Running for Alzheimer's
There’s a common saying, “We don’t always choose our path in life, sometimes it chooses us.”
Such is the case with me, after a devastating diagnosis for my mother caused me to look hard at what I was doing with my life.
Like many of you, I was going about “life as usual.” I was a successful, single woman, living in Ireland, who could pretty much do what she liked, when she liked. Sure, there were the usual challenges and obstacles, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
Then it happened. In November 2009 my mother was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Here was something I wouldn’t be able to fix.
Why? Alzheimer’s is the only disease in the top ten causes of death with no effective treatment, no cure, and no way to even slow its progression. It would rob my mother’s memories and her cognitive function, and cause changes in personality and language difficulties.
In September 2011, less than 2 years after the diagnosis, my beloved Mama didn’t recognize me. It wasn’t just that she didn’t remember my name; she couldn’t even place who I was, or connect in any way that I might be her daughter. I was a complete stranger to her.
My heart broke in a way it never has before. What could I do about this?
I went to my passion, running. I hit the street and ran through the tears, the pain, the denial, the anger. And in those moments I realized that a new path had chosen me.
I decided to work to fight Alzheimer’s. I could bring awareness to the disease and the millions of families struggling to live with it. And I could do it in my own way, with the tools I had.
So I made another decision. In 2012 I would start an international campaign, travelling from my home in Dublin to start Running for Alzheimer’s. And I would not stop running until a cure for Alzheimer’s disease is found.
So here I am, days away from my first challenge: The Boston Marathon on April 16th, the world’s oldest organized marathon, attracting an estimated 25,000 runners, including some of the most elite runners from around the globe.
I will be tackling 26 miles, wearing my purple Alzheimer’s t-shirt along the way, hoping every stride I take, every mile I mark, will get someone else talking about this disease.
But more than just raising awareness, I’m also raising funds for The Alzheimer Society of Ireland. And to make sure that all money raised goes directly to programs that will help Alzheimer’s families, I’m covering all the costs associated with the trip and marathon personally, out of my own pocket.
While I’ve been training for the marathon, the work of being an Alzheimer’s caregiver goes on. My father is my mother’s full time caregiver. My siblings and I have a schedule to give him weekly breaks.
Like many others, we’re juggling full time jobs, families, friends and now caregiving. Ironic that my mother was a nurse when she was younger; she was used to being the primary caregiver and now she must depend on all of us.
In the last few years, we’ve dealt with the memory loss, the personality changes, the wandering, and are now doing house renovations to accommodate my mother’s physical decline.
We already lost my mother’s sister to Alzheimer’s, now her brother is also fighting it. So I know how hard Alzheimer’s disease is to a patient and their family. I know it can cloud you in so much darkness you struggle to see the light.
For too long, Alzheimer’s has been a silent disease. People, our family included, didn’t talk about it. I never dreamed I would be talking this publicly about it, or taking to Twitter, Facebook and beyond to raise funding and awareness. But that’s the path that chose me.
We need to get people talking, thinking and caring about Alzheimer’s. International research shows every country in the world is affected by it.
We all wish we could do something big in life. I learned you do what you can. I can run. So I am putting that passion to good use, Running for Alzheimer’s.
What would you do for a good cause? I’m running the Boston Marathon on April 16th.
Samantha Howe lives in Dublin, Ireland. She is a graduate of Trinity College and also has a Masters in Digital Media, currently working in IT. An avid runner and fitness enthusiast she is now studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer. She helps her father as a secondary Alzheimer's caregiver to her mother and has become active in Alzheimer's awareness and fundraising.