On June 4th I participated in the American Parkinson Disease Association Optimism Walk in Seattle and it was an extremely rewarding experience. Not only did I do this walk with my brother, who has Parkinson’s, but also discovered the generous support of my co-workers- Team Synapse.

This story starts in 2007 with my brother, Dustin, who was diagnosed with Young-Onset Parkinson’s disease in his early 30’s. In the 5 – 7 years after his diagnosis it seemed like he was successfully managing the disease and it appeared to me that this was more of an inconvenience than something that greatly affected the quality of his life. In the last couple of years though, I’ve seen this change and it is starting to look less manageable for him. Dustin sometimes can’t will his legs to move when he wants them to, leaving him temporarily stuck in doorways or elevators. The motor symptoms are the most obvious symptoms of Parkinson’s, but there is a host of other, non-motor symptoms, that most people don’t see that can be even more challenging to live with. Naturally, I have learned much more about this disease than I did before my brother’s diagnosis. What I haven’t been able to do is to learn how to accept it. I’ve also had difficulty deciding how I can best support my brother as his condition worsens.

Something unexpected happened several months ago that helped me come to terms with Dustin’s disease. I knew the Optimism Walk was scheduled for June and Dustin asked me if I was going and would my company match my donation.  Synapse was in the early stages of setting up a charitable giving program, but it wouldn’t be ready in time for the Optimism Walk. A few Synapsters bravely suggested we establish our own team and raise funds ourselves. Honestly, my initial thought was, well if we raise a few hundred dollars and show a sign of support at the walk that would be cool.

The five of us established a goal of $7,000, which seemed highly, “optimistic” to me. I was amazed to see my fellow Synapsters fly into action and start raising money.  One raised money playing games of pool, another tapped into her social network. I took my turn at playing pool, donated some money and picked up some great tips. I spoke with one Synapster who shared a very personal story about Parkinson’s in his family which allowed me to feel supported as well. Many Synapsters rose to the cause, and in the end, together we raised $4,387 and placed 4th overall in highest team donation.

I was amazed! I couldn’t believe what the team had accomplished. I was so proud of my team and Synapse when I walked with Dustin that day. My brother has taught me how to have strength and hope in the face of adversity. My co-workers at Synapse have reminded me to take the time to be mindful and compassionate. I finally felt like I was able to support my brother in a way I haven’t been able to before and it makes me want to do more to support other Synapsters with their causes.