TRACEY Tolhurst carries a card.
It has four dot points. Three are: "I may be slow or unsteady on my feet; I may have difficulty speaking or writing clearly; and I can hear and understand you.
The kicker is the first dot point, though. "I have Parkinson's Disease.
Tracey, who lives in Gordon, has had Parkinson's Disease for at least 13 years. It wasn't correctly diagnosed until six years ago, though. And it has got worse since then.
Most people would recognise Parkinson's as that degenerative condition Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali have, which causes shaking known as tremors.
But Tracey's experience, like everyone else's, is her own.
"There are 150 different forms of Parkinson's. I happen to have a very similar form to Michael J. Fox and he and I were diagnosed at about the same age," she says.
"He doesn't take his medication to show people what it's like. But it doesn't have to be like that. On medication it's much better."
Parkinson's disease occurs when the part of the brain that produces dopamine starts to die. Dopamine is the chemical that sends messages to nerve cells that control motion. It is a creeping disease: by the time symptoms begin to be noticeable, the majority of the cells that produce dopamine are already dead.
That may have been the case for Tracey, who first noticed symptoms in the year 2000.
"I noticed a slight shaking in my left hand while I was holding some paper," she explains.
"Then in 2003 I had a seizure. I had already booked an appointment with a specialist before that to find out about the tremor. All he was interested in was the seizure, though. He even said he could guarantee it was not Parkinson's or MS.
"I can remember sitting in his office and saying to myself: 'mate I've got one of them'."
Tracey's suspicions remained but it was not until 2007 when her fears were confirmed. And perhaps the delay and the doubts in the lead up to that diagnosis cushioned the blow of finding out she had the disease.
"I finally saw a neurologist who was able to give me the confirmation I had Parkinson's," Tracey recalls.
"It was a bit of a relief in a way to find out because at least I finally had an answer.
"They were able to put me on medication and that helped stop the tremor for a while."
The medication Tracey refers to treats the symptoms of Parkinson's. There is no cure as yet.
She plugs in a needle at the start of the day and the Apomine pump stays attached for up to 16 hours before she takes it out.
Over time the medication loses its effectiveness, even as the condition itself gradually gets worse.
Even with the medication there are some days when it is very difficult, she explains.
"I have a pump and I inject it every day, each morning. It's not at all comfortable," Tracey says. "You have to put the needle in a different location every day.
"My work colleague Susan asks me how I can inject myself. It's actually quite easy now.
"Life has changed. I'm very tired on the medication. You have good days and not-so-good days. I don't like to use the words 'bad day' but to be honest some of those not-so-good days are becoming bad days.
"The pain is getting worse. I find at times it's similar to a cramp. Your hands and feet just tighten up and it makes everything really hard. I love quilting but on the not-so-good days I can't do it.
"I can tell you what it's like. It's like if you have a long shirt on and you sit on the it and you can't pull your arms. It's just tight."
Tracey says she has never had a "why me?" moment, though. She tries to use humour most of the time to deal with the condition. Usually it helps.
She has also decided to keep working while she can because stopping is like giving up.
"You tell yourself to just get on with it," Tracey explains.
"I sometimes call it 'Dougie', as in Doug Parkinson. Some of the customers here ask how 'Dougie' is and I might say he's being a pain in the bum or I might say 'no, Dougie's okay today. I guess you need to have a bloody good sense of humour.
"I try not to stop doing any of the things I used to do. I can't do gardening anymore because of the getting up and down. But I still do quilting. And I still like to restore furniture.
"Let's just say eBay and I are really good friends, to the point where my husband wants me to get rid of some stuff.
"I want to keep working as long as I can. It is about the mental stimulation as much as anything. And giving the boss cheek."
The other thing she tells herself is that she is not the only one dealing with the condition.
This week was International Parkinson's Disease Awareness Week. It is a reminder that many people are having to cope with the illness and, while that doesn't make it any less painful physically, it does help emotionally.
"Awareness is extremely important," says Tracey, who is also on the committee of a Parkinson's Disease support group of 60 people based in Sebastopol. "25-30 people in Australia are diagnosed every day.
"It is considered an old person's disease but I am considered early onset. I got diagnosed at 46. I have heard of a case where someone was diagnosed as a 15-year-old
"The progression is slower in someone younger but it is still not a nice thing at all. You can understand how people get deep depression.
"The (awareness) week is for others too, so they can be more considerate."
There are some oddities with Parkinson's disease. Like the fact that some people who struggle to walk can easily ride a bike.
For Tracey, it's driving. Even on her worst days, sitting behind the wheel of her car will make her hands instantly steady.
Some people don't experience tremors at all in the beginning. It might simply be difficulty regulating body temperature (Tracey always has the fan on at work) or not being able to do things as well as one could in the past.
Then there is the fact that coffee and (of all things) smoking can decrease the risk of the condition occurring, although that must be weighed up against other risks, naturally.
On the down side, high protein food is out (it interferes with the medication), while alcohol is also a no-no.
"I live my life day-by-day," Tracey says. "One day I know I will be dependent on others but I hold out hope they find a cure. I can deal with it as it is now, but later?" She leaves the question hanging.
There is no silver bullet in terms of a cure yet, but there are two promising lines of research. One is with stem cells, the other is research using pigs.
While that work continues, hope remains. And that's a powerful medication in itself.