Steve, and I were able to meet Sue and her husband, Tom, this weekend. Meeting Sue was life changing for me. I knew that I was changing lives. I was giving others hope. But, when Sue’s husband Tom asked me, “how does it feel to know that you saved someone’s life?” I knew that I had to keep sharing my story, that it was for something. Just that morning, I had told Steve that I wasn’t sure I should keep speaking, blogging, Facebooking, etc. because what’s the point? How is it really helping others? And is it worth taking time away from my kids, my husband.
Every day I talked with God. I’d give him thanks for His blessings and often times ask for patience (yes, I can be impatient). When I was talking with Steve, I secretly prayed to God to tell me if I should continue sharing my story with others. I told Him that “I need a sign.” Boy, through Sue, He really showed me the way.
I share this with all of you, because I want you to know that at times I too second guess my purpose in life. I question what God has in store for me. I wonder, am I doing the right thing? Am I making a difference in the world? And of course the answer is, Yes! Not just for me, but for you as well. God has a plan for each and everyone one of us. At times, we may question it, but if we keep the conversation with God going, we can feel His love and understand His plan. I now truly believe that this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. And I will do everything in my power to never second guess God's plan. Thank you, Sue and Tom for this gift!
At the age of 7, I attempted to ride a horse and failed. And when I say that I failed, what I really mean is I’m lucky I wasn’t seriously injured. In fact, I felt like a cowgirl doing tricks at the World’s Toughest Rodeo would be an understatement. The horse I was on took off running and I had lost complete control and I found myself holding on for dear life...on the underside of the horse! I swore that I’d never get on a horse again, until the following summer when a friend begged me to go horseback riding with her. I told her that it was something I couldn’t do, but she had so much faith in me and assured me that I would succeed the second time around. So, I faced my fear and got back on the animal only to find myself on the underside once again as it galloped down the dirt path. As terrifying as this was, I soon learned to tell the story with much laughter, but I knew that I would NEVER ride again. No matter what!!! Or so I thought.
Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to the staff at True Friends, a camp whose mission is to “provide life-changing experiences that enhance independence and self-esteem for children and adults with disabilities.” While I was honored to share my message of trust, positivity and gaining a better appreciation for the little things in life, they were able to help me overcome my fear of horses!
Prior to taking the stage, I met with their True Strides staff (Shari, Linda, Kim) who assisted me with a one hour horse therapy session. They were incredibly patient, friendly, supportive and just as excited to help me face my fear as I was to overcome it! I not only got on the horse, but I did so without hesitation simply because I knew that these wonderful woman would keep me safe. Thanks to the staff at True Friends, Riding Kal was an amazing experience that I soon won’t forget.
It’s no surprise that adults and children come from all over the United States to experience the magic of True Friends! I encourage you to check it out; maybe it’s just what you need to put an extra smile on your face this summer.
Isn’t it funny how life can turn out? And isn’t it amazing how a challenge can turn into an amazing gift?
As I approach my 7th anniversary of my correct diagnosis, I can’t help but think about how much I have changed these past few years. I have forced myself to try so many new things that seemed down right scary to me. Many of these fears have forced me to go out of my comfort zone.
When I realized that my new medication of L-Dopa was working, I was more scared than excited. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of what I was actually physically capable of doing independently. Walking to the mailbox that first time had my head spinning with doubt, yet I had to give it my best shot. I couldn’t fail myself. And the only way I would see it as failure was to not try and simply continue living my life as though I still had Spastic Diplegia, CP. If I didn’t make it, I could try again later. All I knew was that I had to keep trying. But not all of my new adventures were trying to tackle physical obstacles.
About three years after receiving my Dopa Responsive Dystonia (DRD) diagnosis, I was asked to speak to a group of medical students. Because I was never one to say “no” and loved trying new things in my crazy new life, I eagerly said, “yes!” I actually surprised myself because I’ve always had a fear of public speaking! I was the girl in High School that would be physically ill with the thought of standing in front of the class talking to my peers. Here’s the thing, I LOVED it!
For the first time since receiving my DRD diagnosis, I realized that I could share my medical journey and help others in the process. Initially, I saw it as a way to educate medical professionals about DRD, since few doctors have ever heard about it. But, I quickly realized that it was much more than that! I was able to give others hope, when they had given up. I was able to encourage others to appreciate the little things in life, when they were feeling overwhelmed with all the stresses of a busy life. And, I was also able to motivate others to face their fears and work hard to achieve their lifelong dreams and goals.
I can’t help but thank God, for giving me the strength to really use my struggles to help others. I am grateful that I continue to face my fears because it helps me to see how strong of a person I really am. I may not be perfect and doubt myself at times, but I look to the heavens and realize that with God by my side anything is possible.
