I just had my 53rd birthday in November. I am a college professor, priding myself on my ability to plan and teach a meaningful lecture. My student evaluations, both oral and written reflect this.
When the semester is going full steam, I have little time for my leisure reading, which I consider a true luxury. I gravitate towards books that good friends recommend and several of my friends are avid readers - lucky me!
At a recent breakfast visit, my friend teared up when telling me about a book she had just read.
"Still Alice" , written by Lisa Genova, is a memoir, fictional work about a woman, Alice Howland, and her life changing diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease.
My friend and I are both nurses. We have studied about Alzheimer's Disease - the signs, symptoms, prevalence and what strides are being made in the treatment of this heartbreaking and progressive illness that steals one's memory and overall quality of life. We have cared for clients and loved family with dementia - most in the end stages, both of the disease and life ... in their 80s and 90s.
From my friend's reaction, it didn't take long for me to start reading ...
Alice Howland was 50-years-of-age and at the top of her game. She is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics. She is married to a successful scientist and PhD scholar, John. Together they raised two daughters, a son and co-wrote a book called "From Molecules to Mind ".
Alice was the glue that held her world together. When John was racing out the door looking for his glasses or keys, his rescue word was 'Ali ...' And no matter what Alice was in the middle of doing, she could put her finger on the lost object.
That is until recently. Alice was starting to notice slip ups, and she was not a 'slip up type of gal...'
Like that BlackBerry charger. Her BlackBerry was second only to her right hand - life was just too chaotic and this device held all the information needed to get from Point A to Point B. And the other day, Alice spent the better part of her morning searching high and low for the charger. Giving up, she purchased another - only to discover the original charger in the electrical socket next to her bed where it was always kept.
Alice was perplexed when she arrived three hours early to visit her daughter Lydia in New York. She thought she was right on time until her daughter corrected her. Lydia was perplexed at her mother's distracted manner and the lapses in their dinner conversation - downright baffled when the waiter chased after them with Alice's forgotten BlackBerry.
Back home, Alice went for a run to clear her head and the stress brought on by the visit. John wasn't home from work yet and would never miss her. Finding herself in Harvard Square on her usual path, Alice discovered that she was completely lost and couldn't figure out where she was. She paced slowly, trying to regain her bearings and fighting the natural urge to panic. She closed her eyes and talked herself through this, pleading with her mind to get a grip. And suddenly, recognition surfaced and she managed to return to her residence.
Stress? Menopause? Hormonal changes? The business and chaos of everyday life? What else could this be... Alice did what any one of us would do in the same situation. She minimized the problem... each and every time she struggled for the right word, the content of her next lecture, even what she had just had for dinner - Alice rationalized her way out of it.
What could it hurt? She might as well get a check up, as it had been awhile. The results were shocking - so shocking that it took her awhile to tell John, even longer to tell the kids. The neurologist confirmed a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's Disease.
A trip to the genetic counselor was even more disconcerting. Alice was screened for the APP, PS1, and PS2 mutations. The results were positive - Alice had a genetic diagnosis and the accompanying fear that her children had potentially inherited these genes as well.
Each family member had their own reaction. Some were quite nurturing and protective. Others were confused, angry, even self-centered at times. Siblings actively disagreed with each other and John over how it should go for Alice - right in front of Alice - all the while she was 'still Alice'...
What made this book so powerful for me was Genova's style of writing in Alice's voice. I felt her confusion. I felt her helplessness. I felt her anger. I cried for her - through a great part of the book.
I learned in reading Alice's story that although Alzheimer's tends to progress more quickly in the early-onset versus late-onset form,
people with early-onset can live many years longer. At the end of the journey, a person is a shadow of their former self - unable to eat independently, speak or recognize their loved ones.
You have enough of a taste of this book to decide if now is the time for you to read it. This is not a warm and fuzzy book. There is no happy ending. In my heart, I believe everyone should read this book at some time in their lives.
Another dear friend of mine is a retired nurse in her early 60s. After reading 'Still Alice', I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that she is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. The irony is that she would have loved this book - even the movie, starring Julianne Moore, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, 2014.
Instead, I will attend this movie with my friend and mentor. Ironically her name is Alice too...! I am packing the tissues.
The message of this awe-inspiring story was two-fold for me:
1- Our minds, our memory and our ability to think ought never be taken for granted - as this can be so easily taken from us.
2- As important as our careers are, there is nothing more important than spending time with those you love, as tomorrow is not promised.
In conclusion, 'Still Alice' is a 5-star read and rated A+++ in my book...!
Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think..
See you next Wednesday at mar's Desk,
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