Terminal Freedom by a Madonna Wannabe

…or How I Got My Teen Idol To Finally Recognize Me

Me at 13

Well…it wasn’t exactly a plan to have that happen. More like an incredible miracle!

As ANYONE who knows me, especially friends and such who knew me in the 1980s, I LOVED MADONNA.

Me as Platinum Madonna at 16

Oh yeah, I had every album on vinyl (later to be purchased over and over as formats kept changing!) as well as any 12 inch single I could get my teenager hands on!

Madonna adorned my walls in my room (AND Duran Duran). I wore shitloads of rubber bracelets in every color (’cause it wasn’t a thing back then) especially black & white ones. You could usually get these things from gum ball machines for 25 cents for 2.
I had lace gloves, knock off Wayfarers and crucifixes. It was not only a shock to my mother, but to the entire school.  You know that town in Napoleon Dynamite? Yeah, that’s what everyone dressed like. I was the freak.

China Blue

Eventually I grew to enjoy this status – as more “freaks & geeks” came out of the woodwork and we became friends.

Me at 17 - Self PortraitDespite growing up and listening to more alternative music, I’ve always kept my eye on Madonna. More often then not, she was doing something that I just totally “got.” Sometimes, I emulated her, even as a twenty-something.

I was artistic, independent, crazy and passionate. I showed my photography and hung out at dance clubs. I even tried to play house for a while. Life went by.

Little Kate, Big WorldI became a “stepmom” to my boyfriend’s daughter Kate around the time that Madonna’s daughter Lola was born. Eventually we married and became official. It was kinda cool to see Kate & Lola growing up in the “same” teenage world.

Eventually, I stopped living in parallel to my Leo sister. I worked a regular job. I stopped thinking about getting rich or famous and just enjoy my life as it unfolded. I did get to have my very own baby girl! Pretty much all my creativity had gone into that project and work.Nikki and Grandma's Pond

Thankfully, I got a great group of friends that got me back into being creative again. Of course, by this time, I was showing symptoms of what we know now is ALS. Now, because of my Scooby Gang, I keep an eye out for local or interesting projects I can participate in.

I saw the posts on Facebook about Madonna’s new project and was like – cool! Of course I’m gonna do something!

So in November 2013, I uploaded a video piece to the  Art for Freedom project about having ALS and what freedom means to me. More about project.

Crazy thing is, by the time I’d gotten around to doing some kind of artwork for this, I forgot there was a prize of some sort. Plus I did it “off the top of my head,” no script. Messed around with some settings in YouTube to make it look arty. That was it.

Apparently, by December 2013, Terminal Freedom was chosen to be part of December ‘s Art for Freedom by celebrity curator David Blaine. The video was highlighted on December 9th.

Art For Freedom December

I had forgotten about looking to see if it ever made it to the site. I never thought anyone would watch it! But I entered something so that was enough for me and I went back to my regular work.

I got an email in January 2014 from a rep for Ray of Light Foundation saying  “The video was chosen for the month of December 2013 by Madonna and celebrity curator David Blaine to win a $10,000 grant from the Ray of Light Foundation. ”

Never mind the grant money — I couldn’t get past that someone WATCHED that video! Not only that but my teen idol had WATCHED it! I had two people come in to look at the message on my computer! Holy crap! MADONNA had recognized me as an artist. Well and David Blaine too.

Terminal Freedom

That’s also when I found out about being featured in December, etc.  I chose to give this money to the MDA Rochester and The ALS Association, Upstate NY Chapter because I do a lot of fundraising for and receive services from both of them.

WXXI-AM also did a story –  Video Submitted By Local Woman Wins $10,000 For Area Non-Profits

RIT’s University News story – RIT alumna wins award from Madonna’s foundation: Joy Parker received a $10,000 award from the Art for Freedom initiative

Today I was given the thumbs up from Ray of Light that I was now added to the website. Check it out.

Ray of Light December 2013 Winner

I may be dying from a terminal illness, but I am still making an impact – on my Community and the World.

Now it’s your turn to Express Yourself ! Open Your Heart and let in love. Put yourself out there. Life is crazy!

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Speech from the MDA-ALS Gala “A Night at the Races” 2013

Hello, I’m Joy Parker.

I’m honored to have been invited to speak with you at the Gala. This is the third time I’ve done this, and even though giving a speech now takes a lot out of me, I am glad to say—I can still speak! As a continuing survivor of ALS, I’m asked, and more often its my husband who gets asked, how long I can expect to live with this disease

The average number is 5 years after diagnosis. I was diagnosed in April of 2010.