I have another question of the Week for you: When did I realize that I was cured
For those of you who suffer from Dystonia, I can only imagine what your thinking. Stay calm and take a look. I'm about to set the record straight.
I've decided to start a weekly Vlog. Each week, I will answer one of your questions. Here's the very first question
My children have always come first in my life. I love everything about them and am so grateful that despite my physical limitations, I was able to become a mom.
As I was getting ready for bed last night, the photo on the wall caught my attention.
My husband gave me this picture over 10 years ago (before my Dopa Responsive Dystonia diagnosis). He knew how much I loved our daughters and saw me in this photo, which is so incredibly sweet.
Back in the day, I loved to look at this photograph and imagine being able to walk hand in hand with my girls, but knew deep down in my core that day would never come. Or, so I thought.
Life is full of surprises. These days I wake up feeling like the luckiest mom in the world. I can do things with my son, that I never dreamed possible with my daughters, which is why it's so important to stay positive and never give up hope.
Miracles do happen and they can happen to you! Never give up!
Can you imagine living the majority of your life trapped in your own disabled body only to be freed because of a misdiagnosis? That was me. That was my life.
Quite often I’m asked questions like, “Aren’t you angry that you missed out on so much in life?” or “How do you stay so positive?” and “would you have needed all those surgeries if you had received a diagnosis of Dopa Responsive Dystonia (DRD) as a young child?” These are all great questions, but I can’t believe that no reporter, individual listening to me speak or friends have ever asked, “How did this affect your brothers?” Honestly, I don’t know for certain how they felt about all of this, but I do know that it affected them immensely growing up.
My limited mobility had a huge influence on what we did together as a family. When we visited National Parks, we never went on a hike, much less a long walk to get the perfect family photo. When we visited water parks, my teenage brothers would go off on their own so my parents could take me for a quick round of mini golf, ice cream and a few souvenir shops. And when we had no choice but to get to a destination by feet, my brothers would take turns giving me a piggy back ride. This was just a part of our normal lives. At the time, I never gave it a thought. But as an adult looking back, I realize all the sacrifices they made simply because their little sister had a knee-knock walk which made it impossible to participate in any activity that most kids loved and looked forward to.
Truth be told, they got the short end of the stick the day I was born. Yes, I may be the one who had to physically deal with spastic arms and legs day in and day out, but so did they! Why is it that no one ever thinks about that? Or is it just me? Why didn’t I ever think about how it affected my brothers? I guess I was just doing the best I could to get through life.
So to my brothers, I have to say Thank You! I thank you for your unconditional love. I thank you for never showing me how frustrated you must have been for all the times I held our family back. But most of all, I thank you for treating me like a normal sister! I am blessed to have you both in my life!
As many of you know, I live in the great state of Minnesota! Or as my mother-in-law says, "Minne-SNOW-ta."
The day began with rain and we all knew that it would be turning into snow by 2pm. As I ran my errands, I heard so much grumbling. Ugh...Snow or I'm not ready for this! And the most common, the traffic is going to be horrible!
I get it, snow can cause many inconveniences: delay in travel, more work (shovel/plowing the driveway), and slippery sidewalks, but you don't have to join in the negativity. You have a choice! You can look out the window and curse mother nature OR you can embrace it!
If you stop and look at the "white stuff" and I mean really STOP and look at it, I'm sure you will see so much beauty. As it slowly begins to stick to the trees, it changes everything. It's a new beginning. Are you willing to make this the year that you don't complain about the weather? Is this the year that you don't join in on the negativity? Or is this the year you finally book that trip to Mexico? Do whatever you've got to do to stay positive this winter! The choice is yours!!!
There is so much I want to tell you, yet I know that you won’t believe the half of it. I know that this has been a difficult year for you as you deal with your sick Grandma, the stress of college and trying to maintain your mobility. I just want you to know, that no matter how hard life gets, it WILL get better. You are going to be amazed by how wonderful your life turns out. Don’t ever lose your positive attitude and don’t ever give up HOPE!
The next time your mom tells you that you will get married and have a family of your own, don’t roll your eyes at her! She’s right when she says, “You’ll end up with the nicest one of all.” Despite all the physical challenges you deal with everyday due to your Spastic Diplegia, there is a wonderful man you will meet in college who will not only become your best friend, but he will choose you to spend the rest of his life with. He doesn’t care that he has to help you walk. He doesn’t care that he has to help you shower, brush your hair or even assist you to the bathroom. He loves you because you are positive, happy and don’t ever focus on your inabilities.
