By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Actor Michael J. Fox once said, “I often say now I don’t have any choice whether or not I have Parkinson’s, but surrounding that non-choice is a million other choices that I can make.” Every Friday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, several local residents with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers make an important choice. They choose the friendship, support, vitality and hope offered by the Westborough Area Parkinson’s Support Group.
Twelve years ago, Tom Olson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Although he attended a Central Mass. support group and spent time online at the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research website, he found he needed something more. He wanted to be part of a daytime support group where he and his peers could contribute to helping each other better manage their disease.
“It started to impact my life in various and sundry ways,” he said.
When he retired from his volunteer position at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church – six years after he had retired from Stratus Technology – he decided to start the Westborough Area Parkinson’s Support Group in November 2014. It originally met in his living room. One day, when he and group co-leader Wendy Driscoll – who also has the disease – were watching a DVD about Parkinson’s, Driscoll said that it occurred to her that they “needed to move.” Defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement,” the disease causes people to look to regular exercise for some relief and health benefits. As they incorporated exercise into each meeting, the group grew.
“Pretty soon, we needed a bigger space to meet,” Olson explained.
Olson, a member of Good Shepherd, was thankful when the church provided space within its facilities for meetings. Because people with Parkinson’s generally have problems with movement, balance and speech, the group can now address all of these issues. Meetings include socializing, refreshments, discussions about health, wellness, research and medication, DVDs, singing and 30-45 minutes of Tai Chi, dance or exercise. About once a month, the group hosts a guest speaker.
“It is our belief that we can aim for health and wellness – and experience them – despite our medical diagnosis. Parkinson’s is progressive, but we needn’t be passive and watch it overtake our ability to move,” said Driscoll. “We want to be the best we can be, despite PD, and live life.”
Rose Lee, a Tai Chi instructor who co-leads the group with Olson and Driscoll, is a caretaker for her husband, who has Parkinson’s disease. Although she doesn’t have Parkinson’s, she is thrilled to be part of the group.
“They feel loved and free to talk and free to move,” she said.
The three co-leaders are happy to be bringing that freedom – along with support and hope – to people with the disease and their caretakers. While Driscoll mentioned that she enjoys helping others with what she called “an isolating disease” to “go strong into the future,” Lee said she loves being part of the “friendly, supportive environment” that is “very beneficial for people with Parkinson’s.”
“There’s clearly a need,” Olson added. “It’s wonderful to see people respond – and respond positively – and move on with their lives in a better way.”
Held at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church at 183 W. Main St. at 10:30 a.m., the group welcomes all people with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers. There is a suggested donation of $1 to $2 per meeting to help cover the cost of expenses. For more information, email [email protected].