No ordinary Joe: The man behind Chilliwack Parkinson's SuperWalk
Joe MacMillan chats about his Parkinson’s like it’s the weather.
He’s calm, with more than a touch of curiosity—but it’s clear that it doesn’t bother him one way or another how the situation turns out.
“If I’d had the real Michael J. Fox type of Parkinson’s, that would be something else,” Joe says, brushing it off with a quick grin. “But mine is nothing.”
It started with a tremor in his right forefinger, and it only popped up once in a while.
“When I would start to write, this finger would shake. And I didn’t know what it was,” he says.
Five or six years went by before he mentioned it to his doctor. A neurologist confirmed Parkinson’s, which Joe already privately suspected.
Three years later, he takes two little yellow pills three times a day to keep the shakes down.
But he’s lucky—only his right hand tremors, and with medication it’s barely noticeable.
His voice is warm and practical, and as he speaks he casually reaches over to his wife’s chair and rests his hand on her arm gently.
Joe and Irma have been married for more than five-and-a-half decades, and turned 79 this year together. He’s the one with Parkinson’s, but it’s clear they take care of each other.
“We’re always involved in something,” he says, clasping her hand. “For at least 40 years we’ve walked every single day.”
They kayak at Cultus two or three times a week, and head to the golf course or driving range about as often. He sets up a recumbent bicycle in front of the computer and pedals as he watches TEDtalks online.
“The thing with Parkinson’s is that you have to exercise much more—more than we did over the years,” he says. “The rest of the time you have to do your mental exercises as well. We do the puzzles in the paper . . . that kind of stuff.”
And as one more way to keep busy, Joe stepped up as the local Parkinson’s support group facilitator, organizing monthly meetings at Hampton House in town, bringing in expert speakers, and screening movies and documentaries.
Joe is the sort to lead by example—organizing not only the local group, but also this year’s Parkinson’s SuperWalk, coming up at Evergreen Hall on Sept. 9.
The event usually raises a little over $4,000, and looks to be on target this year. They’ve been raising donations over the last few weeks by cleaning clubs at local golf courses, handing out pamphlets about Parkinson’s and raising awareness at the same time.
They’re bringing that awareness to the larger community with the SuperWalk—the biggest Parkinson’s fundraiser in Canada. The group will take a lap around the block, starting at Evergreen Hall and circling around the Leisure Centre, to celebrate living well with the disease. It’s about honouring the community of support—which, after all, is something that the group sees every month at their meetings.
Some members don’t have Parkinson’s, but attend in support of family members who do. Others come in honour of relatives who died with the disease. Some don’t have any connection to Parkinson’s at all, but suffer from a disease with similar symptoms.
The resulting community is remarkable, Joe says.
“We have people in our support group who don’t have Parkinson’s and yet, they come in and they’re part of the support group,” he says. “And they’re a great part of our group.”
And perhaps most vital of all are the caregivers, often spouses or children.
“They’re an integral part of our program,” Joe says, reaching a hand out to Irma again. “They’re probably the most important part for us. Some of the people, it takes them hours to get ready in the morning because they’re so extremely slowed by it.”
But if there’s one thing the group wants to prove, it’s that there’s nothing wrong with getting a little slow—and at least they’re in good company.
“People with Parkinson’s are incredible. You never hear, ‘Oh, poor me!’ No such thing. It’s always, ‘What are we going to do next?’” Joe says. “They’re the most positive people on Earth.”
• Everyone is welcome to drop by the SuperWalk to walk or donate on Sept. 9 starting at 2 p.m. at Evergreen Hall. To register online, visit www.parkinson.bc.ca.