This has been a very challenging piece to write. In fact, this is my second attempt at putting my thoughts into coherent words surrounding the subject of Alzheimer's. To be honest, it's really hard to go into all of it without sounding like a complete Debbie Downer. It's challenging to voice my thoughts on the disease without completely breaking down. I hate it. I truly and honestly hate the disease with all my heart. But then again, who enjoys it? No one. There was this joke on Orange Is The New Black this season, where the woman who is going in for chemo tells the young boy sitting next to her: "So the doctor says to the patient, 'I have bad news and more bad news. The first bad news is that you have cancer. The second bad news is that you have Alzheimer's.' The patient replies, 'well at least I only have cancer.'" I laughed. Sometimes you really just need to laugh about it. That's why I'm so grateful for causes like Hilarity for Charity. It brings awareness to the disease without completely depressing everyone. But to be fair, Alzheimer's is a heavy subject, and a lot of people don't like to talk about it. I get that. I truly do. But I have a hard time withholding myself from voicing my thoughts on matters such as this. Which is why I continue to write about it.
Last week, my parents and I went to the Alzheimer’s Disease: Continuum of Care VIII, North Bay Education Conference for Families and Professionals (woof, say that five times fast). My dad was on a panel there that consisted of early stage individuals. He was the only man out of four people, which could be due to the fact that women are more likely to diagnosed with it than men. That was something I learned there. Statistically, there is a 66.7% chance for women to be diagnosed in her lifetime. See, there I go again being a D.D. (Debbie Downer), but this shit is real and really frustrating to hear.
It’s also frustrating to know that these people suffering from this disease are now being defined by just that. Which is why I sometimes get agitated when people ask me how my dad is doing. I completely understand that it is out of love and concern, so it's not technically the question, but I guess it's more the way I have to answer it. Often times, I find myself talking about his health and well being more than telling people about him volunteering at a salvation store, participating in Meals on Wheels, and joining up with a wonderful support group advocating for those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Actually, that's a lie. I try to brag about that as often as I can. What really upsets me is the fact that I will never be able to look these people in the eyes and answer "you know what, he's cured!" Because there is no cure, not yet at least. There is no quick fix. Those that have it and those that know someone with it, we all just have accept it and move on.
And many people don't accept it. A lot of people hide from society because there is still a large stigma surrounding this disease and elders in general. That's why it's so phenomenal to see those that not only accept it but speak up about it as well. That's what my dad and so many members from his support group are doing. A couple months ago, they went up to the state capitol to voice their stories, and before that, my dad spoke at our hometown’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s event. He might seem like a shy guy, but he sure as hell is making his voice heard through these types of programs. I couldn't be a more proud daughter.
Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. For those that have someone in their life suffering from Alzheimer's, that is how most days can feel to them. While I don’t live at home with my parents, I am aware that it is no easy battle. Both of them struggle each day with various obstacles, but maintain an overall positive outlook on things. It could be very easy for them to sink into depression or become so frustrated that they just want to call it quits. But they keep going. Among the many things that my parents have taught me, it is just that. To keep fighting the good fight. We try not to lose sight of what is important and always aim to look at the more positive side of things instead of the negative. We chose to embrace what life throws us and charge on.
At the event last week, the closing speaker was this gentleman, Alan Arnette. He is a mountaineer and Alzheimer's advocate. If twenty years younger, he would be my future husband because he has climbed the seven summits and has some of the most amazing stories. He also dedicated his ventures to his mother, who passed away due to Alzheimer's. Quite a remarkable man and a true inspiration to make a difference in anyway you can. Which got me thinking...
As I have mentioned before, I am an avid hiker. So today, being summer solstice and all (a.k.a. the longest day), I decided to do my own miniature summit climb and dedicate it to my parents. It was no Mount McKinley, but it was a good three mile hike accomplished in under forty-five minutes. When I got to the top of the hill (and I have to say hill, because it seems like that in comparison to Alan Arnette's treks) I paused. I stood there and took in the entire view of Los Angeles. As I had climbed up there, I was constantly reminded of all of those that continue to push forward, that continue to fight, and those that aim to make a difference in the world regardless of their circumstances. I thought of how much I have to be grateful for, it's ridiculous. I'd be lying if I said I this isn't the happiest (and healthiest) I've been in several years, but I know life is always full of highs and lows (good climbing metaphor, right?). Seriously though, all my happiness is due to their amazing ability to find the joy in life in the smallest of moments. So, in honor of my superhero parents that have raised a truly stubborn, feminist, independent, outspoken, and silly daughter, I just have to say: