The Significance of a Birthday: Journey with Parkinson’s

“Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.” Arthur Schopenhauer

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Mark Twain

Introduction: For 26 years, I taught undergraduate Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill entitled “Biology of Blood Diseases.” We established many firsts within the University, including that we spent most of our time focused on human diseases, and the class presented poster presentations on an illness of their choosing. For a biology class, they were expected to write a lot and express their feelings on a topic, and we tried to make learning fun while staying focused and committed to excellence. I was 43 years old when I started teaching the course, and this past spring 2022, in my final semester, I was 68 years old. Most students in this class were seniors in college, around 21 years old. Something that I started in my 50s was writing the class a very long and personal email about health and birthdays. And since I am retired and no longer teaching, I thought I’d write the readers of this blog a note, remembering when you were in your early 20s. So think back, breathe deeply and fully, close your eyes and think back to when you were 21 years old. No, not really. That email was very long and wouldn’t work in the blog post.

“Live your life with arms wide open. Today is where your book begins. The rest is still unwritten.” Natasha Bedingfield

What is the Meaning of a Birthday? Not sure what it means to have a birthday- I feel like me. That is all that I know. I feel whatever age I am, regardless of the number. For example, my 69th birthday was August 24.

It is all in your genes, family, and environment. This quote indeed describes your life, where you came from, and what you could do with it: “So I guess we are who we are for many reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we came from, we can still choose where we go from there.” (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

However, birthdays are significant, they happen, and as long as you are alive, they are inevitable, right? Therefore, with each birthday, you can also put things in context with the past years.

This blog post is to get you to reflect and think about your life- here are my thoughts on the matter. I worked too much, far too many hours, and did not play enough- but I’ve been slowly making some positive changes in my time to go to the gym and walk several afternoons; I am playing golf more frequently. I am also hitting the tennis courts again. Finding the time – making room for the desire to do something, is not as easy as it seems. But for the most part, I accept muscle pain as a good sign, its means I am doing something. I am happy because we recently moved to Bluffton, SC, the gateway to Hilton Head Island. I still have numerous family members in Louisiana and Alabama. I have several close friends and many supportive professional colleagues. The old Italian saying is, “Work to live or live to work.” Easy for me to say that in the 44 years that I lived in Chapel Hill, I lived to work.

“We turn not older with years but newer every day.” Emily Dickinson

Aging of the World Population:  The United Nations says we are an aging world. In 2019, there were >700 million people aged 65 years or older. However, by 2050, that number will double to 1.4 billion. Unfortunately, older age is the biggest known risk factor for Parkinson’s. And suppose you believe that neurotropic-bearing viruses, like SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), have the potential to modify the neurodegenerative process that promotes Parkinson’s. In that case, the number of older adults with Parkinson’s will be significantly higher. We recently published a narrative review article about this topic (Morowitz, J.M., K.B. Pogson, D.A. Roque, and F.C. Church. Role of SARS-CoV-2 in Modifying Neurodegenerative Processes in Parkinson’s Disease: A Narrative Review. Brain Sciences (2022): 12(5), 536; ).

Included below are some images regarding the biology of aging. It is not meant to be an exhaustive review, just a few points of interest. As we age, things will wear down and work less well than earlier in life. It is an inevitable process because we have lived through a lot, and the response of our host defense mechanisms (immune and inflammatory) has been challenged throughout our lives. Also included is a picture gram of me from about 20 years old to the current time.

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Mae West

Life-Work Choices We Make/Made: How we end up from the age of 21 years old to now is somewhat of a mystery to me. Some of us are preordained to follow a specific career path, and some have no clue as to what the world would/will bring. I was part of the latter, the no-clue what’s next will happen. Maybe you were born for what you do. Maybe your ‘environment’ had much to do with it. But the critical question is, “Are you (Were you) happy in this career?” And not, did you make enough money? But, were you happy?

Performing biomedical research gave me a chance for others to learn some science skills and perform some experiments, and teach others in the lab and the classroom. I was happy in this element of my life. And teaching future health professionals was also an essential role in my life, those who will provide guidance and care for people. Teaching college undergraduates rounded out the fulfilling experience, and many of them will make a difference one day. They will all make a difference one day. That much I am confident.

“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.” Eleanor Roosevelt

The Gift of Age: 
Age is truly a gift. And in many ways, good health is never a given. It is something that must be earned and nurtured. Many of us, you/me included, are probably blessed with good health, but keeping it that way over time requires attention. You have to work for it. But challenge yourself to stay healthy. And when you think about it, you’re either young or not! Going further, I still think of myself as healthy, even with Parkinson’s. The stubbornness gene gets expressed to full level when I add Parkinson’s to my list of ailments.

“The golden age is before us, not behind us.” William Shakespeare

Be Positive About Your Age: I take a positive view of all birthdays, and I refuse to be a pessimist relating to aging. My year will be full of exercise, good eating, moderate alcohol consumption, some work (well, it was a big part of my life, that is just the way it is), hitting a lot of golf balls, and more time for fun (that means more days at the beach, just more fun days). Settling into retirement is not turning my brain off but turning it to new tasks, future goals, and more focus on Parkinson’s.

Part of my teaching philosophy was to give students some “life lessons,” things that stick with them when they left the classroom each day: things that got you thinking about what if, why so, and so forth. I did not care if they wanted to become a physician, physician assistant, nurse, scientist, dentist, pharmaceutical sales rep, beach bum selling shrimp on the side of the road, or a parent at home taking care of their children- that path was their choice. I cared that they made this decision. And they were happy with it. I cared they had taken the time to consider all of the options- that it was the right place for them to be.

“May you live all the days of your life.” Jonathan Swift

Time for a Song: If you are my age, you likely remember the Beatles song, “When I’m Sixty Four.” And like me, you probably laughed at the music, thinking, I’m 21; you want me to ‘think’ about 64 years of age? Here is a link to the song’s original version, and beneath it are some new lyrics that I have written about being 69 years of age. No match for the writing geniuses of Lennon-McCartney, but it was fun rhyming all of the words with nine of 69. Enjoy.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Cover Photo Image by Pexels from Pixabay

4 Replies to “The Significance of a Birthday: Journey with Parkinson’s”

  1. Loved this blog as two of my family members are celebrating birthdays this weekend. I will certainly share the blog with them, and keep on doing what you are doing….enjoying life.


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