Dear Family and Friends,
The “C” word used to be the scariest entry in my personal dictionary of healthcare nightmares. And while the potential of being diagnosed with cancer, the disease that caused the early deaths of both my parents (my mom at only 56 years old), led me to adopt a few healthier lifestyle changes and scared me into never trying tobacco, the truth is that I’ve never been consistent about staying fit or eating correctly. I drink way too much diet soda. I am very creative about justifying chocolate. I exercise only in fits and spurts.
I donated to cancer research. I was moved by my Dad’s taxing effort to complete a cancer walk in 2008, just a few months after his diagnosis, as a symbolic gesture to honor my mom for the walk she was too ill to finish in 1995. I supported the disease awareness efforts of family and friends.
Now in our early 50s (VERY early), my husband and I are still relatively young. But every medical test still comes back clean. We recognize that we are blessed. We understand that we should do more in terms of preventative behavior. I miss my mom and dad terribly.
I guess I’ve never truly believed my health was at immediate personal risk. My parents have been gone a while now. The fear has faded.
In recent years, the subject of my healthcare nightmare has refocused in a new direction. And this time, I think that the fear is even more real because I am worried about the health of my husband, David, rather than my own health. The shift has occurred as my mother in law, Natalie, continues her 13-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Today, this woman who journaled every day of her interesting life of travel and fun for decades can no longer hold a pen in her tightly curled-up hands. She does not recognize anyone; not her daughter in law, not even her children. Her chin rests as if glued permanently onto her chest. Her eyes are unfocused, often closed, although she is not sleeping. He lights have gone out.
As recently as early last year, when my David and I were visiting Natalie, she heard Dave’s voice as when he walked up behind her and said, “Hi Mom.” She immediately lifted her head and smiled, “That’s my David.”
She might have meant her husband, David. The moment of joy, though powerful, was just a moment. It hasn’t happened in a very long time, and it may never happen again.
I truly love Natalie. She was a great mother in law to me, especially after I lost my own mom. And Natalie is certainly one of the reasons I volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
But the driving force behind my volunteer efforts is the fact that I want my David to ALWAYS be My David.
I want to know that he will continue to rigidly follow his morning routine, and to be able to count on the fact that he will take exactly the same amount of time to get ready to leave the house whether we are on time or running a little late. I want to know he has a Plan B. He’s always has one.
As we enter our empty nest years, we hear stories about some of our friends wondering how their marriages will survive the lack of children’s activities and issues to keep them engaged with each other. Not us. David and I relish the coming years, and have loved virtually every moment of the tastes we’ve enjoyed as our youngest daughter goes to and from college. We look forward to watching our girls start their careers, create new families and discover what’s truly important to them.
I watched my mom suffer with cancer for 10 years. My dad died more quickly, in a mere nine months. Both deaths were incredibly difficult, but bearable. I was far away. I could compartmentalize.
Perhaps it’s wrong to admit this, but I just don’t think I could bear it if I were to lose who David is long before I lost him to death. I need his light in my life. Next to my Heavenly Father, it is the most brightly burning light I can imagine. I cannot compartmentalize David’s role in my life.
That’s why I am chairing the 2012 Louisville Walk to End Alzheimer’s. I want a cure to this disease to be found in my lifetime. I don’t want my husband to get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. And I don’t want my children to face a future where Alzheimer’s is still a possibility.
If you’ve read this far in my blog post, perhaps you have a personal connection to Alzheimer’s as well. Please, visit www.alz.org/kyin and sign up to play your role in finding a cure. Sign up a team to Walk to End Alzheimer’s. You’ll be playing a small role in my love story as well.