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From Feeling Helpless to Empowered

When you have a loved one who is hurting, you want to do what you can to help. Sometimes it is a situation where you cannot take the hurt away. That definitely can leave you feeling helpless. But remember, though you are not able to control what is happening to them, you can definitely control your reaction to it.

Alameda Post - a crowd gathered, with lots of purple outfits for the Walk to End Alzheimer's
2022 SF Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Photo Denise Lum.

Perhaps your loved one is forgetting, but not just where they left something. They forget where they are going, how they got there, why they are there. They are misplacing things more frequently, and unable to retrace their steps to locate the items. We all forget things occasionally, but their forgetfulness is disrupting their daily life. You see it happening, and your attempts to aid them are met with frustration and possibly even anger. It leaves you feeling helpless. What can you do?

First, get to the root of the issue. In a previous article, “San Francisco Walk to End Alzheimer’s”, I shared the Alzheimer’s Association’s ten signs and symptoms of dementia that may be a warning of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that leads to dementia symptoms which gradually worsen.

Next, get a proper diagnosis and get help so you have a care team in place. Dementia symptoms are challenging for everyone involved. You can find resources for them and you through the Alzheimer’s Association. Additionally, I encourage you to support the association; one way is to join my walk team and fundraise or if you are not able to join me at the walk this November, you can make an online donation to my team.

Alameda Post - Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig. Photo Wikipedia.

Alzheimer’s isn’t the only malady that can disrupt lives. New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig was most famous for his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played when he made his famous speech about retiring from baseball. Known as the Iron Horse of baseball, Gehrig played for the Yankees for 17 years and in addition to his consecutive games streak, he hit 493 home runs and until 2013 held the record for the most career grand slams. His career was cut short by a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their demise. When motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. When voluntary muscle action is progressively affected, people with ALS may lose the ability to speak, eat, move, and breathe. My article “Let’s Kick Some ALS” tells my story of loved ones I’ve lost to ALS. My heartbreak led to action, and I began fundraising for the ALS Association. If you are able, please join me in October for the East Bay Walk to Defeat ALS. Visit my web page on the 2023 East Bay Walk to Defeat ALS website to join my walk team or donate to the ALS Association.

Alameda Post - a pink ribbon

Now for my personal experience. I was 16 years old when my first breast lump was discovered. Just for a moment, I ask you to think about when you were 16. I had body image issues, so at a time in life when we often lean into friends for support, I didn’t tell anyone. I was not about to engage in discussions about my breasts. I got a doctor’s note to leave school early and had the necessary lumpectomy. I even went to work after the outpatient surgery because I didn’t want questions from school friends who also were co-workers as to why I was at school, but didn’t come in to work. Throughout my entire shift I was in trepidation of someone bumping into me.

Thinking back on it now, I can logically see that I put myself under unnecessary stress, but at 16 it all made sense to me. In the decades since, there have been more procedures and more anxious moments, but I am strong and healthier than I’ve ever been. My 16-year-old self never would have never foreseen that one day I’d be sharing my story and writing for the public about breasts. LOL. Really, this is about breast cancer.

Early detection is your best offense. Regularly do self-exams, so lumps can be found early. Get regular mammograms, so abnormalities can be found early. And if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, know that you have lots of resources and options for treatment. Early detection can mean a long life ahead.

Alameda Post - a poster for Party in Pink, zumba classes with proceeds going to Bay Area Cancer Connections

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For every Zumba class—including virtual classes via Zoom, which I teach in October—I will donate 100% of the proceeds to Bay Area Cancer Connections, a local organization that supports anyone affected by breast or ovarian cancer with personalized services that inform and empower. They have a 99% score and four-star rating with Charity Navigator. Yes, you can donate to them directly, but why not join my Parties in Pink where we will dance for a cause with the added benefit of a fun workout! Email me at [email protected] for class locations and times.

Sincerely, I thank you in advance for joining me in support of one of these causes, whether it’s in person, with a donation, or simply by reading this article and becoming more aware. Wishing you an empowered life!

Contributing writer Denise Lum is a Health and Fitness Coach raising her family in Alameda. Contact her via [email protected] or Her writing is collected at

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