When I was growing up, my favorite actor was Michael J. Fox. I had a big crush on him, both as the super-cool time-traveling Marty McFly from the “Back to the Future” films and as Alex P. Keaton, the young conservative obsessed with ‘80s values of wealth and power, in the TV show “Family Ties.” (I probably would have also loved him as a werewolf in “Teen Wolf” if I had ever seen the movie!) So apparently flaky behavior, differing worldviews, and supernatural cannibalism don’t really matter to me: I just love Michael J. Fox!
Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with (incredibly) early-onset Parkinson’s in 1991. He was only 29 years old. He describes the life-changing difficulty of this diagnosis in his book, Always Looking Up, writing:
In 1991, I learned the truth about the barely perceptible tics and tremors and aches and pains I had been experiencing over the course of the previous year, that they weren’t the physical graffiti of hedonistic excess or athletic misadventure, but the symptoms of a progressively debilitating disease for which there was no cause and, even worse, no known cure. My world as I knew it had changed in the instant the doctor pronounced my condition. (p. 179)
Parkinson’s disease, as Michael writes, is a lifelong and progressive disease without a clear cause and with no known cures. The disease occurs when brain cells stop making dopamine, which leads to issues with movement, speech, facial expressions, and more. It is a very, very difficult diagnosis for individuals and for all those who love them. It’s estimated that more than 1 million people in the US, and 6 million people worldwide, suffer from Parkinson’s, including my grandfather (of blessed memory) and my dad.
In 1998, Michael J. Fox started his public campaign for increased Parkinson’s research, which resulted in the founding of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. This Foundation, which the New York Times has called “the most credible voice on Parkinson’s research in the world,” has funded over $1 BILLION dollars in research on Parkinson’s disease!
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research offers many ways for you to participate in helping to find a cure for Parkinson’s! You can donate any amount of money—and 88 cents of every dollar goes to fund research. You can participate in a community fundraising event near you by using their website search tool to find the nearest bike race, marathon, community event, and more! You can volunteer to join a clinical or observational research study—they need people with and without Parkinson’s to participate! And you can advocate for your representatives and policy-makers to support Parkinson’s research and care at the state and federal levels.
Above all, we must stay optimistic and have hope. In his most recent memoir, No Time Like the Future, Michael J. Fox reflects on his daughter’s virtual high school graduation in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He writes, “We can all take something positive from the class of 2020; to accept what has happened in the past, to embrace the present, and to remain open to the probability that it will get better in the future.” (p. 231)
Thank you, Michael J. Fox and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, for making the world a better place!