So, I know you always thought you’d never have children, but would just be the “fun” aunt. I gladly want to tell you that is wrong! In fact, you’re going to have three happy, healthy children. The first two pregnancies are going to be very challenging, both mentally and physically because of the spasticity you deal on a daily basis, but the third pregnancy will be a breeze, which brings me to the most exciting part of this letter. You’d better brace yourself. Are you sitting down? Of course you are.
Here’s the BIG news:
When you are 33 years old, you are going to be told that you have been misdiagnosed, be given new medication and will be on your way to living an independent life. I don’t expect you to believe this, because some days I still don’t believe it myself. So on those days where you feel like it’s just too hard and that family and friends may be better off to have you stay behind, remember this: Don’t ever give up, because miracles do happen. I know this because I’m 40 years old and I’m not in a wheelchair. I’m not in a nursing home, I’m not alone. Instead, I’ve got a family of my own and I can take care of them. I know that you’re having to deal with a lot to get to where you are today, but it’s so worth it!
You wanna know the best part? You’re going to start blogging, you’ll publish a memoir called Misdiagnosed, My Thirty-Year Struggle with a Debilitating Disorder I Never Had, and in doing so you will help 20+ people from around the world get a correct diagnosis, just like you.
So, Jean, I want to tell you to hang in there. Life will not only get better, it’s going to become amazing. Stay strong and NEVER give up!
Jean (the 40 year old you)
I spent my entire life trapped in my own disabled body (thinking I had Spastic Diplegia), unable to do simple everyday tasks that others took for granted, only to find out that I had been misdiagnosed. At the age of 33, I was given a whole new life! As a result of my new treatment for Dopa Responsive Dystonia (DRD), everyday I was doing something new and exciting. Not adventures thriliing to most, but certainly to me. I had never put a frozen pizza into the oven, driven my kids to their activities and hadn’t showered independently in years! Yet, these were my adventrues on my new medication of L-Dopa! And all I could think was, if I went misdiagnosed all these years, then surely there are others out there trapped in their spastic body just like I was. I knew that I had to put myself our there in hopes of “rescuing” others.
Yes, I blog about myself. Yes, I share the excitement about completing simple tasks, that most tweens have already mastered. Yes, I talk about my struggles and that this new diagnosis is “not a cure.” And Yes, there are people out there who think that I am only sharing my journey in hopes of being in the public eye. To get another story, simply for the attention or money. I must tell you, I’m not paid for the interviews I give, but yes I want my story picked up in the media. It’s not because I want the attention. It’s because every time my story makes it into a magazine, news paper or news show, I’ get an e-mail from one of their viewers…
“I am 42 years old and was just diagnosed with Dopa Responsive Dystonia due to your article in The Mighty.”
“At age 37 I have just been started on Sinemet. Your story got me looking into the possibility of no longer fighting to walk. I was first diagnosed with CP around age 12. I am happy to report it feels like a band that has been tied around my legs has been cut.”
“Jean! I am weeping tears of joy right now! My cousin was just here….in person….which is saying something as she was nearly completely immobile and left home only when necessary. Our family has had a MIRACLE! “
“We are grateful to you because without your story, my wife would never know the improvement she has so far achieved. “
“One of my doctors was watching cbs when your story aired. She immediately called me saying she thought I was misdiagnosed. I started the medication 3.5 weeks ago & it has helped me greatly.”
“I walked in front of my mom and older brother this weekend. My mom was so excited she videotaped it.”
“I read your article and I felt as it I was reading about my self…. I have been on it (Sinemet) almost six months now and it is amazing, confusing and emotional. I can walk almost without a limp, I am not tired all the time and my balance is improving. I am going to physical therapy monthly and can’t believe the change (either can my neurologist and P.T.)”
And sometimes, my blogging doesn’t assist in a correct diagnosis, but it offers HOPE to those who no longer have any…
“My daughter’s biggest fear when she was in that wheelchair was— how could she ever get married? She sobbed crying asking how will I get down the aisle? Will one of my bridesmaids have to push me? Who would want to marry me if I am in a wheelchair? These are such hard questions to have to answer to your own child. Your blog gives people hope when Doctors don’t! Thanks so much for spreading the word on Levodopa and reminding us all to count our blessings. Today you are one of mine.”
These are just a few of the reasons why I put myself out there. I find it stressful to be in the media at times, and that plays havoc on my DRD symptoms, but in doing so I have helped 20+ people receive in receiving a correct diagnosis of DRD. When I open up my e-mail and see that someone is walking for the first time, it makes all the added symptoms worth it and I can’t help cry tears of joy. Yes, I understand that some may see my blogging as selfish, but please understand I only do it to help give others the freedom that I now have. And to me that is an amazing gift!