2016 marks the 5th year I have walked in Walk to End Alzheimer’s. This year, I was lucky to walk with friends and family, but there is one person I wish could walk with me – and I simultaneously realize that if she was here, I wouldn't have the same compelling reason to walk. That person is my mom.
When I was 15, my mom was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 50.
The once bold and fiercely independent woman I knew quickly became a stranger to me. At first it was the little things, like forgetting to pick me up from school, or getting confused on a drive home from the airport. Then one day when I was 16, she looked me in the eye and asked: “What’s your name again?”
The day of my graduation, my mom refused to get ready, insisting that the clothing my dad had laid out for her was “for children.” At the last minute, she changed her mind and decided to join us. On our way home, we decided to stop to get some dessert to celebrate. As we made our way to the table to sit down, my mom started yelling at my dad: “I’m not going with him! He hits me! I am not going with him!” A moment of silence followed as we decided what to do.
With Alzheimer’s, there is this inclination to hold onto what is “normal.”
That night after graduation and all throughout my mom’s fight with Alzheimer’s, my family and I fought the battle of how to maintain “normalcy.” That night, normalcy was having dessert with my family, because if my mom could make it through dessert, then maybe things would be okay. We could do what “normal” families do. Unfortunately, there is nothing normal about what Alzheimer’s does to a person.
We didn’t have dessert that night.
My family could feel the eyes of the restaurant guests on us as my mom continued to yell out, and all we could do was smile a little with tears in our eyes as we reassured her: “It’s okay. We’re going to home, and it will be okay.”
On October 3, 2011, my mom passed away.
After her 10-year battle, she finally got to rest. Although I can't change the fact that my mom isn't here – and I can't help but be glad that she's no longer in pain or scared – I refuse to accept that her fight is over. I am now the one who has to fight. One way I choose to fight is by walking to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer's research.
So why do I fight? Why do I walk each year, and look forward to future Walks?
I walk in honor and memory of my mom. I walk because I don't want to have to walk for my friends…and I don't want them to have to walk for me.
I also walk because I long to see the first survivor at a future Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Although I feel energized as I meet other people who are as committed to eliminating Alzheimer's as I am, I wish we didn't even have to think about Alzheimer's as a threat.
The only way we're going to get there is if we continue to raise money and awareness to end Alzheimer’s for good – and keep fighting. This year's Chicago Walk is over, but I'll be back next year; I will keep walking, and I hope you will too.
About the Author: Together with her family and friends, Alexandra Magiera participated in Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Chicago, Illinois. You can visit Alexandra's Walk page here.