Thank You, Michael J. Fox

Erin Paterson avatar

by Erin Paterson |

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My husband and I were standing in a line of hundreds of people waiting to meet Michael J. Fox, one of the stars of the “Back to the Future” trilogy of movies. All around us were adults dressed up as their favorite comic and movie characters. We had never been to Comicon before, and it was quite the spectacle.

I had paid in advance so that we could have our picture taken with Michael. More importantly, though, I wanted to thank him for the positive influence he has had on my life. Knowing I probably wouldn’t have much time to express the extent of my gratitude, I had written him a thank-you note.

As I nervously shuffled along in line, clutching the note in my right hand, I listened as a staff member blasted instructions over a megaphone. “Don’t touch the talent. Don’t give him anything. You can say something to him, but don’t expect a response.”

I wasn’t going to be deterred that easily, so I asked several staff members if I could give him the letter anyway. The definitive answer was no. “Well, I can still try to talk to him,” I said to my husband.

An hour later, our turn finally came. As we walked over to stand next to Michael, he looked at my husband and said hello. The photographer told us to smile and snapped a photo the instant we looked up. We were next to Michael for seconds before we were ushered on. I had missed my chance.

thank you

From left to right, me, Michael J. Fox, and my husband. (Courtesy of Erin Paterson)

This is what my thank-you note said:

Dear Michael,

I have written to thank you on numerous occasions over the past 10 years, but have never mailed you any of the letters. I have never been able to adequately express the positive difference you have made in my life. Rather than regretting my words left unsaid, I am finally writing to say THANK YOU. I hope that my note conveys how truly grateful I am.

When I was in my early 20s, I read your book “Lucky Man” and was stunned by the message within those pages. You described being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease as a GIFT. I hadn’t encountered anyone with your outlook on life. I thought to myself, If I ever get a life-altering disease, I want to be like Michael J. Fox and see it as a good thing. I was unaware of the ticking time bomb in my family’s genetics at the time.

At the age of 31, I was diagnosed as gene positive for Huntington’s disease. Shortly after that, I started suffering infertility. The following six years were the worst of my life. I sank into a deep depression. I was in such a gut-wrenching state of despair that I was simultaneously afraid to leave the house and to be alone in it with only my fearful thoughts for company. I didn’t think it would be possible to be happy again.

Then I remembered reading your book all those years earlier and looked to you for inspiration. The mantra that helped get me through was, “I want to be like Michael J. Fox and see this as a good thing.” You had a huge influence on how I perceived my diagnosis. Slowly and painfully, I started confronting my fears in order to rebuild my ideal life. The biggest part of that was learning how to live a happy and meaningful life even though my future includes Huntington’s disease.

Only in the past two years have I have gotten over the fear of exposing my secret and started talking about my experiences. At first, I revealed the information to a few friends, then I got up the guts to participate in a Huntington’s disease awareness campaign. I am proud to say that I have also written a memoir called “All Good Things.” (I am currently looking for a publisher.) In it, I talk about your influence on my life. Your book helped guide me through my hardships, and I know that sharing my story will help someone, too.

I am incredibly grateful that you shared your experiences with the world. If it weren’t for you, I don’t know where I would be right now. After all these years, please accept my biggest, heartfelt thank-you for sharing your story and doing so in such a positive, optimistic, and life-altering way.

Best Regards,

Erin Paterson

Michael J. Fox will probably never know the influence he’s had on my life, but I think it’s important to talk about the fact that he did. It was his optimism that gave me an important goal: to find happiness after being diagnosed as gene positive. His words gave me strength and showed me that it was possible.

There is incredible power in sharing our stories.


Note: Huntington’s Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Huntington’s Disease News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Huntington’s disease.


Roy Nierenberg avatar

Roy Nierenberg

Erin, Thanks for sharing yur story and your letter to Michael Fox. I am also diagnosed with HD, but I am lucky to live positively with it. I gave a talk on living positively with HD at the HDSA national convention in Chicago and was featured in a 3-part interview on the Stanford HOPES site.

Take care,


Erin Paterson avatar

Erin Paterson

Hi Roy
Thank you for your message and for sharing your story with me. I just sat down and read the whole thing. It is so wonderful to see you living a positive live with HD.


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