By Pat Lawson-Black
“IT was about 22 years ago,” says Mark Pitman.” I was washing the car and my hand just stopped dead.” His wife, Lizzie Bloom, smiles and adds a little colour to his sentence: “Mark’s a real rev-head. He loves his bikes and cars.”
So, when his ritual Saturday morning car wash was interrupted so rudely, the couple knew it was time to head for the doctor’s surgery. And that’s how they found out – Pitman, who was then in his mid-40s, was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease.
“Parkies” is a tricky thing to nail down. There is no definitive test or method of diagnosis. It takes a combination of skill and experience on the part of a GP or neurologist, and a knowledge of the symptoms that are most commonly presented.
It has been a long and eventful journey for this devoted couple to arrive at this point. We first met them at the newly convened Peninsula Parkinson’s Peer Support group which meets on the first Tuesday of each month in Mornington.
Pitman had always been Action Man. “He ran and swam and loved the gym,” Bloom says. “He still cycles, but his bike now has an extra wheel and an electric motor.”
It is obvious that you can’t keep this guy down, but between bikes there have been surgeries, including DBS, deep brain stimulation, a 10-hour operation which was in its early days in Victoria when Pitman underwent it.
DBS typically works best to lessen the debilitating motor symptoms of stiffness, slowness and tremor – and it was successful in helping to flatline his symptoms.
Now skip to the present and we find Bloom and Pitman living happily in Mount Eliza, surrounded by friends, and with an interesting and active lifestyle.
Several months back the couple attended a lecture on Parkinson’s and met up with others in the audience who were going through the same challenges. Members of this diverse group found comfort and support in sharing their stories and continued to meet.
It was inevitable that others would be attracted to this vibrant couple and before long, with several others, they formed a more organised group which has gone on to formalise their meetings and activities.
“Parkies” is a serious business, but there’s a lot of laughter at the meetings.
While the disease presents some unusual challenges, members of the group say they find it amusing to relay their individual stories to those in the same position. It feels good to download to the like-minded, good to compare symptoms, good to share tips and tricks that have made life with the disease easier.
The group has grown to around 30, many of them couples. “So much so that we have formed our own version of the WAGS (wives of high-profile sportsmen). We are the WOPS (wives of Parkinson’s). We meet at the local pub, and nothing is off limits,” Bloom says.
The group has become a much-valued support group within a support group.
The peninsula group as a whole prefers not to use the phrase Parkinson’s sufferers, opting instead to use the more positive Fight Parkinson’s.
More than two decades on, when asked what their advice would be to those newly diagnosed with PD, Bloom and Pitman say, in unison: “It’s simple. Keep moving.”
Fight Parkinson’s Peninsula Peer Support Group meets at 2pm on the first Tuesday of the month at Mornington Community House, 3/91 Wilson’s Road, Mornington.
Inquiries to Phillip Hancorne on 0487 352 190 or Ken Wall 0412 561 786
For further information contact Fight Parkinson’s on 8808 0400, or visit fightparkinsons.org.au