I remember Michael J. Fox as one of the earliest actors I watched him on television after I had first come in the US. He was witty, likable, and good looking. It was hard not to notice Michael J. Fox in the early 1990s with his rise to fame and stardom. It was also hard not to notice the American media stream’s expectation of how a Hollywood star would and should respond to life’s bitter challenges and incurable diseases. There is a sensationalism in media’s coverage of Hollywood that is comical and ludicrous once you get used to it, but to a newcomer to the country, it is downright confusing.
Why is it any different if a celebrity has an advanced stage cancer than anyone else? Does cancer know the difference? Why is he or she expected to come out heroic or a “better person” after the ordeal?
Through humor, wit and self-deprecating stories, Michael J. Fox shares the accounts of his childhood in Canada, adulthood, early years in Hollywood and eventually the battle with the onset of young Parkinson’s disease. While the writing is good, it is not great. It is inspirational and moving at times, particularly during the years that he has to live with Parkinson’s while hiding it from public, media and his business. He raises our empathy as he accounts the difficulties of living with Parkinson’s symptoms – tremor or shaking, stiff muscles and aches, limited movement, and difficulty with speech – but to hide it so well from the producers must have called for great talent, a place where Michael’s acting helped his cause.
With patients of long term disabilities and incurable diseases, it is not uncommon for them to form a relationship or understanding with the culprit that is holding the control panel of their life in his evil hands. After initial bouts of serious denial and aggressive set-backs, Fox learns to accept Parkinson’s for what it is, and to learn to live with it, and to not let the “culprit” win. He embodies a perfectly happy and in his words, lucky person, who happens to have this particular situation to deal with at all odd hours of the day. He manages it all through marriage, relationships, fatherhood and being an actor. He refuses to give in and give up. It must be our will to refuse to give in to such battles, and our natural resistance to utter despair and a life of unhappiness. While it is nearly never our first reaction to the horrific wake of bad news, it is the one we settle into if we are to continue thriving in life.
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After a while, when Fox is more familiar with the limitations of his new life with Parkinson’s, he develops this will beyond adapting to his situation. He develops it to establish his Parkinson’s Foundation, and embodies the opportunity to help others. He spends hours, weeks and months researching the disease and much of his financial ability funding the development of future treatments and cures. The success of his foundation was not accidental – it was planned and purposefully driven.
Rich or poor, famous or inconspicuous, it is undeniable that charting through such a painful course is not easy, and for those who do it well, with their spirits un-shattered, their faith unbroken, and their will to live only stronger, I feel admiration and respect. Michael J. Fox is the embodiment of that spirit. I think him strong, courageous, pertinacious, patient, compassionate to others sharing his fate and kind – but lucky is hardly the term I would think to use for Fox. It is refreshing to see how much more brightly and precisely he can see the situation from his own perspective.