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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Likness

2020 Couldn't Shake Me

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. In my experience, the very nature of having an excuse to wait for an arbitrary date to start new habits reflects a temporary mindset. Powerful change requires commitment beyond just the motivation of the new year; it requires inspiration that is powerful enough to begin the change when it's inconvenient and endure when things don't go perfectly well. I do, however, recognize how important it is to pause and review past accomplishments (and failures) and set or update goals for the future.

I wrote my first public "year in review" blog in late 2015 and have been blogging year end reviews since then. Although most of the reviews are technology-related, I started sharing personal and health-related goals as well. Last year, I traveled the world. This year? I stayed close to home. Last year, I mourned the loss of my brother-in-law. This year, I had to say goodbye to our beautiful German Shepherd. My father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and succumbed within the year. My wife and I were just beginning to accept my diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease (PD) when the entire world was transformed by a global pandemic.

This is what I wrote at the end of 2019:

"In the past year I developed a tremor in my left arm. Initially it was just an issue of my hand shaking randomly, but more recently I’ve lost dexterity in that hand and have trouble articulating my fingers. The main negative impact is that my typing speed has slowed. I’ve seen seven different doctors who inspected my wrist, elbow, shoulder, and neck, including taking MRIs of my neck and head, and still have no diagnosis. The next step is a special scan to rule out Parkinson’s Disease. It will be interesting looking back at the end of next year to see how my quest to diagnose and treat this tremor unfolds."

I'll come back to that quote in the "Looking Back" section of this post. I'm continuing the tradition of reflection and goal-setting. I'll still keep track of "technical things" on another blog, but this blog is where I'm focused on sharing my personal journey.

Target Practice: 2020 Goals

Let's take a look at the goals I set a year ago. How realistic were they?

Goal: Advance my career with a promotion or change of role

Result: ✅ Success

Ironically, I was informed of my new role at Microsoft the same week that I discovered I have PD. I started as a developer advocate and moved into a program manager role. I shifted from calling attention to new tools and products being released to being a part of the team that releases those tools and products.

Goal: Travel less

Result: ✅ Success

In 2019, I flew over 124,570 miles taking 17 trips to 26 cities in 10 countries. I visited

Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, and several cities in the United States. This year I took a total of three trips: London, Atlanta, and a small town in Florida named Sebring to see my father-in-law before he died. Although my travel was limited due to the pandemic, my new role would involve less travel even under normal circumstances.

Goal: Continue to exercise consistently

Result: ✅ Success

In 2019, I recorded 174 "activities" including running, hiking, cardio and weight training. In 2020 my PD diagnosis gave me laser focus and I recorded over 270 activities.

Goal: Summit at least four (4) new mountains

Result: ❌ Missed

Although I didn't summit four new mountains, I did go on several new hikes including a challenging overnight marathon-length loop.

This was what it looked like going up to our campsite:

An elevation chart
The climb

The lake we camped next to was absolutely stunning.

A clear, blue lake
Why do they call it "blue lake"?

The next day's half marathon started with a bit of a climb and then a very long downhill trek back to the start.

An elevation graph
The descent

We were rewarded with some amazing views. This was just one of them.

A view of mountains and a volcano

I'm not disappointed about missing this goal at all!

Goal: Volunteer at my church

Result: ❌ Missed

I continue to tithe to various churches, but with the pandemic and my diagnosis, my wife and I focused our energy on charitable contributions for families in need and PD awareness.

I will set some new goals for 2021, but first let's take a look at some health stats.

Looking Back

Here is a summary of some stats from 2020 compared to 2019:

Category 2020 2019

Total Activities 270 (+96) 174

Total Training Distance 114 miles (-128) 242 miles

Total Hours Training 183 hours (+84) 109 hours

Total Elevation 21,128 feet (-6,871) 27,999 feet

Total Steps 2,197,007 (-356,196) 2,553,203

Resting Heart Rate 49 bpm (+2) 47 bpm

Although the pandemic kept me indoors more and reduced my steps, I compensated through more training. It is interesting to note my resting heart rate increased slightly. It always drops when I start running, but doesn't respond to other forms of cardio.

Remember that quote at the beginning of this post? I said: "The next step is a special scan to rule out Parkinson’s Disease." Wow, I was confident that it would be ruled out, wasn't I? Of course, I was wrong. The diagnosis didn't rule it out, and in fact led me to a movement disorder specialist (MDS) who gave me an official diagnosis.

Here are some of the interesting moments that happened in 2020:

👍 I visited London with my wife for what would be the last Microsoft conference I attended in-person (we were supposed to visit Zurich, too, but that got canceled).

A sunrise over London
Sunrise over London

👍 At the end of January, a good friend of mine from Georgia visited Seattle. We hung out downtown and he introduced me to the Oculus Quest, a mobile virtual reality headset. I was so impressed that I bought one of my own. Thanks for visiting me, Doug! You have no idea how much that visit transformed my life in a positive way.

An image of the Space Needle at night
The Space Needle

👍 I was accepted into a new role at Microsoft as a senior program manager for .NET data.

👍 My last in-person talk was at a conference in Atlanta called DevNexus. I had a great time visiting my daughter and son-in-law. My daughter had an internship at CNN and took me on an insider tour. CNN shut down all internships shortly after.

