Living life on one’s own terms

Trinda Tarling shares her journey to mark Parkinson’s Awareness Month in B.C.

To mark Parkinson’s Awareness Month, Wasa resident Trinda Tarling shares her journey living with Parkinsons’s for the last 15 years. Photo courtesy Trinda Tarling.

To mark Parkinson’s Awareness Month, Wasa resident Trinda Tarling shares her journey living with Parkinsons’s for the last 15 years. Photo courtesy Trinda Tarling.

Trinda Tarling has always been a competitor, whether in sports like soccer or with board games around the family table.

But for the last 15 years, Tarling has been determined to live life on her terms following a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.

“It was what was handed to me and I either had to make the best of it or the worst of it. So I had a choice and I made my choice to do my best, not be a victim and feel sorry for myself,” said Tarling, in an interview.

“It was really important to me to set an example for my boys.”

Tarling, a resident of the Wasa community northeast of Cranbrook, was diagnosed 2008 while living in Ft. St. John in northern B.C., working as a registered nurse with a focus on wound care.

She first noticed her right hand would get stiff, and had slurred speech “once in a blue moon,” prompting a trip to a specialist in Prince George, thinking initially it could be carpal tunnel syndrome — a condition when tendon tissue in the hand swells, putting pressure on the median nerve.

That was not the case, touching off months of research where she self-diagnosed Parkinson’s, while connecting with a neurologist from the University of British Columbia who confirmed her suspicions two years later.

April is recognized by the Parkinson’s Society of B.C. as Parkinson’s Awareness Month, which aims to raise awareness and spread the message that the disease is more than just a tremor.

Furthering public understanding is critical for early detection and diagnosis, as well as reducing stigma and discrimination, according to the Parkinson’s Society of B.C.

“When someone is in an “Off” period, which describes a time frame in which medication is less effective in symptom management, for some, completing a task that most would find simple, such as paying for groceries with a credit card, can become very difficult,” says Jean Blake, Chief Executive Officer of Parkinson Society British Columbia, in a news release.

“In this instance, people may make assumptions that an individual’s tremor or dyskinesia is brought on by alcohol impairment or another controlled substance. Exercising compassion and understanding in any situation where someone is experiencing challenging symptoms is key – we never really know what someone is going through in their lives.”

Approximately 15,000 people in British Columbia have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the second most common neurodegenerative disease behind Alzheimer’s disease.

Immediately following the diagnosis, Tarling said there was a dynamic shift in her life, as she had to make one of the hardest decisions of her life to leave her nursing career.

As a self-described obstacle that she overcame, it also meant working through a grieving process of losing a career identity and social connections in the workplace.

But she dove into being a full-time mom to her four boys — Matthew, Thomas, Benjamin and Paul — and got more involved with their activities and community volunteerism.

She worked out feverishly with a personal trainer a few years ago and competed in Tough Mudder events and ran a half-marathon, and is in the process of getting back into an exercise regime.

Studies have shown that exercise can help maintain balance and mobility, meaning that it can help ease symptoms and even slow progression of Parkinson’s.

Tarling draws support from a close circle of family and friends and her church congregation, both in Ft. St. John and locally in Wasa, as she and her husband, Rick, relocated to the area four years ago to be closer to her parents and two adult sons and their families who have settled in the Kootenays.

That also includes being close to two grandchildren; a 19-month old grandson and a granddaughter who just arrived a few weeks ago.

“Being around my grandson right now is…everything leaves me,” she said. “I just see him and I don’t have Parkinson’s, I don’t have anything.”

In terms of breaking myths and addressing stigma, Tarling cautions that Parkinson’s is not singularly diagnosed in seniors and that it can present in younger folks, as she herself experienced.

Some symptoms can interfere with motor functions and cause slurred speech, which can give a incorrect assumption that someone with Parkinson’s is under the influence.

Also, as per the Parkinson’s Society of B.C.’s awareness campaign, not everyone has a tremor; in fact, only 25 per cent do.

While there are the good days and not-so-good days in managing Parkinson’s symptoms, Tarling said says she has lived her life with it, but has never let it get to her.

Over time, she’s recognized and cultivated an internal strength — one she was committed to modelling for her family and four sons.

”I think you have to be some type of a warrior to battle these awful diseases and I’ve realized how strong I was. Looking back — and my kids now, they’re all grown adults — I’ve had a couple of them say, ‘mom, you’re like the strongest person I’ve ever known’

“And that is one of the sweetest compliment anybody could ever have and knowing I laid that foundation for the kids…I’m not one to put myself out there and say ‘look at me’ but it was really nice to hear that, that I found my inner strength.”