Living with Parkinson's Disease
Today will be the last day you'll be hearing from me as a blogger for Shape Magazine. I will continue to write as the "Girl on the Go" for other various publications and promise to share the wonderful stories that my life leads me to experience. You can find what I'm up to by following me through my various social media outlets, all of which are posted below. I hope you'll bookmark them and follow along with my journey as it continues down a different path. I've thoroughly enjoyed having you share in the meaningful parts of my life and I hope you've gained something from my experiences, even if it was as simple as a smile on a bad day. As my grand finale, I'm going to share a story that I've been wanting to tell for quite some time now. It's about a special relationship I've had for more than ten years with a woman by the name of Tamra Cantore.
Thirteen years ago, I was standing in the hallway of the School of Technology at Bowling Green State University, my alma mater. I stood there looking at the wall of business cards from former graduates, referred to as "the wall of fame" and spotted one that caught my eye. I scribbled down the name and email address, then made my way back to my dorm to fire up my computer. There was only one thing on my mind: I wanted to move to Atlanta, where my brother had recently relocated after he graduated and I wanted to get a job at The Weather Channel. This was only my sophomore year, but I had an aggressive curriculum in my Visual Design Studies which included completing three internships before I graduated. For one of them I planned on doing something BIG.
The name on the card read: Tamra Cantore, Director of Operations of The Weather Channel. She was located in Atlanta! It made all of the sense in the world. I would use what we had in common-BGSU-as my way straight into her heart. Give or take two years and that's exactly what happened. After about 50 emails and several phone calls, Tamra finally gave me a chance. She offered me an internship at The Weather Channel and I was over the moon!
After that summer in Atlanta, the one before my senior year, everything was clear to me. I would graduate and move back down south to get a full-time position at The Weather Channel and continue to build my career. While a few obstacles in my way led to a two-year stint at another company in Atlanta, I finally landed back in the department where I had interned, thanks to Tamra opening the first door and providing me with the experience that led to the full-time position.
Tamra and I became closer over the time we worked together, and when I learned she was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, I was heartbroken. Occasionally, I would go over to her house after work and help out with basic tasks that posed a challenge for her. I babysat for her children a few times and occasionally went to church with her. It was difficult understanding what Tamra was going through but I stood by her as her health gradually diminished.
After four years in Atlanta, The Weather Channel offered me a job in New York City, and I jumped at the opportunity. Needless to say, I didn't see Tamra as frequently but we stayed in touch. She became very active in fundraising for a cure for Parkinson's Disease by throwing annual fundraising concerts in Atlanta and attending the Parkinson's Unity Walk in New York's Central Park. Every year, I would meet her and walk 1.4 miles in support and hope of finding a cure for the dreadful disease.
All of us have challenges to face in life, but most pale in comparison to what Tamra has faced during her lifetime. She had a misdiagnosis in 1997 and then was correctly diagnosed just before her 40th birthday, going into her 14th year with the disease. When her children were seven and nine, she learned that both of them suffered from Fragile X Syndrome. Several years later, she was dealt another devastating blow when she went through a divorce. Any one of these horrific circumstances might knock the legs out from many of us, but not Tamra. She made her circumstances her motivation to live a better, fuller life.
This is not to say that resigning herself to a disease which took away her main hobbies (sports) and her energy to do the things she liked to do most with her children wasn't painfully humbling, because it was, and she'll be the first to openly talk about it. But once her marriage ended and the disease took away her career as an executive at The Weather Channel, she remained positive and proactive. She dug her heels in and began to promote events that would not only help her but would also benefit all of those who have some form of neurological disease. She connected herself with organizations at the national level for her fundraising which she felt would best serve and support her efforts. She formed Team Cantore, which aligns itself with the Parkinson's Unity Walk and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, ensuring that 100 percent of all net proceeds go toward research. Her most recent project has been helping the Wilkins Parkinson's Foundation with its awareness initiatives to educate the public in a very poignant way (initiatives include PSA's ON PD community websites and digital Billboards and other outdoor media.) So far, her fundraising efforts have raised more than $550,000 for Parkinson's research.
Tamra continues to amaze me and every other life she touches. She's always been a friend, a mentor and someone I trust with all of my heart. I love her for giving me my wings and for believing in me, for giving me my first chance at branching out in this world on my own after college and for opening the door for me to take steps down a path that led me to where I am today. I love her for bringing a smile to everyone's face and for her utter determination to live her life to the fullest. This year is no exception. As "Parkinson's Awareness Month" draws to an end, I will be flying back home from a business trip in Atlanta on Friday night to join her and her team once again for the Parkinon's Unity Walk in Central Park this Saturday, April 28th where hearts will open and hopes will be high that one day there will be a cure.
For more information about Team Cantore or if you are interested in donating to Parkinson's Research, please visit Tamra's website.
To learn more about the Parkinson's Unity Walk please visit UnityWalk.org.
Signing Off Thankful For Tamra,
Renee writes about travel, food, and living life to the fullest on Shape.com. If you're looking for Renee, you can find her via Twitter, on Facebook, or on Pinterest, where you will find her favorite visual musings.