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‘Nothing left without hope’: Mom, daughter cope with Parkinson’s diagnoses

Updated May 8, 2021 - 5:10 pm

In a Las Vegas assisted living facility a few days before Mother’s Day, Gwen Vaughn leaned over and pulled her mom close.

“My mom and I have been best friends for a long, long time,” she said.

It’s that same friendship that’s persevered through two Parkinson’s disease diagnoses. Her mom, Nancy Rackham, was diagnosed in 2007 at age 57. Then, Vaughn, now 48, got the same diagnosis in October.

Vaughn is well-versed in the disease because she served as a caregiver for her mom, up until a few years ago when she moved into Oakmont of The Lakes in western Las Vegas.

That’s part of the reason it was so gutting when Vaughn learned she had the same disease. But she has a sense of hope and optimism and is determined to live her life the way she wants.

“We’re going to live like there is no tomorrow,” Vaughn said. “And you learn that lesson. I think for some people it takes a really long time to learn that lesson. I think for me I’ve been given that lesson a whole bunch of times now, and I’m learning it harder and faster than the majority would.

“I’m living like I’m getting hit by a bus after this.”

As Vaughn added that she doesn’t want to spend her life being “sad and angry,” her mom, now 70, nodded.

Benefits of exercise

One thing Vaughn has taken seriously since her diagnosis is exercise. Evidence has shown exercise can be helpful in slowing the effects of Parkinson’s, said Vaughn’s doctor, Odinachi Oguh.

“There is perhaps some ability of exercise to cause dopamine regeneration as well as muscle memory,” she said. “So those are the two things that exercise does help. And so we do know that people who exercise with Parkinson’s tend to fair better with their disease than those who don’t.”

While genetics play a factor in who gets the disease, there are still a lot of unknowns, Oguh said.

Vaughn recently broke her ribs, but she planned to start taking boxing classes soon to get more exercise.

Vaughn said she’s grateful for the time she gets to spend with her mother, who was “the cool mom” when Vaughn was growing up, always driving her and her friends into Pittsburgh to go shopping or see a movie.

Rackham has some good days and some bad ones, and it’s hard to know when each will come up. She has trouble organizing her thoughts, but she’s very aware of her surroundings and can walk around the facility with a walker.

And they’ve taken to advocating for those with Parkinson’s. Vaughn has worked on fundraisers and awareness campaigns, and she is always willing to talk about the disease and how it’s affected her family. She and her husband moved to Las Vegas over a decade ago for his work as a chef.

Right now, she said she feels great. She doesn’t know how the disease will affect her, and it works differently on everyone.

She has met a man who still teaches boxing classes 20 years after his diagnosis, and that, along with new treatments, gives her optimism about the future.

“If you don’t have hope that this is going to go well, then what do you …”

Her voice trailed off.

“There’s nothing left without hope.”

Contact Jonah Dylan at jdylan@reviewjournal.com. Follow @TheJonahDylan on Twitter.

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