Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying

gary(2)This quote from The Shawshank Redemption keeps Gary Bowsher climbing mountains, both literally and figuratively, even though he has Parkinson’s Disease.

Shortly after his diagnosis in 2007 at the age of 52, Gary read a newspaper article about “The Top Ten Fire Lookout Hikes in the Pacific Northwest.” So far, he has checked-off eight of them, including the ones on Pilchuk, Granite, Baker, and two on Mount Rainier. He may not be the fastest walker on the trail and sometimes he needs a helping hand but, “my feeling is that you need to keep moving, even if it hurts,” he said. “I’m going to live every year as if it’s my last.” In that spirit, Gary flew down to walk seven miles of the LA Marathon with his sister to make sure she completed the race.

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a degenerative disorder of the nervous system with no known cause and no cure, as of yet. The prognosis for PD sufferers is not good as the disease inevitably progresses with time and causes a lessened life expectancy. The best hope for people with PD lies in the ongoing research efforts. Michael J. Fox, who has had PD since 1991, has raised both awareness and lots of money for the cause. “Hope is very important,” as Gary says.

Gary has never exhibited the shaking or tremors that most of us think of as Parkinson’s; rather, his symptoms are stiffness, rigidity, and difficulties with walking and sleep. The onset was insidious: Gary was enjoying a stroll with his father-in-law, happily oblivious to the fact that anything was wrong until it was pointed out that his right arm wasn’t swinging when he walked. Gary then started noticing that he couldn’t shave or brush his teeth with that hand either, and over time the other symptoms reared their ugly heads.

Although there is no cure for PD, very good medications are available that provide symptom relief, and doctors often prescribe supplements such as antioxidants. Gary eats as many fruits and vegetables as he can, although he is especially famous for ordering apple pie as his first course in a restaurant. Regular exercise is recommended, hence Gary’s walking regime.

Just as Michael J. Fox’s dignity and activism in the face of his disease have inspired so many, so has Gary’s “Just Do It!” attitude. Gary’s continued optimism, zest for life, and love for his family are daily miracles. That he is an inspiration to everyone around him I can personally attest to, because Gary Bowsher is my brother.

© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth

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Catherine Auman is a Los Angeles psychotherapist specializing in transpersonal psychology, also known as spiritual psychology.

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