The Atlanta skyline
Atlanta skyline

👍 My daughter visited in March and we rented a house in Port Angeles. It was a beautiful mini-vacation and while I was there, I took on the Paqui One Chip Challenge. Follow the link to watch a fun video my daughter made that shows what happens when you eat a chip coated in Carolina Reaper dust.

A picture of me showing I survived the One Chip challenge
The One Chip Challenge

👍 I decided it was time to get laser-focused with fitness and began a series of personal challenges, starting with a Burpee a day. The result? My Parkinson's Disease symptoms improved, I shed about 20 pounds, I gained muscle and I feel great.

👎 We had a rough roller coaster ride with our German Shepherd named "Indi." She was diagnosed with hip dysplasia at a young age and was obviously having major issues. A visit for X-Rays to diagnose her hips reveled a large mass where her spleen should be with a 50/50 likelihood that it was cancer. We decided to move forward with a biopsy to confirm, and were relieved when we learned it was an enlarged spleen that was successfully removed and there were no visible tumors. She had a great recovery and things were looking up when we received the phone call that labs confirmed that she was afflicted with a very aggressive blood borne cancer. We barely had time to process the news before her condition deteriorated and we had to say goodbye. She died in my arms Father's Day weekend.

👍 We decided our next puppy will be trained as a service dog and after some research decided to go with a working German Shepherd. We found a local breeder, met the parents and secured our spot. We just received news that the mom is pregnant with a litter due early January. That means we'll be ready to pick up our puppy in March 2021! Now to agree on a name...

👍 To deal with the pandemic, my wife and I went on several "retreats" or short trips to local areas. We visited new areas on Whidbey Island, explored the areas south of Seattle and even stayed for a short while in Oregon. I got to explore this tunnel:

A picture of a tunnel cut into the side of a bluff
A tunnel to a hidden cove

A few days later, it was buried in a rockslide. Close call! I can't say they didn't warn me.

The tunnel sign that says "Caution: falling rock"
Caution: falling rock

👍 A huge highlight of the year was seeing a comet with my own eyes for the first time ever. I've always been fascinated with astronomy and my first dream job was to be an astronaut before I discovered computers. It turns out if you have a way to hold it steady, even a phone can take decent comet pictures.

The silhouette of a person with a comet
A picture of my wife taking a picture of the comet

👍 2020 was a great year for getting outside. I hiked a bluff at the edge of the water, scrambled along the base of Mt. Rainier, had a picnic at a serene lake, took a grueling overnight marathon-distance backpacking trip and bush-whacked my way up a steep hillside to experience an isolated but scenic view.

A picture of Mt. Rainier
Mt. Rainier. It's a volcano, yo! 🌋

I experienced many beautiful moments in 2020 and shared many of them with a weekly tweet. Click to see my tweets about: Some Good News in 2020.

👍 I joined a local support group for young onset Parkinson's Disease and met many wonderful people willing to share their own experiences and provide support and advice to each other. We meet over video conference at first but were able to join a few activities as well, such as walking the beautiful Kubota Garden.

👍 I trained hard and finally am able to do one-armed push-ups.

👎 I didn't save the best for last. Unfortunately, this is the most painful. We lost Doreen's dad, Pa. He was like a father to me. He got so excited to hear my career updates. He was the one I called when water started gushing from our basement wall and I didn't know what to do (he guided me to the front lawn where a metal lid covered the shut-off valve). When Doreen had her surgery, he came to stay with us to help out. He was a great father, husband, grandfather and great-grandfather and Christmas wasn't the same without him. I especially feel for Doreen who had to say goodbye to her mother, her brother, and her father in a short period of time.

Love and miss you, Pa!

Doreen and Pa
Doreen and Pa

Whew! That's enough of looking back. Let's move ahead.

Looking Forward

What do I expect to accomplish in 2021? As you may have guessed, having Parkinson's Disease has shifted priorities a bit. Here are some of the goals I've set:

  • Launch a new podcast with Doreen that deals with PD from the perspective of both the afflicted and their caregiver.

  • Continue to consistently eat healthy, natural, organic plant-based foods and exercise both intensely and regularly so that my PD score stays low or drops even lower.

  • Raise awareness about the power of VR for exercising the mind and body and help empower others with and without PD to use this exciting new modality.

  • Ski at least once this season.

  • Start a new campaign and continue to raise awareness and funding to find a cure for Parkinson's Disease.

  • Take another overnight hiking trip.

  • Advance my career. I love my role, so that means promotion.

  • Read the bible every day, pray and keep my faith in Jesus.

This was an emotionally exhausting post to write but my heart is full and I'm happy I was able to share this with you. My PD symptoms started with shaking, but 2020 couldn't shake me and I'm ready to take on 2021. Thank you for reading and I wish you an abundant and successful year ahead.

Warmest regards,

Jeremy Likness

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Dec 27, 2020

Ey mon... good to read your post. With the many downs of this year it is good to see you moving upwards.


Dec 26, 2020

Thank you for this post. My husband is 54 and was diagnosed this year. He had been having problems for about 3-4 years. We were sent to Wake Forest University. They diagnosed him immediately. There have been been changes for our family. I appreciate you sharing you experience. It will help many families affected by PD.

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