Why I walk to end Alzheimer’s

This group, called the Memory Gladiators, was among the teams raising funds for the fight against Alzheimer’s disease during last year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s event held in Tacoma. (Senior Scene file photo)

It was mid-September 2015 when a man standing near me at the Tacoma train station struck up a seemingly innocent conversation.

I explained I was there to wave goodbye to my dear friend who had joined me in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s event that day in Tacoma. Attired in my purple Walk to End Alzheimer’s t-shirt, he took a good look at it and chuckled slightly before making a comment I never anticipated: “Oh, so is that where people just walk around and around in circles until they forget why they’re walking and then they forget that they even forgot?”

He laughed again at what he was sure was a hilarious comment. I bit my lip and looked down. It felt like time froze as I pondered how to respond. Had he really just said that? Why would someone make a joke about this deadly disease? Do people make jokes about cancer and Relay for Life? Did it even cross his mind that a person might participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s after losing someone to this disease?

I took a deep breath and responded slowly, “No, that’s not how this event works. Many who walk have lost someone to Alzheimer’s. Some are caregivers of those who have it, and some folks who have Alzheimer’s walk, as well—if they still can.

“You see Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect memory but how the brain works with every single part of the body as the disease progresses. Many believe it’s a worthy cause to support. In fact, my small team of four actually raised over $1500.” 

He kind of hmmphed and then implied that some probably participate just to make their business look good and wondered if that was my case.

 I decided it was time for him to know just how personal the choice to walk was for me. I looked him in the eye, with tears forming in mine, and explained that my mom had endured Alzheimer’s for years and next month would be the first anniversary of her death due to complications from the disease.

Now he looked down, embarrassed by his joke, understanding the unintended slight he had made.

“I guess you don’t really know about it…or want to know about it…until, well…until maybe you’re going through it, huh?” he stammered,  slowly looking me in the eye again.

“Well, I guess that’s true sometimes, for some people,” I responded, “but thankfully the Alzheimer’s Association and many of the millions affected by this disease are hoping to change that.”

 I then shared a few more facts with him, further explaining why this cause is still near and dear to my heart.

His gaze softened and he replied, with sincerity, “Well, bless you, then. Bless you.” 

A few minutes later, I walked to my car, pondering this exchange. I wondered how many more people don’t understand Alzheimer’s. As he had pointed out, many don’t want to hear the truth about it. But that is the very reason it’s essential they do. We need everyone to know.

The stigma surrounding this disease needs to be undone. Alzheimer’s awareness begins with those of us who’ve walked or are walking this journey. No matter what stage we are in with our loved ones or ourselves, our stories need to be told. Funds need to be raised for research, awareness and support. The Alzheimer’s Association’s South Sound Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Tacoma gives me an opportunity every year to help make this happen. Creating a team for the Walk helps me share my story every year and bring awareness. Please join me in this task. Start or join a team today.