Dr. Maria De Leon is well versed in Parkinson’s in many ways. She is a doctor, mentor, advocate, teacher, author of Parkinson’s Diva: A Women’s Guide to Parkinson’s Disease, and her blog is Parkinson’s Diva. Her story is inspiring!
Tell me a little about yourself.
I am a retired physician, mom, author, cancer survivor, Parkinson’s patient and advocate. I live in east Texas with my daughter, husband, niece and cat extraordinaire. I am a Diva at heart. I like making people laugh and feeling good about themselves. I am thrilled that I am about to publish my third book, Parkinson’s Diva: Hello Possibilities-A Journal for Your Daily Walk with Parkinson’s.
What is your journey with Parkinson’s?
It began nearly three decades ago first as a student, then doctor, then caregiver of my grandmother, and ultimately as a patient myself. It has been a wild ride with ups and downs, fraught with frustrations as well as many joys. I have had to learn to reinvent myself after I had to quit working as a Physician, due to medication side effects & other medical complications. Along the way I rediscovered my talents, gifts and flaws. I love being a mom – this by far has been the best and most challenging job I have ever done. Motherhood has also has been the most rewarding experience of my life (mind you I have assisted in brain surgery for many Parkinson’s patients). Working to see my daughter grow up and blossom into the beautiful young lady she is today has been one of the most crucial aspects in my fight against PD, so that she and others don’t have to go through what I and many others are experiencing each day with PD.
You have a unique perspective because of your experience as both being a doctor to/and a person with PD. What is something that you wish health care professionals had a better understanding of about their patients and vice versa. What is one thing you think patients could have a better understanding of when it comes to their health care professionals?
Being a doctor and patient has been an interesting phenomenon because I have come to realize that most often my thinking and needs as a doctor are directly opposed to my needs as a patient. Doctors have strict rules and methodical steps to arrive at conclusions and treatments which usually take time to develop & learn. While we as patients don’t have the time or energy to wait weeks or months to find the right diagnosis or treatment for our symptoms, because life waits for no one. Figuring out ways to bridge that gap has been a challenge which I have tackled head on to help educate both sides, to shorten the distance to offering better care strategies, increasing understanding of science, as well as social aspects of having an illness while attempting to move science forward in hopes of finding a cure soon.
What are you enjoying right now?
I am enjoying being a mom most of all. I am also enjoying the freedom that comes from being a woman who no longer has anything to prove. Having shed most of the fears and insecurities that come from being a young woman, I feel free to be myself in the fight against PD while finding ways to empower other women to do the same using their own unique strengths. I like who I am flaws and all. I am grateful to God for all the people he has put in my life. I like discovering new things about myself & others around the globe. I am learning to trust the journey knowing that while God teaches me a life lesson in one area of my life, he then asks me to use this knowledge in another area to help others. For instance, I am now teaching a class for women to help them become ‘Moms who are Free’. The same principles I stress to mothers to become free and better parents are the same foundations we must rely on when raising kids in the mist of a chronic illness such as PD (mainly giving unconditional love). I feel as if I have reached an age where I am less afraid to try new things & explore new areas to expand my universe outside PD.
What is one of your challenges right now?
One of my challenges is letting go as a parent to give more freedom and independence to my young adult daughter. Another is living well, being fruitful and content with my life despite the constant physical challenges imposed by PD– to be able to maximize my strength, energy, and time when all I want to do is lay on the couch and veg out! I would love to remain ever present in the lives of my loved ones while pursuing my other passions such as writing, teaching/lecturing, traveling, mentoring and having fun with friends and family. This means adjusting medications on a regular basis to optimize my capabilities to as normal as possible.
Do you have a morning or evening routine that helps you start or end the day well?
Mornings are always hard for me, one because of PD, also because I have always been a night owl. Sleep is a priority. After tending to my daughter and husband, I usually allow myself time to sleep undisturbed (which I have found to be imperative in my overall well being). Not an easy feat I tell you since once the sun rises my circadian rhythm says stay awake. I usually get on average 6 hours, which means no meetings, appointments, phone calls, cool- dark room, face mask and my comfy blanket and I am golden. Family now knows not to disturb me unless necessary until I wake up. Then I take my morning meds, do some stretching exercise, eat a good breakfast and read a daily devotional (alone time with God), and I am ready for my sleep. At night I tend to be most active so before I go to bed (which typically is as everyone is getting up or after everyone leaves the house) while everyone sleeps, I clean, write, cook, prepare lessons and projects, decorate for the seasons, listen to music, read or watch movies. This is when I sing and dance, although my singing sounds more like a croak from an old toad but my cat and I enjoy it. There are many nights where I simply pass out on the couch from pure exhaustion and my husband has to take me to bed physically. But like any good diva I care for my skin by moisturizing my face and body and brushing my hair & teeth when I awake and before bedtime.
Do you have any favorite beauty products?
Can’t live without my lipstick Lancôme reds and pinks – lotion- Cherry Blossom from Bath and Body is my favorite, along with a display of perfumes on my counter- I have a collection for every occasion ranging from new, fun, fruity, and sexy. I am especially drawn to those who have an iconic image or symbolize something for me like Bebe or Carolina Herrera-Good Girl- Love the fragrance and equally enamored of the high hell stiletto.
How would you describe your style in three words?
Flirty, feminine and whimsical classy- I always look for unique things and things that make a statement.
What is something you do for self-care?
Getting bi-monthly massages, pedicures and manicures as often as I can. Sleep is a priority. Spending time being mentally active –Always trying to learn new things.
What makes you laugh?
My family makes me laugh, my new kitty is most adorable and entertains me quite a bit –as he chases his tail or sits at the table like a person. My friends make me laugh. But most often is me laughing at my own antics, faux pas as I attempt to go on with my day to day living with PD.
What is a product or thing you can’t live without?
Things I can’t live without are my electronic devices such as my iPad, iPhone, which have allowed me to connect with others on the same journey around the world. Plus, thanks to these devices things like shopping can still be enjoyed. Of course chocolate, & an iced caramel macchiato with extra syrup and caramel. My comfy faux fur and I need to be surrounded by color which inspires me and gives me energy– my best friend Lauri along with my other girlfriends.
A food you love, a dessert you love, a song you love.
I love chocolates (dark especially if coated with cocoa), lava cakes, French food and pastries, Mexican and Italian food (I guess most rich foods that have lots of butter and sugar) as I have told my daughter butter and sugar are my best friends. I love watching movies, traveling, reading but not so much lately (mystery novels) – music- I love anything that has a nice beat and rhythm that makes me move and sing out loud. Feeling Good is a tune I listen to often when I write.
You can follow Maria on Facebook or Instagram. You can also read her blogs Parkinson’s Diva and Defeat Parkinson’s, & her wonderful book Parkinson’s Diva: A Women’s Guide to Parkinson’s Disease.
Thank you Maria!