ALS is difficult to diagnose. There isn’t a single test for it.

I spent months of visiting different doctors and specialists. The doctors eliminated all of the disease I didn’t have, and to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, when you eliminate all the possibilities, whatever’s left is the truth. And the truth was, I had ALS.

Research into the behavior of ALS is giving our community hope not just for a cure, but for a more meaningful way to predict how ALS might affect us. Researchers in Ireland have found the better your cognitive function is, the better your chances for living longer with ALS. I guess this might be why Steven Hawking, the smartest man on the planet, has been able to live with ALS for over 50 years!!

I want to thank you for your continued support of research, not only to find a cure for ALS, but to support findings like these that help give families a better sense of how much time they have as they live with this disease. This is the third time I’ve spoken at this event. The first time I was able to stand at the podium. Last year I was in a wheelchair. This year I’m in this baby, thanks to the MDA.

I continue to work, and be a mom. My disease has progressed, but my goals have remained the same. I still plan on seeing my youngest daughter graduate from High School.

Thank you.

I need a Hero

Of course, if you are an 80s kid, you are thinking of this song right about now. Watch Video

Heroism. What is it?

What makes A hero ?
Is it someone who leaps tall buildings in a single bound?
Or is a hero a person that knows the right thing to do, or say?

My daughter says her dad is her hero.

She defines a hero as someone who helps other people. Do Armed Forces Heroes give life for country? Or maybe they are heroes for joining and showing up.

Being killed or dying unexpectedly, becomes more of a criminal act. I was quite inspired to write about this topic after Mark Hare, spoke at First Unitarian Church last month. His service is listed on his blog.

It’s in many of us – not born on a distant planet. It’s part of who someone is.

People who are heroes don’t think of themselves as heroes but its based on the decisions they made in their lives.

Everyday heroes – the Webster firefighters

I was one of the many in my community to be shocked & horrified by the actions of a lone gunman on Christmas Eve 2012. Read Article

To think about the men and women I have given speeches to over the past two years at the Fill the Boot Drives … I was speechless. Firemen are very much a big part of fundraising for the MDA.

These men and women who run into buildings to rescue people and animals are true heroes. Not because of their bravery but because of their strength of character.

You will be missed.

Prayers and Support for Webster Firefighters

Speech from the MDA-ALS Gala “A Night at the Races” 2012

Thank you.

It is a pleasure for me to be invited back for a second year in a row. I want to speak to about my ALS and what your support has meant to furthering the work of the MDA.

I’d first like to thank all of you for your support and generous commitment to finding a cure for neuromuscular disease.

Some of you may have noticed there is something a little different about me.
Last year when I spoke at the Gala, I was standing.

This year I am not.

You might think this would be a setback to my goal of seeing my seven year old daughter graduate from high school.

But it isn’t.

If that was my only reason to keep going-to keep existing, then I would be missing the big picture. It is an important goal and a good reason to exist-but it is not the only one.

If I only concentrated on living one more year, I would have missed that year’s worth of important celebrations, birthdays, holidays.
I would have missed my older daughter’s first prom.

I would have missed the simple joy of going out to dinner.
Or having a dinner prepared for me by another family.

Or the scent of lilacs as they bloomed almost a month before they were supposed to because of the unusually warm winter we had.

The finality of ALS has taught me to appreciate the quality of my life as well as the distant goal I have set for me and my daughter.

In a similar way, the goal of the MDA to find a cure for neuromuscular disease is a distant one. It is an important one and a good reason to exist-but it is not the only one.

The MDA’s goal is also to provide for the more immediate needs of myself and the thousands of others that live with this illness.

They provide equipment, information, and access to exceptional care professionals.
They do it with ease and compassion.

They help me maintain an independent quality of life. By being a constant resource of care and support, the MDA has helped me to achieve both of my goals:
to live another year-and to have enjoyed living in it.

And so do you. Your generosity and financial support allows me to continue counting down the years as well as celebrate the special moments within them.

And for that I am so grateful.

Thank you.

Joy giving speech on stage

Speech given at the 2012 MDA Boot Camp

Hello and Welcome to the 2012 MDA Boot Camp for Upstate New York Firefighters. I am Joy Parker, this year’s MDA Personal Achievement Award Winner, and I am honored to be the first to welcome you to this incredibly important event.

In August of 2011, three months after I was first asked to speak at this event, I suffered a pulmonary embolism. A blood clot became lodged in my aorta. These clots are an unfortunate side effect of not being as mobile as I used to be.

