When a psychiatrist told June Brunson her husband Norris’ anxiety, masked expression and tremors were caused by Parkinson’s, she acted swiftly, entering him the very next day in a trial study for medication to slow the brain disorder’s progression. The retired office manager was not nearly so quick, however, to accept that she needed support to handle the changes her husband’s diagnosis meant for both their lives.
After two years denying that her husband’s deteriorating condition was exacting an emotional toll on her, Brunson heeded the advice of doctors and joined a support group near her Oceanside home offered by the Parkinson’s Association of San Diego. In the 11 years since, not only does she attend meetings regularly, but she was honored last weekend for her volunteerism and inspiration as a “Local Hero” at the Davis Phinney Foundation For Parkinson’s Victory Summit. The daylong event at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad provided information about advances in medical research, exercise and other ways to live well with Parkinson’s.
Brunson remembers being very quiet in the first few meetings she attended. More and more she realized she wasn’t alone in the challenges she was facing caring for her husband.
“At first, I just listened to what the people in the group were saying was happening in their lives, then I started to look at my world and think, ‘Well, that’s happening and that’s happening. This is how they handle it. I’m going to try that,’ ” Brunson said.
“You have a lot of valuable information there. I learned I could pick up the phone and say, ‘I can’t deal with this,’ and the next thing I knew, I was dealing with it.”
After attending just a few meetings, Brunson, now 78, joined the board of directors of her North County group. Over the years, she has served as treasurer, newsletter writer, fundraiser, community outreach educator, and leader of the association’s Vista support group. In 2006, she took on the mammoth task of compiling a phone directory so members would have support at their fingertips.
Brunson also sings with Tremble Clefs, a group of people with Parkinson’s and their family members and caregivers. She performs concerts at churches, senior centers and assisted-living facilities.
This is all on top of being caregiver to her husband of 56 years. A typical day begins at 5 a.m. with her helping Norris shave, brush his teeth, get dressed, eat, do his exercises, and get to medical appointments. He is never left alone when she has a board meeting or takes time for herself.
“When I go to a movie, it costs me $50 because I have to pay for a caregiver,” she said.
“For awhile, your life disappears,” she said. “I’ve learned to live with it now, but for awhile I was his shadow.
“Parkinson’s is a progressive disease,” she said. “You get on a plateau and then all of a sudden something happens and you have to adjust medications and lifestyle. No two days are the same.”
Brunson said the support groups still help her work through the frustration and depression that can come from this unpredictable life.
By Caroline Dipping for The San Diego Union-Tribune
Friday, February 11, 2011 at 9 p.m.