Robin AKA “Pops”

“Dad & Me”

On October 25, 2013, my 36th birthday, we received confirmation on what my whole family likely already knew. My dad, Robin (AKA Pops), had Parkinson’s disease.

We all had been making jokes about it for years. His wife always light heartedly joked about his “Parkinson’s finger,” his pointer finger that always seemed to have a mind of its own, twitching and pointing away. And let me assure you, this was a joke we all laughed at. We like to laugh.

For several years before his diagnosis, Pops had started to slow down. This tall, strong, boisterous (in the best possible way), all-present being was now slow, stumbled with his words, and was aching after being on his feet for any amount of time. We thought it was the café, which he owned at the time, running him into the ground. Whatever it was, we all began to worry…

Pops retired in the spring of 2012. We thought for sure that we would get the old, funny, loud, energetic Pops back with the weight of this business off his shoulders.

I live in Boston, 1,200 miles away from my family who are all in Florida. So when my sister told me she and others were worried about him, I felt completely helpless, unable to assess the situation from this far away. Apparently people thought he may have had a mini stroke. His speech was slurred, and he always walked as if he was about to topple over. A 6’2” 240 lb. man is not someone you want to see topple over.

Finally Pops went to the doctors to have everything checked out. Because there is no actual test to diagnose Parkinson’s, the doctor basically observed all of the things family and friends had been observing for a couple years now. His limbs were stiff, he had trouble getting up and down, and he did NOT walk normally. All of the signs we had all seen, recognized, and dealt with by humor now had a name.

I was the first person my dad told about the official diagnosis after his wife. Although we had all, in the back of our minds, known, hearing the words was much tougher than I ever thought it would be. I’m not going to lie, I cried on and off for a couple of months after hearing the news, something that is unusual for me.

The worst thing about Parkinson’s is the not knowing. Not knowing how advanced the disease is. Not knowing how fast it will progress. Not knowing exactly if any medications will work. And being 1,200 miles away, the not knowing is even worse. You imagine the worst and search and search and search the internet for answers and you find nothing…so you continue to imagine the worst.

Pops, however, did not take the same approach I was taking. Immediately he contacted Humana to find out what WAS known and what he could do. He immediately joined Silver Sneakers classes at the gym 3 days a week and started going on walks lead by Patty, his Silver Sneakers “guru,” the other 2 days of the week. He started walking the dogs miles a day.

Exercise is the only “for sure” you get with Parkinson’s…well that, and your sense of humor!

Then, one day, he heard about Rock Steady Boxing at a Parkinson’s support group.

He signed up and waited about 6 months for the gym to open (Rock Steady Boxing at the Palms of Largo, Florida). From the first class he was smitten. He loved the people and he was having a great time. And then he started to feel better. He didn’t need as many naps, his balance got better and his speech improved.

Fast forward about a year, and he now takes three classes per week and volunteers for another three classes! Volunteering is almost as impactful to him as the actual exercise, as he watches friends whose symptoms are much worse than his improve greatly. It gives him hope, it gives him joy, and it gives him health.

Living so far away from my dad, I want to do anything I can to support him and this disease that has become a part of our family. The something I choose to do is to support Rock Steady Boxing in his honor. RSB has had an effect on him like nothing else. I feel like it is my duty to make sure that everyone with Parkinson’s gets the opportunity to experience the positive effects of RSB the way our family has.

Renee Hirschberg, January, 2017