It began simply as a shortness of breath and feeling a little weak. Dizzy. I was at work at the time and my quick thinking co-workers called 911. And within 2 minutes, a whole truckload of firefighters were around my little cubicle saving my life.

Now, I’m here today to share with you something most of you never get to hear:
the exact thoughts of a person as they go through such a near-death experience.
And those honest thoughts in my head may surprise you.
What was really on my mind at the time was:

“Why is it all the good looking firefighters always arrive when I’m at my worst?”

Which brings me to today. I am so grateful to be with the finest, (and best looking) firefighters in Upstate New York-without the drama of not being at my best! I am a testament to the quick-actions of Engine 13, Battalion 2 in Rochester, NY and for allowing a little humor into an otherwise dark moment in my life.

I am here to thank you for your support of the MDA Boot Drive campaign, and to share with you how important they are to someone like me.

I have ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I am in a rare group – a woman under the age of 45. For me, that can be a lonely place to be sometimes. In this area, there is only one other woman my age with ALS. Although we “talk” now and again through email, we don’t connect face-to-face. She uses a ventilator and cannot speak. It can be daunting and scary at times to have a terminal illness like ALS and feel so isolated.

Those are the times when it would seem easiest to give up.

Just like, I imagine, how it must feel sometimes when you collect for the MDA. The weather does not always co-operate. Neither do the drivers as they dash by, preoccupied with their own lives. And many who do stop, no longer have the spare change they used to in this age of debit cards and on-line banking.

All I know for sure is as long as I am here, I can help.

And if I can help from this chair, then certainly so do you with your boots.

When you raise money, in any amount, you aren’t just helping to buy the expensive, durable goods, or medicines. You are buying someone like me the most precious gift of all – time.

The spare change you collect when spent locally, helps to pay for an MDA Clinic at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

There, I can meet with all kinds of specialists to help me with my treatment.

Neurologists, Physical Therapists, Rehabilitation Nurses, Speech and Mobility Professionals.

The clinic centralizes all of these professionals into one location for me rather than me having to travel all over to see them.

That saves me time.

That also gives me time.

ALS is not a painful disease, but it is an exhausting one. So any energy I can conserve allows me to concentrate on the important things.

Time to spend with my family – and with you here tonight.

The funds from the Boot Drive buys me time.

An hour with a caregiver.

A few minutes with a specialist.

Or a shared moment with another ALS patient.

Your efforts are incredibly important.

Your Boot Drives creates awareness.

Remember that when you collect those dollars – and cents, you are literally buying me, and the thousands of others who suffer with a neuromuscular disease: time.

Something you can’t put a price on.

Thank you.

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Speech Given to the Ridge Road Fire District

This speech was given last night to inspire the Firefighters for their Annual Boot Drive on February 1, 2012.

Thank you for allowing me to speak with you tonight. I am here to thank you for your support of the MDA Boot Drive campaign, and to share with you how important they are to someone like me.

I have ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I am in a rare group – a woman under the age of 45. For me, that can be a lonely place to be sometimes. In this area, there is only one other woman my age with ALS. Although we “talk” now and again through email, we don’t connect face-to-face. She uses a ventilator and cannot speak. It can be daunting and scary at times to have a terminal illness like ALS and feel so isolated.

Those are the times when it would seem easiest to give up.

Just like, I imagine, how it must feel sometimes when you collect for the MDA. The weather does not always co-operate. Neither do the drivers as they dash by, preoccupied with their own lives. And many who do stop, no longer have the spare change they used to in this age of debit cards and on-line banking.

I imagine those can be the times when it would seem easiest to give up.

Or …at the end of the Drive, when the totals might not have met your goals and you feel that what was done was only “good enough”.

Maybe allow yourself to question “does it really matter”? It can be hard to imagine when the cost to bring a drug or treatment from the labs to me can run 1.8 billion dollars, if it matters’ whether you achieved your goals or came close enough?

With no immediate cause or cure for neuromuscular diseases like ALS or Muscular Dystrophy “What does it matter”?

That is a fair question.

I ask myself that every day.

I have this terminal illness, what does it matter if I stick around?

I know where this is all going – right?

Or do I? Do I really know? Of course not.

All I know for sure is as long as I am here, I can help.

And if I can help from this chair, then certainly so do you with your boots.

When you raise money, in any amount, you aren’t just helping to buy the expensive, durable goods, or medicines. You are buying someone like me the most precious gift of all – time.

The spare change you collect when spent locally, helps to pay for an MDA Clinic at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

There, I can meet with all kinds of specialists to help me with my treatment.

Neurologists, Physical Therapists, Rehabilitation Nurses, Speech and Mobility Professionals.

