AlzAuthors: Susan Suchan - Advocate, Writer, Voice of Dementia
By Susan Suchan
When I look at the faces of my grandchildren and see the joy and blessing that they and my family and friends bring to me, I am determined to share this dementia experience! They love me just the way I am. What may at times look or sound silly, different or even disturbing, is explained and discussed, so we all work together, bringing mutual joy and learned compassion for the best quality of life, for everyone involved.
When I was first diagnosed with FTD/PPA (Frontotemporal Dementia/Primary Progressive Aphasia), I was scared by what I read that was written by scholars about the outlook or prognosis of this disease. No treatment, no cure, and possibly living in a Memory Care Unit. I desperately wanted to hear from someone actually living with the disease and how they were managing. I found those people in a secret Facebook group, the AFTD (Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration), the Dementia Mentors web page, and even the Alzheimer's Association. I was validated! I mourned the diagnosis and then quickly realized that I wasn't going to die in the near future. I set out to share my experience, so that others would have access to that same validation and assurance I had found. Fear is immobilizing.
Writing and speaking publicly gives me a purpose, as well as helping to break the stigma that all dementia is not Alzheimer's. Writing and speaking also educates those unfamiliar with dementia and opens conversations. I am always touched when others respond with questions, new ideas, understanding and compassion. I am reminded that living with a diagnosis of dementia is different for each individual, but carries many similarities. I have come to learn that it takes a village to maneuver the experience of dementia.
My hope in sharing my experience is that it will not only help shed some insight into a care partner’s questions and concerns, but open an honest dialogue about uncomfortable issues, as well as moving the prism to gain perspective about the life of a person with this diagnosis.
I’d like to bring forth the good and not so good, to keep it real for me and those that follow my experience. This disease does not come with an instruction manual and I feel until there is a cure, all we can do is move forward with the nuances of an ever-changing brain. Sharing my “self,” and how I deal with this, will hopefully help someone else find the purpose in sharing their experience. The best care will come from the knowledge that those of us with this diagnosis, the “experts,” can share.
About the Author:
Susan Suchan is a 58-year-young woman, who was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s (EOA) at the age of 48. Approximately 4 years ago, an additional diagnosis of Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD) and Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA) were added.
Residing in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Susan has two grown daughters and five grandchildren. She studied nursing and worked in the medical field for 23 years.
She travels nationally, speaking and attending Awareness/Educational events and has advocated as the voice of dementia for two years on the Alzheimer's Association platform, speaking on the lived experience in the state of Oklahoma. She has also spoken on the AFTD'S (The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration) platform and continues to spearhead the AFTD's ThinkTank. Susan participates in on-line social and educational webinars with Dementia Alliance International, as well as Lori LaBey's Alzheimer's Speaks radio and other on-line programs. She believes that there must be more than inclusion, but collaboration, as well.
She and her family have been working for over a year on a documentary film with Emmy award winning Kirkpatrick & Kinslow Productions, with a release date of 2017. The documentary follows Susan's life and advocacy. The film is an intimate, if not raw portrait of Susan and
her family as they manage through dementia. To learne more about the film visit its Facebook page.