“Focusing on the positive is the best therapy”

May 2023 Good News

Life, much like the continents that shape our planet, is in a perpetual state of motion. John Peirce is deeply familiar with the idea that everything is always in flux. After graduating from university with a degree in Earth Sciences, he served as a nuclear engineer in submarines in the United States Navy. Following his time with the Navy, he earned a Ph.D. in Oceanography/Marine Geophysics. His thesis documented the northward motion of India and its collision with Asia.

After grad school, John's career spanned many different fields, from being an Assistant Professor of Geology at Dalhousie University, to analysing gravity and magnetics data for Petro Canada. In 1991, he and a former student started a geophysical consulting company, which experienced impressive success, resulting in the seismic software the company had developed being licensed to companies around the world.

In 2009, he retired from his fast-paced career and moved to Gabriola Island with his wife, Nancy, where they started a small fruit and vegetable farm selling produce to locals. In 2017, John noticed a tremor in his right hand, which his family doctor diagnosed as familial tremor. By the time he saw a neurologist the following year, the diagnosis was Parkinson’s disease (PD). “Not a surprise, but it hit me hard,” John says. Fortunately, it just so happened that their children were visiting at the time, so the family was able to talk through many of the issues together, coming to a place of relative acceptance. John credits his wife for being a pillar of support, both then and now, as she has worked as a physiotherapist and occupational therapist.

With the diagnosis came several changes. John had to accept that he could no longer manage the farm, which they ended up selling. But the toughest change he would have to face would come regarding his sleeping arrangements. “I could no longer sleep in the same room (let alone the same bed) as my wife, because I had become such a restless sleeper and Nancy had become a very light sleeper,” John says. “This has been a very hard adjustment for me emotionally.” The couple now regularly schedules time for hugging, so they can stay in touch with each other physically.

Parkinson's also presented other bothersome symptoms for John, including bowel problems and insomnia. As a result, he prioritizes sleep and exercise, emphasizing that the latter is the most important part of maintaining his health. Despite experiencing limited mobility in his left knee, for which he had joint replacement surgery, John walks five times per week as far as he can, using his walking poles. The support of his family has also proven instrumental in his managing his PD. Their quality time together brings joy and gives John an opportunity to reflect on how much his loved ones matter to him.

Inspired to help others in similar situations, John and a friend who also was recently diagnosed with PD started the Gabriola Island Parkinson's Support Group during the pandemic, offering much-needed human connection and support. “Even on a small island, we knew that statistically there would be a significant number of people coping with Parkinson's. Maintaining a positive attitude is a common challenge amongst PD folks,” he notes. “Generally, my negativity comes from not accepting fully that there are so many things that I can no longer do or do well. Focusing on the positive, however one can, and regular exercise, seem to be two of the best therapies for managing PD.