Was a spray can of pesticide the cause of my Parkinson’s?

27 January 2024

banner image for the column "Living My Best Life" by Christine Scheer

When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015, I had been living the dream. I had two lovely daughters, a wonderful and supportive husband, a terrific extended family, and many good friends. I loved my job; I lived on an organic farm, ate healthy local and organic food, and exercised regularly, so naturally, we were all shocked and couldn’t help but wonder why.

Why?” I asked, “Why me?” I didn’t fit the profile of somebody who would get Parkinson’s — a man older than 60. I was 54.

Surprising to me, I soon read that there is a higher incidence of Parkinson’s in farmers than in other vocations. One of the many farm-life things you can blame it on is the use of pesticides. My husband and I have lived on our farm since 1992, but we were certified organic, so blaming farming doesn’t make sense in my case because we didn’t use pesticides or herbicides.

My father and my sister both had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which also has links to pesticide and herbicide use. We grew up in the suburbs of Montreal so that doesn’t make much sense either. Where would we suburbanites need to use pesticides?

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I won’t dwell on ‘what if?’ and ‘why me’

My family had a mountain ash tree on our front lawn. It was an attractive tree with bright orange berries. One summer, when I was about 7 and my sister was about 10, this lovely tree became infested with caterpillars.

My dad knew just what to do. He got a couple of cans of bug spray. A can for each of us! My sister and I were pumped! My dad supervised us as we stood directly under the tree and took aim. My mother was watching us from the front porch. At 13, my brother was probably up to some shenanigans involving firecrackers.

Giddy with excitement, my sister and I pointed the spray cans right up into the branches above us and pressed down on the nozzles.

The results were instantaneous. Cue the music from your favorite horror movie! Caterpillars and residual pesticide rained down on us. We ran screaming, covered with caterpillars and wet with bug killer and tears.

My father finished the job off for us, thank goodness.

Both my sister and I think that incident might have been the catalyst for her and our father’s cancer and my Parkinson’s. Was it? We probably won’t ever know for sure.

What we do know, however, is that we can’t dwell on the “what if” and “if only’” and “why me.” Thankfully, my sister has been cancer-free for more than 30 years, but Parkinson’s disease is persistent and progressive. Like those darn caterpillars, it creeps up on you, chewing away your health. Sometimes, it chews a big hole in my hope as well.

There are good reasons to be hopeful, though. According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine website, people with Parkinson’s disease are living healthier and longer lives, and are being diagnosed earlier. There is better research to understand the disease and more clinical trial opportunities. Advanced treatments like deep brain stimulation are available.

So, am I still living the dream? Yes, it sometimes looks a bit chewed up, but that is OK.


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

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