She drives a lot (though she tells people where she’s going). She walks daily, lives independently. She cooks (on good days). She blogs, putting her journey into words that have turned her into an author.
For someone living with dementia, former care aide Christine Thelker of Vernon is loving life.
Thelker, 61, has documented a four-year journey since her diagnosis in 2015 to July 4, 2019, in the pages of For This I Am Grateful: Living With Dementia, which has an online launch Thursday, Nov. 12, at 11 a.m.
“The book started out as a way to help myself and my doctors understand what was happening to me,” said Thelker. “Then it became about helping other people because the world has such a skewed idea bout what dementia looks like.”
Flashback to 2013. Thelker was working as a care aide in, of all places, a dementia unit in Vernon. On this particular day, Thelker had been having a good day at work. She had just finished serving dinner and was walking across the floor when all of a sudden she lost her balance and everything went blurry.
A colleague asked her if she was OK and Thelker said she thought so, she didn’t know what that was that made her lose her balance.
She carried on into a resident’s room to start care when Thelker knew she didn’t feel right. She called for one of her co-workers to come to the room and she leaned against a wall.
Next thing she remembers, said Thelker, was waking up in Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
She was later transferred to Kelowna General Hospital to follow up with a neurologist.
Thelker said it took a year-and-a-half to reach the proper diagnosis of vascular dementia, the second most prominent of 150 types of the illness behind only Alzheimer’s Disease.
Writing, she said, was cathartic, a way to understand what was happening to her.
“When I started the blog, I started hearing from people all over the globe,” said Thelker. “I always had the idea to do the book one day, but I never knew for sure, and still don’t know from day to day where my illness is going to take me.”
Reaction to her book has been phenomenal.
She’s had people from Canada, the U.S., Japan, Singapore, Australia and England tell Thelker her book saved their life, given them hope. It’s helped understand what a parent went through and wish the book had been available sooner.
Lots of academics and clinicians have expressed interest in the book because, said Thelker, “they need to understand dementia from the inside-out, not outside-in.”
“My purpose has always been if I have to have this illness it couldn’t be for nothing,” she said. “My goal has always been to help others.”
She’s done that, having been a care aide her entire professional life.
No longer a care aide, Thelker was working part-time at a Vernon business before COVID hit. She works with several research groups and is the only Canadian on the board that she said saved her life, Dementia Alliance International. Thelker has spoken about living with the disease at the Alzheimer’s Disease International World Conference in Chicago, and at the United Nations in New York.
The title of her book, she said, came about because dementia has this stigma of darkness and, really, death.
“There are so many of us living well with it,” said Thelker. “My life is not what it was before my diagnosis. But my life is full. I have been given opportunities I would never have had if not for my illness.
“Life,” she said with a laugh, “is good. I’m happy. I’m busy.”
A link to the online launch of her book via Zoom is available on Thelker’s Facebook page, facebook.com/christine.thelker.