To remember those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and the families who love them

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By Caroline Curran, Reporter

It was my best friend’s wedding. I stood proudly at the altar in a surprisingly wearable bridesmaid’s dress as my college roommate was escorted up the aisle by her proud, beaming father.

We were in a beautifully restored historic church in Raleigh, a perfect setting for this particular couple. Her dress, hair and jewelry matched the church magically. It was a lovely, crisp fall afternoon. They purposely selected a fall Saturday when the Wolfpack had a by-week.

Almost everything was perfect for her perfect day.

My friend’s mother sat in the front row, a smile from ear to ear. She was smiling, laughing, waving with a childlike joy and innocence.

It broke my heart.

This was in 2008, and at that point, my friend’s dear mother Nancy Humberstone’s younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease had progressed significantly. It was full-blown Alzheimer’s—in all its cruel and heartless glory.

Like her husband, Nancy, too, beamed proudly at her daughter in her beautiful white gown. 

She told us how beautiful we all looked as we got ready, as brides and their bridesmaids tend to do before the big day.

Sadly, I’m just not sure if she knew who any of us were, even the blushing bride or her other daughter, the maid of honor. I pray she did. If anything I hope she captured the joy, albeit somewhat bittersweet, in her two very brave daughters’ eyes on my friend’s most special day.

Nancy Humberstone, a cancer survivor, having survived a years-long and very strenuous bout with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 58.

It began subtly, I remember her daughter telling me, with slight changes to her personality and behavior. Then, almost overnight, the disease took hold of her. She had good days and bad days, but as the disease progressed, the good days became fewer and farther between.

On Jan. 7, Nancy Humberstone, 65, passed away, from complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Who will my friend Priscilla call when her and her husband have their first child—when he or she is fussy and only the woman who raised you knows the secret to soothe the child?

If your life hasn’t been touched by Alzheimer’s disease, consider yourself incredibly lucky. It’s estimated that 33 million people worldwide suffer from the disease—5.1 million of them are Americans.

My grandmother was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s before she passed away, but she was 86. She lived a hard but full life. I remember the exact moment less than two months before she died when my grandmother actually recognized me and knew exactly who I was. It was fleeting, but at least I have that to hold on to.

Alzheimer’s, however, is no longer your grandparents’ disease.

And there is no cure.

My friend’s sister began a nonprofit a few years ago, To Remember, to promote education, research and funding for an Alzheimer’s cure.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? With everything going on in the complex world of modern science, the medical community is searching for a cure to do just that—to remember.

Caroline Curran is a staff writer and columnist at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or by email at ccurran@brunswickbeacon.com.