The Blank Canvas

Elena - Freehold, New Jersey
Entered on September 14, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
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never knew I could paint.

For me, it was a good day if I could

just feed myself or take a few steps without

falling. When you have Parkinson’s disease,

PD) the idea of picking up a paintbrush

as remote as entering a figure-skating


Now I paint constantly: landscapes,

abstracts, still-life studies and my favorite

fat ballerinas. In all, I have completed

more than 60 paintings in the few months

since I started.

Some have remarked that I am making

for lost time, and

that is certainly true.

The last 17 years of my

have been spent in

losing battle with a

disease that gradually

stole my most basic

capabilities, all during

time when I was

struggling to raise two

daughters as a single parent. Through the

years I lost the ability to walk, talk or use

hands. I tried every known therapy for

treatment of Parkinson’s, and when all

them failed I even tried suicide.

Last summer, at the age of 43, my life

began again at Robert Wood Johnson

University Hospital, thanks to a surgical

procedure known as deep brain stimulation,

which involves placing electrodes in

brain. With the activation of a pacemaker

connected to the electrodes — literally

the flick of a switch — I regained abilities

I thought I had lost forever.

Helen Keller once wrote an essay titled

Three Days to See” in which she imagined

what she would do if granted a brief

interlude of sight. I have been granted an

interlude to experience the full use of all

blessed faculties, but it is unknown

how long it will last. There is no cure for

Parkinson’s, and over time the beneficial

effects of deep brain stimulation have been

known to wear off.

And so I paint, while my hand remains

steady and while there’s still enough light.

People say I’m pretty good at it. The only

critics I try to please, however, are my

daughters Tiffany, 14, and Vanessa, 13,

and my lovely mother, Clara. Throughout

their lives, the one image they had of their

mother was one of sickness. Now when

they bring friends by the house, they tell

them proudly, “My

mother’s an artist.”

That is all the praise I

will ever need to hear.

One day recently I

took a break from

painting to clean my

house, a chore I have

been putting off for

some time. Only those

who have suffered physical impairment can

truly understand the sweetness of having

their capabilities back. Few people, I imagine,

can know the delight of mopping a

floor as I do. The floor of my house is

marked by numerous scratches, which are

traces of my illness. I made them with my

shoes while I was “kicking,” a symptom of

Parkinson’s also called restless legs.

I am a little scared about what the

future holds for me, but I am determined

to cherish every second of my life.

Helen Keller ends her essay with an

admonition to “use your eyes as if tomorrow

you would be stricken blind.”

To that I would add this thought: It is a

privilege to be alive and in good health.

Take time to appreciate the beauty of the

morning, the shape of clouds and the

embrace of those you love.