The Parkinson’s diagnosis at the age of 44 knocked the wind out of Joe Renaud and his wife Sarah. What began as a twitch in his thumb turned into a world of questions, concerns and fear as they wondered what a diagnosis of Parkinson’s meant – and what it would bring.
As they started their journey of education and discovery, Joe began to realize that perhaps the Parkinson’s diagnosis was not as bad as other news he could have received. Having lost friends to cancer, there was some relief to Joe knowing that he did have some control over the hand he had been dealt. And deal with it he did.
Memory loss and difficulty focusing quickly became the main symptoms that Joe experienced, and as a result, he had to leave his job as restaurant manager. He is grateful for the role he had at the restaurant because it was where he met his wife Sarah, a woman Joe proudly states is the one person that, “he couldn’t have gone through all this without.” He also gives thanks to his other top supporter, his son, Adam.
Joe tires easily. He cannot do as much as he used to, and has to take his time with many simple tasks. Setting priorities on what does and doesn’t get done on any given day, Joe knows that in time it will get done. He plans his days differently than he did prior to starting his Parkinson’s journey. Some days it takes longer to get going, and with others, the depression sets in. He accepts and understands those changes and challenges and he remains positive and active. Joe continues to enjoy his two passions of fishing and cycling, but at a somewhat slower pace.
Learning about the Parkinson’s walk in 2009, Sarah suggested family involvement and from there the team of ‘Renaud’s Raiders’ was born. On average, six to ten friends and family members walk together at each annual event. In eight years, Renaud’s Raiders raised over $40,000 for Parkinson’s programs.
Joe and Sarah also began an annual springtime pasta dinner event to raise awareness and support for Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario. A dedicated group of almost 200 friends and family gather every May at the Royal Canadian Legion in Windsor for a night of good food, games and camaraderie to show their support of Joe and all he has accomplished.
At a recent event, Joe decided to give his annual speech a personal twist and talked about ‘a day-in-the-life’ of living with Parkinson’s. He shared many of his experiences with tremors, how people perceive and look at the shaking hands and stumbling legs, the helplessness he felt when he was diagnosed, the stares, and on occasion, the unnecessary unfriendly comment.
He shared a story about an evening out with Sarah and friends where he was walking through the lobby alone and stumbled. Security, quite loudly, questioned how much Joe had been drinking. Joe calmly explained he hadn’t been drinking at all, and told his story. Disappointed with the way he was treated, Joe called the facility the next morning to discuss the situation with the manager and stress the need for employees to be sensitive to the needs and restrictions of others, and not to just assume that alcohol, or something worse, is the cause. Joe received a written apology for the incident and a complementary dinner-for-two gift card. Joe then received a far greater gift later that month when he learned that all employees of that facility were going to be participating in sensitivity training, which would teach everyone to be more aware and supportive of all individuals.
Joe considers himself an ambassador for Parkinson’s. His personal mandate is education. “If I can educate someone every day, then my job is done. There is nothing wrong with a trembling hand. There is nothing wrong with how we walk.” He also attributes much of his success to the incredible support system he has with his family, friends and the medical team.
In closing, Joe wanted to share a quote by Michael J. Fox. “One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but cannot be taken away unless it is surrendered.” We all have a choice.