Living With Purpose: Shining a Light on Parkinson's Disease
Writer / Janelle Morrison . Photographer / JJ Kaplan
This is the story of a mother, a wife, a counselor and songwriter who is living with Parkinson’s disease. Lisa Cox embraced her diagnosis and chose to share her experiences in hopes that she can teach others how to be compassionate and accepting of people with Parkinson’s disease and inspire those with diagnosed with it to live their lives with purpose and courage.
“I am a elementary school guidance counselor with Parkinson’s disease, a spinal tumor and a spinal cyst,” Cox shared. “I want to share my story because I think it will bring hope and encouragement to people with special needs. I think my story could help bridge the gap between people with special needs and without.
“At my darkest moment when my doctors were not sure if my symptoms were Parkinson’s, a spinal tumor or a spinal cyst, I reconnected with an old friend who has twin girls launching a country music career, The Hobbs Sisters out of Pittsburgh. I started writing song lyrics for them on a whim, and writing lyrics has become my passion. I have been recognized by Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) four times as a writer, and our song ‘I Know’ has been considered for recommendation for this December’s publishers’ luncheon through NSAI. I was also a semi-finalist for lyrics in the International Songwriting Competition in 2015.
“This songwriting passion, along with Lauren and Hannah Hobbs and my new cowriter Heather Richardson, have brought joy and laughter to my life.”
Cox was originally diagnosed with a benign tumor on her spine in 2010, and over the course of two years and multiple procedures, she was additionally diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012.
Her husband, children, family and friends watched as Cox would regress physically and emotionally grieve her life-altering diagnosis. Prior to the discovery of her Parkinson’s, Cox was an avid runner who now requires the assistance of her cane when her balance is compromised.
With the love and support of her family, co-workers and friends, Cox decided to embrace her fate and do something incredible with her situation.
“I have gained new knowledge that has grown my counseling skills,” Cox declared. “For the past three to five years, my life has been an incredible journey. I have been in a place that I never dreamed I would go. I have experienced a world right here in our community that struggles to fit in, keep up and is often on the sidelines of life. My journey has been a spinal tumor, spinal cyst and finally a Parkinson’s diagnosis through which I have discovered a whole new world of pain, struggle, fear, healing, acceptance, beauty and joy. It is the world of those with special needs.
“For the past three years, I have lived in that world as I watched and experienced my body succumb to the attacks of Parkinson’s. Slowly, my body began to stiffen and fail. I was losing my balance, my movement, my strength and my smile. I visited a doctor who prescribed me a new medication, Carbidopa/Levodopa. Miraculously, in one hour after being on that medication, I came back from my journey and the experience of being disabled. Although I still have the same diagnosis, I am back to my almost fully functional self. There is no cure for Parkinson’s. I will regress someday, but I sit here with the gift of my health back for an undetermined amount of time.”
Cox shares her experiences through her lyrics in songs such as “Faith, Hope and Love” and “The Outside Looking In” and through her vocation. She has been with Zionsville Community Schools since 1987. She openly shares her story with students and their parents.
“I use my diagnosis as a tool,” Cox said. “With the parents’ consent, I will go into classrooms that have a student with specials needs and discuss sensitivity levels with all the students. We discuss how everyone has strengths and weaknesses. A little bit of knowledge brings out so much compassion in people. For a while, I have stepped out of the world of disability, but I cannot leave my friends behind. I now have an amazing window into their world, our world really, that I want to share with as many students and people as possible.
“I want to bridge that gap and help those without special needs understand what the world is like through the eyes of those who have to struggle to fit in. In a way, isn’t that all of us at some point? For the disabled, it is their lives at most points. Some day when or if my Parkinson’s progresses, I will go on that journey again. For now, I look through the window and clearly see people with differences who are exactly the way they are supposed to be.”
Cox keeps up her physical vigor by exercising and boxing. She participates in the international program, Rock Steady Boxing, which originated in Indianapolis. Research has shown that people suffering from the affects of Parkinson’s disease have stabilized their symptoms or have slowed their regression after just two years of participating in the Rock Steady Boxing programs. Cox trains with other patients, some who are more advanced in their symptoms than she. She enjoys spending time with them and hopes to inspire and learn from those who are on the same path that she is on.
“I am a funny, outgoing, in-love-with-life kind of person,” Cox said. “Parkinson’s tried to steal that from me, but Parkinson’s lost. I will live each day of my life to the fullest and love, live, laugh and dance every moment of my life. The fear is gone. I want to spend my time sharing this with others.”
Read about Linda Porter–A local woman who fights back in part 2 of “Shining a Light on Parkinson’s Disease”