MOMENTS OF VICTORY® – Ellen De La Cruz Swims, Teaches, and Stays Positive to Live Well

Ellen de la Cruz smiling outdoors

Each month, we spotlight Moments of Victory® from people in our community. Today, we are happy to feature Ellen De La Cruz from San Diego, CA.

briefly describe your journey since diagnosis  

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s one year ago. Looking back, the signs were there for a while. I thought I had a pinched nerve from a fall. I attributed my lack of motion and tremor in my right hand to falling down a staircase. There was more than one fall, though, and my right foot started dragging as I walked. I also began experiencing anxiety that kept me awake at night and caused difficulty with driving. So, it was at age 47 that my symptoms really took hold, and at age 50 that I was correctly diagnosed. Since diagnosis, I have started to live a fuller life that is managed with exercise and medication.

How do you live well each day?

My diagnosis coincided with the global Covid-19 pandemic, my mom succumbing to Alzheimer’s, and my son leaving home for a military academy (Go Falcons!). However, almost every day, I swim. I alternate between swimming in the ocean and a master’s swim team workout. Last week, I competed in the Sharkfest Alcatraz Swim and I won my division, non-wetsuit, age 50-54!

My day begins at 5:00 am. My legs and body aren’t awake; if you, too, are living with Parkinson’s, you know the feeling. Sometimes it feels like my body is hit by a big rig. I feed the dog, grab the newspaper (yes, I’m old school), make coffee, and take my first dose of carbidopa/levodopa. Then I drive to the pool or beach. By the time I’m done with my swim warm-up, my body usually wakes up. On the ocean days, the cold water jolts me awake, and my friends and I put our heads down and swim to the closest buoy.

Group of five women pose on beach in front of oceanWe see dolphins, schools of fish, tope sharks (harmless), and many other creatures great and small. The sky is always different; sometimes it’s purple and pink, other times it’s a fiery red ablaze over the turquoise blue ocean.

Being in the ocean reminds me of my smallness in the scope of the world, and it reminds me of my connectedness with nature. I breathe. I am alive.

It helps that I share these moments with friends and family.

Then, I drive to my school and spend the day with spirited teenagers. I am an English teacher by trade. When I was first diagnosed, I thought I wouldn’t make it through the school year. But medication and exercise have helped me stave off the progression of Parkinson’s. I make it through the day, albeit some days I limp a little more than others. I feel like the more I move, the better off I am.

what do you wish you had known when you were diagnosed with parkinson’s

When my neurologist casually and unemotionally stated that I had Parkinson’s, I didn’t know what to do. I started Googling anything and everything. I joined online and Zoom support groups. The information was overwhelming and disheartening. I felt like Parkinson’s was a death sentence and that I’d lost control of my story.

Now, just a year later, I know that I control my narrative by working with my neurologist to get my medication right and by exercising more. I’ve had to adjust some things, like taking breaks in the afternoon. I also know the importance of nutrition, hydration, and sleep.

What do you wish everyone living with Parkinson’s knew about living well?

Parkinson’s isn’t a death sentence. We have to keep moving and take care of ourselves. Everyone has a different experience with Parkinson’s. But we can live full, rich lives despite our diagnosis. Life is precious, and we need to make it count.


Each month, we spotlight people from our Parkinson’s community who embody living well today – what we call Moments of Victory®. Your story, like Ellen’s, could be featured on our blog and Facebook page so others can learn from your experiences and victories.  

Submit Your Moments of Victory 

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