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Parkinson’s offers new challenge to artist’s creativity
The worktable in Victoria Tane’s home studio could easily be mistaken for a vendor’s table at a flea market. Plastic ziplock bags hold beads of various shapes and sizes, bits of broken costume jewelry and metal pencil tops. Wine collar wrappers and cardstock paint swatches are carefully stored in multi-compartment boxes.
From these disparate, cast-off items, the 61-year-old Nashua artist creates beautiful upcycled jewelry, which she sells through her website, www.victoriatane.com. No two pieces are exactly alike.
“I call what I do ‘ten thousand decisions,’” Tane said.
Though she has limited amounts of some supplies, she sees no need to panic when the contents of a bag or box start to dwindle.
“Running out of something is the best thing that can happen to me as an artist, because it forces me to come up with the next iteration,” Tane said.
Her approach to her art has influenced her approach to Parkinson’s disease. She began experiencing the symptoms 10 or more years ago, but was only diagnosed with the movement disorder within the past three or four years.
“I run out of something and I have to replace it,” Tane said, referring to her jewelry supplies. “Well, it turns out I’ve run out of dopamine and I have to replace it.”
According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of nerve cells, or neurons, in the substantia nigra, the part of the brain that handles movement and coordination. Some of these neurons produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control movement.
As Parkinson’s progresses and more neurons are destroyed, less dopamine is produced, leaving the individual increasingly less able to control movement normally.
At this time, there is no cure for Parkinson’s. Though experts are unsure as to the cause of the movement disorder, some believe genetics and environmental factors may play a role.
The path to Tane’s diagnosis began when she scheduled a doctor’s appointment to address a nagging pain in her shoulder.
“I had this feeling inside, like I was shaking,” she said.
She later followed up with her doctor about a tremor that had developed in her right hand, which is also her dominant hand.
Though tremors are a classic symptom of Parkinson’s, they can have a number of other causes.
“My husband has a tremor, but he doesn’t have Parkinson’s,” Tane said.
Her doctor did not think Tane had the movement disorder, but Tane felt differently.
“I know my own body. I know things before they’re diagnosed,” she said, adding that her father passed away from complications due to Parkinson’s about two years ago.
Tane arranged for a consultation with a neurologist, who said she might be in the early stages of the movement disorder. Over the next year, her symptoms progressed, cementing the diagnosis.
As she learned more about Parkinson’s, Tane realized she may have been experiencing symptoms of the movement disorder long before the tremor manifested itself.
As far back as the ’90s, “I had had a hard time with smell,” she said.
Many researchers believe the loss or impairment of the sense of smell – as well as other symptoms like sleep or mood disorders or low blood pressure when standing up – can precede movement-related symptoms of Parkinson’s by years.
Tane said she can smell very high notes and very low notes when it comes to aromas, but that she’s “lost the mid-range of the keyboard.”
Her deteriorating sense of smell has in turn affected her sense of taste. Once again, flavors at the ends of the spectrum are easier to taste than those in the middle.
“I kind of have to interpret via texture,” Tane said. “Sometimes, I don’t know if I’m tasting something or remembering tasting something.”
In spite of having struggled with Parkinson’s for several years, she resisted taking medication for her movement-related symptoms until just a few months ago.
“I was trying to be a hero and tough it out about not taking medication, but it was ridiculous,” Tane said, noting that people who have seen her before and after medication say there has been a definite improvement.
Regular exercise has also helped her movement-related symptoms.
“It’s kind of a cocktail disease,” she said of Parkinson’s. “You have to establish a regimen that works for you.”
Tane continues to create and sell jewelry, though the movement disorder means it takes her longer to finish a piece.
“My hands shake,” she said. “But I’m still able to design, and I still have my sense of humor, which I think comes through in my art.”
Making jewelry, Tane has found, also makes her hand less apt to tremor.
“Busy hands are happy hands, so the idea is to keep those hands engaged as much as possible,” she said.
One of Tane’s bracelets is featured in the 2013 Creativity & Parkinson’s Calendar, published by the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, as the art for February.
Tane had been looking for artists with Parkinson’s to blog about for Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Her assistant came across the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation’s website, www.pdf.org, with its gallery of 300 such artists.
At her assistant’s suggestion, Tane submitted photos of her own work for the online gallery.
The next thing Tane knew, the foundation contacted her and told her she was a finalist to be in the calendar for February.
“It was really an honor. I was thrilled,” she said.
Like many people with Parkinson’s, Tane has battled her share of depression and anxiety in connection with the movement disorder.
“You struggle with the disease. It’s personal,” she said. “You’re not always up to seeing other people.”
She does feel, however, that she has made peace with her condition.
“I call it the squatter in my apartment building. It’s here to stay, and it’s not going to leave,” Tane said.
Though Parkinson’s has impacted the way she lives her life, she refuses to give in to concerns as to how the movement disorder will progress.
“My biggest fear is where my next idea is going to come from, as a creative person,” Tane said.
Instead of allowing Parkinson’s to define her, she has chosen to define Parkinson’s. In addition to participating in a study for a new medication and contributing financially to research efforts, she has designed a line of jewelry inspired by the tulip, the symbol for Parkinson’s.
“I do feel very fortunate to still have the creative spirit,” Tane said.
– Teresa Santoski
Originally published Feb. 26, 2013 in The Telegraph, Nashua, NH.