It’s been nearly three years since my sister-in-law Angela called to inform me that my youngest brother Richard was heading to the Mayo Clinic to get a second opinion to confirm his Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. I remember it vividly; the news stunned my family. We had no family history and no connection to Alzheimer’s. ‘How could this be?’ I thought. ‘He’s only 53!’ A few days later, the phone call came from Rich, confirming the diagnosis. He explained that he had cried it all out and was going to take a positive approach with his journey. He was optimistic and shared that he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and prayers from family and lifelong friends. It was official: Rich was going to take it one day at a time.
Alzheimer’s has surrounded me for nearly three decades. As a human resources director for Brookdale Senior Living, I am all too familiar with the disease from the training we’ve provided our associates over the years. I’ve seen many residents face the illness and have watched as the faces of their family members become unfamiliar. The idea that my own family is going to realize this is heartbreaking.
Ironically, during the timing of this news, I had been asked by my executive director to lead the charge in working closely with the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter to organize a team for the upcoming Walk to End Alzheimer’s. More passionate than ever, I jumped at the chance. My community involvement through the years had been extensive, and fundraising for various charities had always been something that came easy to me. Networking and raising awareness for a cause that I believed in was a no-brainer, especially when it involved a family member.
Our committee came together and we planned our first fundraiser: “Brews & BBQ.” The committee members were my Brookdale family. The event was held at a local beer pub where my daughter worked on weekends. We asked a friend who had a barbecue business to cater the food, and discovered he, too, had ties to the disease.
When we asked for silent auction items, no one said “no” to our requests. We were stunned to find that so many of these small business owners had a connection to Alzheimer’s as well. The event had a great turnout and we raised nearly $4,000!
We ended up having one of the largest teams at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, raising nearly $5,000, and we were recognized as one of the top teams. The results fueled our committee to raise even more money this year. Our second annual Brews & BBQ moved to the barbecue owner’s venue, and live music was provided by friends who were musicians; we raised $7,000! Our Brookdale community associates held monthly fundraising luncheons, bringing our total to $10,000 – and halfway to my personal goal.
This past June, my brother, who lives in Colorado Springs, came to visit my family for three weeks. At first glance, you wouldn’t really notice any changes. He was in good spirits, conversational and enjoyed one of our luncheons where we had raised over $400. He was proud to see my involvement with our local Alzheimer’s chapter, just as I was proud to help lead the charge in his honor.
But the signs are there. Rich is learning to navigate the daily tasks we all take for granted. He asks for help when he needs it, like making change at a convenience store or packing his suitcase. Rich is enjoying a visit from his daughter who recently moved to Germany, and her son (his first grandchild) who was born last December. This past year he’s traveled to Mexico, Washington, D.C. and to visit his oldest son who’s in the Navy and stationed in Japan. Our dad, who talks to my brother daily, notices the slight changes with every phone call. But, again, Richie is determined to live his life and take it one day at a time.
In August, Corpus Christi was in the path of Hurricane Harvey. The Coastal Bend area was greatly affected by the storm, as was most of Southeast Texas. This caused the Walk to End Alzheimer’s to be rescheduled for December 3. The impact of the storm has affected our fundraising efforts as well. We had planned our first annual “A Shoot to Remember” – a sporting clay event in November when we were hoping to raise another $10,000. The committee decided to postpone, so we are looking forward to making this event a reality in 2018.
Like my brother, I don’t quit. I’m determined and will continue to raise awareness and funds for the Alzheimer’s Association so others can live their lives to the fullest, too. I quickly learned that once you’ve been personally impacted by this disease, a team effort best enables us to pursue the fight against Alzheimer’s. We are taking it one day at a time…and we are all in it to end it.
About the Author: For the past 30 years, Janice Cagle has had a front-row seat when it comes to seeing the impact of Alzheimer’s. As a human resources director at Brookdale Trinity Towers in Corpus Christi, Texas, she knows how the disease can affect both those living with it, along with their loved ones. Now, she’s seeing it even closer as her brother has been diagnosed with the disease. Now, Janice is even more determined to make a difference through the Walk to End Alzheimer's.