And people like Sally Kramer, who solves problems for me in so many ways.

The clinic centralizes all of these professionals into one location for me rather than me having to travel all over to see them.

That saves me time.

That also gives me time.

ALS is not a painful disease, but it is an exhausting one. So any energy I can conserve allows me to concentrate on the important things.

Time to spend with my family – and with you here tonight.

The funds from the Boot Drive buys me time.

An hour with a caregiver.

A few minutes with a specialist.

Or a shared moment with another ALS patient.

Your efforts are incredibly important.

Your Boot Drives creates awareness.

Remember that when you collect those dollars – and cents, you are literally buying me, and the thousands of others who suffer with a neuromuscular disease: time.

Something you can’t put a price on.

Thank you.

 

ACOSTA / MDA Golf Tournament Speech

(Imagine the room filled with fruits and vegetables.)

Good Evening!

 

On behalf of the Rochester & Buffalo MDA, I’m honored to speak with you – employees and friends of ACOSTA. Your generous, national support to find a cure for Muscular Dystrophy, has totaled over $75 million dollars, since the inception of your Aisles of Smiles Campaign in 1985.

 

The Aisles of Smiles has, at its roots, a simple idea born out of a father’s desire to raise funding and awareness about his son’s disease.

From something simple come great things.

I’m so grateful that many of you came out today to participate in this year’s golf tournament at Cobblestone. Over 130 participants have raised more than $125,000 for the Buffalo and Rochester area.

 

What I’d like to do is to make a connection between the dollars you have raised, to the people affected by neurological diseases.

 

Illness affects everyone around them – children and adults alike.

 

In my case, I was diagnosed with ALS in April 2010 – and I can assure you, my disease affects my friends, my family, and especially, my six year old daughter.

Since ALS is a progressive illness, I need constant monitoring from a variety of doctors and specialists, as they check and maintain what nerve health I still have.

 

I know it sounds daunting – there is still no cure for ALS, however, the treatment is constantly changing and improving. A real breakthrough for treating ALS can be seen at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

An ALS clinic is held every month.  The structure of the clinic is an amazingly simple and humane concept: have all of the specialists meet in one place with me, rather than me go to them. In a few hours, my Neurological Team has an accurate snapshot of my condition.

It is a collaborative approach to medicine. And it’s a real convenience for me.

 

From something simple come great things.

Collecting and maintaining the best and the brightest for my Team isn’t cheap. Neither is the support they need to stay on top of this disease. The financial support you provide, is making a difference to finding a cure – and to those affected with ALS, like me.

 

Financial support has the effect of providing care to my family as well…

Recently, I attended another MDA event.  I was able to personally thank a generous donor for a grant to install a stair lift in my home. It’s a miracle device that has given me back my independence and it also gave me back access to my home.

But most importantly, it gave me an insight into my daughter’s view of this illness.

After I thanked her, my 6 year old went up to her and said:

 

“Thank you for my mommy’s chair. Now she can float upstairs like an angel!”

 

From something simple come great things:

The healing power of your time and support really do make a difference.

 

They give us a chance to hold onto our dignity and our sense of normalcy.

We can be active family members – and to witness them at their best.

In the case of my daughter, her simple observation was not of sadness or pity, but of happiness and gratitude.

 

My prognosis has been lengthened from months to years. With this extra time, the MDA, and the continuing support of all of you, I will succeed in my simple goal:

I will see my six year old daughter graduate from high school.

Thank you.

 

Speech from Red Wings Game

Hello!

Thank you for the chance to say a few words to you tonight about ALS and the important research being done to find a cure.

ALS is a rare neuromuscular disease that affects about 1 in 100,000 people.

While its cause is still unknown, and the cure remains elusive, we celebrate the progress that’s been achieved by making May “ALS Awareness month”.

We do so as a tribute to a player who, at the height of his career, announced to the world on May 2nd, 1939, that he would be leaving his position as Captain of the Yankees.

The sudden shock of seeing an athlete go from a 363 average to only 4 hits in the first 8 games of the ’39 season gave the world a dramatic example of how quickly ALS can progress, and that no one, not even The Iron Horse, could fight it.

I am referring, of course to Lou Gehrig and the disease that bears his name.

When he made his famous speech, he said he was lucky.

He said it was because of the love and support from his family, friends, and fans, that he could face ALS as he did the game of baseball: with heart and a winning attitude.

Today, the MDA and the University of Rochester Medical Center, are helping ALS patients like myself face this disease,  the same way Lou Gehrig did –  and to live each day to its fullest.

