When Anna Grill was first told she had Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease, she kept the diagnosis to herself. The wife and mother of then 9- and 7-year-old daughters was an active, fit 30-something excelling in a full-time career she loved. She was the youngest member of her mostly male leadership team at work, president of the PTA at her daughters’ school, happily married to her high school sweetheart and – to be honest – she was just too busy to let her diagnosis slow her down. Medications were successfully masking her symptoms and as long as no one else knew, she could continue to make a name for herself based on her ambition and achievements – not her diagnosis.
Sometimes denial is the safest place to be.
But as is the case with most secrets, eventually, it catches up with you. Carrying the weight of this diagnosis while fighting off symptoms was physically and emotionally exhausting. Human nature instills in us a need to share the ‘big’ news of life so that we might surround ourselves with the support of others. Anna not only felt the effects of Parkinson’s but the isolation of going it alone.
Ten years after her diagnosis, Anna left her 28-year career in management and began to deal with YOPD. As Anna puts it, “I went from counting sales quotas to counting pills.”
To most, Parkinson’s is an ‘old person’s’ disease, a stigma that was only made worse anytime Anna tried to find information and resources specific to YOPD; there were virtually none in existence. “We experience the disease differently than our elder counterparts,” explained Anna. “We’re young, active and busy with our families and careers.” Yet the only exercise classes she found were held in the middle of the day – great if you’re retired, not so much if you’re working – and any accessible resources she did find were designed for those much older and less mobile.
Necessity truly is the mother of invention.
And that’s exactly what this mother, wife and career professional set out to do. Anna started forming the Young Onset Parkinson’s Network in 2019 and today it is officially an incorporated 501c3 created by people with YOPD for people with YOPD.
A native of Philly, Anna grew up loving the Rocky movies and as she continues to navigate this unpredictable journey of YOPD, she draws strength from the iconic boxer’s words:
“Nobody is going to hit as hard as life but it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”
As Anna says, “When Parkinson’s knocks me down, I choose to get up off the mat and fight – I do not to allow the things that I can’t do to keep me from doing the things that I can.”
Let’s learn from each other, encourage one another, and fight the good fight against YOPD united together. Join Anna as we all learn how to live well and thrive far beyond our diagnosis.