First Person

Staying engaged
By Marc Bellefeuille

As 2006 was drawing to a close, I noticed that something was not right, especially when I was running. I have always tried to keep in shape with a core set of activities – running, hockey, cross-country skiing and cycling. In fact, sports are an important part of my socializing with friends. So when I started a new job, in early 2007, I was thrilled to discover that some of my colleagues also enjoyed running.

However, when we went running at lunchtime, a few times a week, I began hiding the fact that my leg would get stiff barely seven minutes into our run. And on the way back to the office, I often tried to conceal that I was limping. In addition to these subtle physical changes, I found it increasingly difficult to keep up with conversations in social and business settings.

In my bid to find out what was going on, I went to a physiotherapist, a chiropractor and finally to my family doctor who sent me down the path of X-rays and MRIs, all of which came back negative. Then, in October 2007, I had an appointment with an EMG specialist* who referred me to Dr. David Grimes at The Ottawa Hospital. In November 2007, at the age of 45, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

My first reaction was a kind of denial. I kept searching the Internet to see if anything else could be causing my symptoms, until someone said to me, “What if it is some other disease, what will you do then?” That brought me back to accepting the diagnosis.

I attended my first Parkinson’s support group meeting in January 2008, and introduced myself, uncertain of what to say, but I listened to the discussions. By the next meeting, I had the perfect intro. My wife, Tracy, had pointed out similarities between Michael J. Fox and our family: aside from the Parkinson’s connection, our wives have the same name, our teenaged sons have the same names and we each have a set of twin daughters. The parallels served me well when I made a presentation at the recent Perspectives on Parkinson’s event in Ottawa.

In retrospect, 2008 was a year of adjustments, as I finally settled in with a stable cocktail of medications and overcame the challenge of sharing my diagnosis with family and friends.

My family keeps moving forward, with the support of new friends with Parkinson’s and the core set of friends we socialize with regularly. Tracy and I have even tried something new – ballroom dancing! In May 2009, our family participated in the Ottawa Race weekend, a 5-kilometre race where, with the help of friends, we raised money for Partners Investing in Parkinson’s Research.

Throughout it all, I remind myself of the importance of staying engaged. My work in the field of information technology is a key part of that. I consider myself lucky that I can still do many of the things I did five years ago, albeit, in a more adaptive way. Some days, I find it difficult to get going, but then I remember a friend’s advice and vow not to let this disease define who I am.

(*An EMG specialist uses an electromyograph, a complex apparatus for nerve and muscle testing.)

Marc Bellefeuille and family at the 2009 Ottawa Race Weekend, raising funds for Parkinson's research
Marc Bellefeuille and family at the 2009 Ottawa Race Weekend, raising funds for Parkinson's research