Who is an advocate? Is it the middle-aged man, at the height of his professional career, on the stage talking in stark, certain terms of Parkinson’s and all its ramifications? Is it the older woman, standing outside the railway station shivering in the rain, while rattling her collection tin for her daughter? Is it the initially reluctant teenager, going door-to-door with literature and collection tins, trying to square his own actions with his conscience pricked by his shaky granny?
Are these advocates? Do they tick the boxes? Do they increase awareness? Do they support research? Do they help relieve the burden of people with Parkinson’s and their carers? Let me ask you again – who is an advocate? In their own small way each is an advocate. But also none. Because until you understand Parkinson’s, you will always be a surrogate. As a good, now sadly more distant, friend of mine once said “if you haven’t got it, you don’t get it”.
Do I sound ungrateful? Yes, I suspect I do. The man on the stage, the shivering rainsoaked woman and the teenager in his hoodie are all vital cogs in the machinery. Raise money for research because without it, there will be none. No research means no treatment or cure. It means that we will have to explain to our children why people still suffer from a condition we have known for more than 200 years. We will have to say that we did not do enough. And we did not do enough because we did not care enough.
And why did we not care enough? Because, when you bring Parkinson’s home and personalise it, it’s unappealing. It’s granny, fixed expression on her face, dribbling her soup down her smock hearing nothing and contributing as much. Why? Because nobody thought to check the batteries in her hearing aid. It’s the smelly old man in the corner of the nursing home playing solitaire with his pack of cards and quietly sobbing. His daughter no longer visits, declining to change his pads and robbing him of those last shreds of dignity.
Advocacy is easy. And we, the delegates at the 6th World Parkinson’s Congress are a world removed from these dark spaces. While we drink sangria over tapas, renew old friendships and listen to the latest thinking, it’s easy to believe that Parkinson’s is a pussycat and not the ravening beast clawing at our very being. Yes, Parkinson’s is congresses, science and learning. These are still essentials. But let us not forget those other darker realities. Because these are as much a truth as any other.
Spare a thought, amid the hubbub, for those who are not with us in Barcelona. Let’s make a point of remembering why we are here in that great Catalan capital. We are here for one reason only – to alleviate suffering and hasten an end to this pestilence. Remember granny, talk to Granddad, help all.
Leave the conference brimming full of ideas. Ideas that will help expedite the end of Parkinson’s. Think of all those things that could reduce suffering and improve quality of life. Because the reality for many is a quality of life so blighted as to be barely a life at all. And do it with the others firmly in mind.
Never let it again be said that we did not care enough. Never.