(This is part of an ongoing weekly diary as Ginger Sanders shares the emotional journey she is taking with her husband, John, as they discover his onset of Alzheimer’s. Over 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease; one in eight older Americans have it. Ginger and John Sanders did not expect to be among those statistics. Ginger’s touching story puts a real face and real name on the statistics and – she hopes – will help all of us understand what so many of our fellow Americans, loved ones and neighbors are going through.)
By Ginger Sanders
Exclusive to KyForward
Marriage vows are very interesting. When you say them, you never think that health will be an issue until you both are old and grey. Even at that, you assume (or wish for) that both of you, holding hands, will pass in the night simultaneously.
Jennifer and John Sanders.
Our entire life together has been a dream come true. My John is a big guy, handsome, former linebacker, kind, healthy and a successful businessman. Our marriage is a love story. From the day we met 20 years ago at a NCAA Sweet Sixteen Basketball Game (Kentucky playing Wake Forest) in Charlotte, North Carolina to marrying exactly one year later. We were meant for each other. We are each other’s destiny. And what an incredible trip it has been.
So shouldn’t we be grateful for 20 years of health and happiness? WE ARE BUT….How do you adapt your life to Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a death sentence; you just don’t know how much time you have. But do we ever really know how much time we have left on Earth? Of course not, Alzheimer’s just puts a name and scope to it. In trying to cope with this disease, there are so many questions. How do you plan? How do you act? How much do you keep from your husband? Who handles the day to day tasks? What about the dreams you had together? Should you be afraid to leave him alone, when does that happen?
In prior columns, I wrote about how this insidious disease was affecting us and what we are doing to impede its progress. It is now time to plot the future. Until last week, I skirted the realization of what this disease means to US as a couple. I had thrown myself into researching homeopathic remedies, getting John into a clinical study, preparing organic menus, keeping him active and involved. Now it was time to accept reality and adjust our lives to living with this malevolent disease.
We, like most of you, have saved and planned for our retirement. In our case, it is a retirement in South Carolina which still can’t happen until we sell our farm. So why was I waiting for us to do things when our life timetable has been skewed by the Alzheimer’s. It was as if I was waiting for a miracle and then everything would go back to like it was before the diagnosis. I had to acknowledge that time was no longer on our side. No one is promised a tomorrow.
Although John was diagnosed 7 months ago with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, I had taken over all the important tasks. John was not an invalid. He is intelligent, remembers pretty well, and can drive just about anywhere. I, sometimes, go overboard and like Alexander Haig, “take charge.” I took a step back. I was treating John like a child, protecting him but in reality was taking away his independence.
We sat down and had a heart-to-heart discussion. John understood I was trying to help but in doing so I taking more responsibility on my shoulders while draining his confidence. He can handle most of the same tasks he did before the diagnosis. WE entered a new phase of our life and marriage. We became compatriots. WE now make plans TOGETHER. John is not an invalid so it was time for me to stop “managing” him.
The day after our 11th grandson’s birth, we decided that we were not going to let Alzheimer’s stop us from enjoying life. We were going to live every day to its fullest. In September, we are going to take a trip to the Grand Cayman Islands. John has wanted to learn to use a computer so I bought him an IPAD. John will enjoy learning how to use it for reading and viewing websites oriented to fishing, hunting, and woodworking. He has always wanted to take a balloon ride so — although this is a secret — in October I plan on making a reservation with a balloonist so we can view the beauty of Kentucky from a balloon.
John is now making his daily smoothies to ensure he gets his coconut oil and it is one less task for me. He is back to bush-hogging the fields and maintaining the farm. He is so much happier. He is contributing. By protecting him, I was taking away his virility.
We have come to a realization and acceptance of what needs to be done. I am a “fixer” so not being able to fix John’s Alzheimer’s has taken its toll. We are not ones to ask for help but have come to crossroads where we need help, physically and emotionally. We have asked for God’s, our family and friends’ help. We need their support, love and help. They have all graciously given themselves to us without any hesitation. Dealing with Alzheimer’s is a process and we are only at the beginning.
The South Carolina Respite Coalition has granted me copyright permission to share the attached file. It is titled, “What You Need to Know About Me”, a guide for lay people when they are dealing with Alzheimer’s patients. It is an incredible document so let me know your thoughts so I can pass it on to the authors of this helpful document.
Next: Third Infusion. Can we see a positive difference?
Although Ginger is a vice president of sales for a renowned antimicrobial company (SAS Global Inc.), her main objective is to stymie the onslaught of Alzheimer’s on her husband, John. Ginger lives with her husband and three dogs on their farm in Lawrenceburg. A dedicated family person, she and her husband have 11 grandsons. Ginger Sanders is a transplant from South Carolina and a product of the University of South Carolina where she majored in the English Literature. She has taken on the fight of Alzheimer’s to win and help others as they struggle through the quagmire of this disease. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read all of Ginger’s diary entries