Alumna’s calendar photo inspires others with Parkinson’s disease

Sandy Cohen-Tulip Flame of Hope_PDF Creativity Calendar 2014[4]

A floral photograph taken by COE ProTeach alumna Sandy Schilffarth Cohen (BAE ’95, MAE ‘96) has been selected to appear on the cover of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation’s 2014 calendar.

Her photograph (above) depicts a fiery orange and yellow tulip — the official symbol of Parkinson’s disease. More than 1,500 voters helped to decide that her photograph would be the cover image of PDF’s annual print calendar, which is distributed to 20,000 people nationwide. 

Cohen, 41, who taught special education in Alachua County for three years and now lives in Alexandria, Va., is one of 13 artists afflicted with Parkinson’s disease whose entries were voted by the public to be used in the Creativity and Parkinson’s Calendar. The annual print edition is distributed nationally to inspire others and create awareness of the progressive neurological disorder that affects nearly a million Americans.

COHEN, Sandy“I was really excited when I found out I was one of the five finalists for the cover photo,” the Gainesville native said. “But I was absolutely thrilled when they told me I won. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a photograph published.”

Cohen retired from her job as a special education teacher in the Fairfax County Public Schools in 2007 – four years after she was diagnosed with the debilitating disease at age 31. Only 4 percent of people living with Parkinson’s are diagnosed before the age of 50.

Though she has enjoyed creative pursuits such as drawing, music and taking photography lessons from her father since she was young, Cohen’s passion for the latter was reignited after her diagnosis. 

“Photography gives me freedom from thinking about my symptoms and allows me to remember the ‘real’ me,” she said. “To have people from across the nation inspired by my photograph and sharing the experience of Parkinson’s together through art makes me so proud.”

Appearing on the calendar next to her photo is an equally inspiring quote by Cohen, a mother of two elementary school-age children: “I find an inner beauty in nature and each individual flower, which gives me the strength to enjoy each day knowing that my disease will not win the battle at this time in my life.”

Cohen is one of 350 artists living with Parkinson’s who have shared their artwork and experiences with PDF’s Creativity and Parkinson’s Project.

For more information or to order the free Creativity and Parkinson’s Calendar, go online to www.pdf.org/creativity