On behalf of the MDA, I ‘d like to thank all the fans of the Rochester Red Wings that are here tonight for your support, and encourage you to do what you can to support ALS research to help us find a cure.

Thank you.

Speech from the MDA-ALS Gala “A Night at the Races” 2011

Hello.

My name is Joy Parker and I’m grateful to have been asked to speak with you tonight.

I must tell you what a wonderful feeling it is to see so many people here tonight united in the search to find a cure for ALS.

I was diagnosed with ALS last April. For years I had felt my body grow weaker, and for years I all I wanted was my doctor to tell me what was wrong. One of the first things I learned when I thought I may have a neurological disease is – it’s not so simple to diagnose.

There isn’t a single test for it.

It requires months of visiting different specialists and doctors who begin eliminating all of the other disease you don’t have, until they run out of options-

and finally the only diagnosis left is ALS.

After almost two years of testing and observing, when my neurologist said those three letters, it was like a punch in the stomach.

Each day I wake up and ask myself, “What did I lose today? Can I still walk unassisted? Will I be too tired to work?” The hardest thing is when Nicole, my 5-year-old daughter, asks me, “Mom, when will you get better”?

ALS is a very complicated disease. It can affect any part of me that has a muscle, as it attacks the nerve connections to my muscles. I am in no pain, but I am tired.

I feel…heavy.

I will admit, it is a little weird that I cannot assume that the things I do today will be there for me tomorrow.

I can let it overwhelm me, or I can take it on.

If I can’t choose to have this illness, I can choose to take it on.

And that’s what I’m doing – with your help.

Since ALS is an ever-progressing illness, I need constant monitoring from a variety of doctors and specialists as they monitor and maintain what nerve health I still have.

I know it sounds daunting that there is still no cure for ALS, however, the treatment is constantly changing and improving. A real breakthrough for treating ALS can be seen at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

An ALS clinic is held every month. The structure of the clinic is an amazingly simple and humane concept: have all of these specialists meet in one place with me, rather than me go to them. In a few hours, my Neurological Team has an accurate snapshot of my condition.

It is a collaborative approach to medicine.

And it is a real convenience for me.

But collecting and maintaining the best and the brightest for my Team isn’t cheap. Neither is the support they need to stay on top of this disease. But I am here to tell you tonight the financial support you provide is making a difference to finding a cure-and to those affected with ALS, like me.

When I was diagnosed with ALS, I was immediately put on the breakthrough drug called Rilutek. Although each month’s prescription is over $1,000, its results are priceless. Because of this drug, I am able to still walk with assistance and I am keeping the symptoms of ALS at bay.

It is one of the reasons I can stand before you tonight.

My prognosis has been lengthened from months to years. And that’s a good thing because with medication, the support of the MDA, and the continuing support of all of you, I will succeed in my goal: I will see my five year old daughter graduate from high school.

Thank you for all of your efforts and continuing to support research for finding a cure for ALS.

Speech from MDA IAFF Boot Camp Kick Off

Hello.

My name is Joy Parker and I’m grateful to have been asked to speak with you today.

I was diagnosed with ALS last April. For years I had felt my body grow weaker, and for years I all I wanted was my doctor to tell me what was wrong. But when all the tests were done, and my doctor said those three letters, it was like a punch in the stomach.

Each day I wake up and ask myself, “What did I lose today? Can I still walk unassisted? Will I be too tired to work?” The hardest thing is when Nicole, my 5-year-old daughter, asks me, “Mom, when will you get better”?

People have told me how brave I am to be facing ALS at such a young age. But I will tell you a secret: my bravery comes from those around me. My family, my doctors, my friends…. and you.

Because seriously, you can’t find anyone braver than New York Firefighters.

While there are many people out there raising money for MDA and ALS, only Firefighters are willing to literally stand in traffic to collect it.

You might not know this, but Firefighters have been working on a cure for ALS since before I was born. The Fireman’s Boot Drive has been around since the mid 1950’s, and is one of the longest running fund drives for neuromuscular diseases like muscular dystrophy and ALS.

Your hard work here today will have real results tomorrow. When I was diagnosed with ALS, I was immediately put on the breakthrough drug called Rilutek. Each month’s prescription is over $1,000, but its results are priceless. Because of this drug, I am able to still walk with assistance and I am keeping the symptoms of ALS at bay.

My prognosis has been lengthened from months to years. And that’s a good thing because with medication, the support of the MDA, and the continuing support of all of you, I will succeed in my goal:  I will see my five year old daughter graduate from high school.

Thank you for all of your efforts and continuing fight against ALS.