As you may have heard, I have hard news to share. After a battery of tests, my physicians have informed me that I am suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the very disease that bested my father.
For the last three years, I have felt some of the effects. I have found it increasingly difficult to perform routine tasks. Getting around became more of challenge. Now I know why.
Parkinson’s is an incurable, progressive disorder of the nervous system. It affects movement and often mood. More than 1 million Americans live it, with 60,000 diagnosed each year. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s. Men are more likely to contract it than women; the elderly more at risk than the young.
There is no cure for Parkinson’s but there are plenty of ways to slow its progress. For me, the diagnosis is not a stop sign, but a warning light that I must make lifestyle changes and dedicate myself to physical therapy to slow the disease’s progression.
This diagnosis is personal but it is more than that. I will use my voice to help in finding a cure for a disease that afflicts 7 million to 10 million worldwide. I plan to visit pharmaceutical companies and research centers to learn what is being done and what is needed to move forward.
I have fought for universal, affordable health care for years. With Donald Trump’s budget calling for unconscionable cuts in medical research and disease prevention, and with the House Republicans voting to eliminate the tax deduction for families with high medical expenses and continuing to try to roll back health care coverage, millions of families will be injured. Health care in this rich nation should be a right, not a privilege. People suffering from cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s and other afflictions should be able to focus on their medical challenges without having to worry about going bankrupt.
My habits must change, but my commitment will not falter.
On July 17, 1960, I was arrested, along with seven other college students, for advocating for the right to use a public library in my hometown of Greenville, S.C. That day changed my life forever. From that experience, I lost my fear of being jailed for a righteous cause. I went on to meet Dr. King and to dedicate myself to the fight for peace and justice. Now at 76, I’ve come too far to turn back now. I’d still rather wear out than rust out.
I will continue to work on behalf of the “least of these.” I’ll continue to try to instill hope where there is despair, to expand our democracy, to comfort the stranger, to free innocent prisoners across the world. As a civil rights advocate, I faced clubs and hoses, jail and hate. As a presidential candidate, I faced a deluge of assassination threats. I’ve been blessed with a long life while others were taken from us. Each challenge, each threat, each loss only made me redouble my efforts. This diagnosis jarred me, but it won’t knock me down.
I want to thank my family and friends who have rallied to my side. I will need your prayers and graceful understanding as I undertake this new challenge. As we continue in the struggle for human rights, remember that God will see us through, even in our midnight moments. These times are troubled. We are tested once more, but together, we will Keep Hope Alive.