Why I walk: Susan Dunbar



Susan Dunbar is leading the Purple Posse at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Yuba City on September 8. Susan walks in memory of her mother, Dorothy Van Dyke, who died of dementia, and her father, Harlan, who was Dorothy’s primary caregiver.

Since Susan started the Purple Posse in 2015, her team has raised almost $12,000. Last year, they were the top fundraising team for the Yuba City Walk.

We asked Susan to share why she walks. She also provided great tips on what helped her team be so successful.

Tell us about your parents.
Dorothy and Harlan Van Dyke grew up in neighboring communities. They were high school sweethearts, who settled in Dad’s hometown of Pleasant Grove. He was a farmer. They were married for 73 years.

Dorothy and Harlan

My parents raised my three brothers and me to be active in the community. They helped start the volunteer Fire Department and local Little League. I remember going around with a tin can as a child, asking for donations for the Little League.

Who first noticed that your mom was having problems?
Actually, it was my Mom. Long before any of us noticed anything, Mom said to me, “I think I have dementia.” She had talked to her doctor about it, but he dismissed her concerns.

Later, when I started going to the medical appointments with my parents, we had to push to have the doctor take her concerns seriously. Even then, he gave her a brief cognitive test and prescribed medication, without completing a full assessment.

Since the doctor didn’t take Mom’s concerns seriously, she became reluctant to share any health concerns with him. He’d ask how she was doing and Mom would respond, “oh, I’m fine.” Eventually we convinced Mom to change doctors.

It was hard, because at that time, I didn’t know enough about the disease to know what to push for. I started reading a lot about Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Tell us about your family’s journey with dementia.
Mom was such a wonderful woman. She was very kind. She loved our family and just kept disappearing before our eyes.

She cared about how she looked – she even looked good doing yard work. It was difficult to watch that change.

Initially, Dad was the caregiver. The family helped out as much as we could, but everyone is still working, and some have their own health issues.

We tried to get Mom and Dad to accept in-home care. They were so resistant, and we had to let the first caregiver go. We let Dad know that we were concerned and could see the decline in his health from the stress. We said that we would respect their wishes until they were ready.

One year later, Dad was open to help. We found an in-home care worker who lived with them for five years. She became part of our family.

We were able to keep Mom at home until the last five months of her life. At that time, Dad and the caregiver both shared that it was too stressful to care for her at home. Dad wanted better care for Mom.

Luckily, I had a friend who helps people find care options. She walked me through the process and helped me find a good fit. She told me who to call, what to look for and what questions to ask.

My friend helped me find the best fit available in a small residential care home, where Mom received phenomenal care. One of the caregivers loved Mom as if she were her grandmother.

Mom died five months later at the age of 93. Dad died a year and a half later.

How did you get involved with the Walk?

Part of the Purple Posse

I have a friend whose aunt had Alzheimer’s. She invited me to walk the first year.

I fear that someday I could also develop Alzheimer’s. This disease is draining the economic resources of our country. Helping to fund research and support has become a passion of mine.

Tell us about your Walk team.
We are the Purple Posse. I post on Facebook and invite people to join my team or donate. Word of mouth has also worked – everyone knows what we went through with Mom.

Last year I sent out over 100 letters to people I know. I called friends and invited them to Walk with me.

I’ve learned that sometimes I just need to get together with my friends and help them get started. Recently I helped a friend register and send out her donation request emails.

Describe the atmosphere on Walk day.
It’s a sea of purple. Everyone is excited and upbeat. It’s also emotional. There’s a reason most of us are walking, which tugs at our heartstrings.

Walk day is also a great day to get your team excited about next year’s Walk. Last year we talked about how if we could each get one more person to join our team, we could double the Purple Posse.

What tips do you have for new participants?

  • Susan, on Walk day

    I’m constantly referring to materials from my team captain packet and the Walk participant center. It’s all laid out for you and there are many tips.

  • I read the emails from the Alzheimer’s Association and send their articles to particular people who I think would be interested in them.
  • You can start small and build. Ask each member of your team to recruit one more person. This year, four of my co-workers have committed to join my team.
  • Tell your story and speak from your heart. Share how important the cause is to you. Don’t be afraid to ask people to support you. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no, which is okay. Every little bit helps.
  • Send out letters or emails and post on social media with a link to your donation page.
  • You never know whose family has been affected who may want to support you. Recently, my work mentor from when I was 16 years old called me. His wife has Alzheimer’s. He’s watching his wife’s health decline and his financial resources being drained to pay for her care. He called because he wants to donate to my team.

It will eventually touch almost everyone in our community in one way or another. I share my story and ask them to join me. If they become part of my team or donate, then I can do the happy dance.

There are so many great causes people can support. What do you tell people to get them to donate to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s?
This is a major nationwide issue for our country. I rarely run into someone who doesn’t know a family that is impacted. We all need to do our part or Alzheimer’s is going to devastate the country financially.

It’s heartbreaking for families to watch their loved one decline, often over several years or even decades. The family’s financial resources may be drained as care needs grow. Not everyone has family who can provide care or help pay for it.

I have a saying: “you give up all griping rights if you don’t help out and be part of the change.” It’s rewarding to know that our team is doing our part and making a difference.

Susan invites you to join the Purple Posse for the Yuba City Walk to End Alzheimer’s on September 8.

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3 Responses

  1. Sandy Norene says:

    Very well written article, Susan. Your mom was such a wonderful person with a smile and a kind word for everyone. Losing her that way was truly heartbreaking.

  2. Chatlotte Mattocks says:

    Thank you Susan for sharing your story! See you on September 8.

  3. Charlotte Mattocks says:

    Thank you for sharing Susan. See you at the Walk!

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