Finding That Conquering Spirit

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by Ray Burow |

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In each of us is an innate desire to survive, even to thrive.

A healthy mind drives us through internal and external conquests. Driven by innateness, some humans feel called to accomplish impossible feats. Think of the everyday people who got up one morning and decided that one day, they’d climb Mt. Everest. And they did.

Imagine: Nearly 6,000 people have scaled Everest, which peaks at 29,029 feet. A climber from Nepal even successfully made the arduous journey 24 times.

Swimming the English Channel is a bit more difficult than stroking laps in the neighborhood pool, but more than 1,800 swimmers have made it across the 21-mile body of water. American swimmer Sarah Thomas swam it a record-setting four times nonstop, according to NPR. It took her 54 hours and who knows how many kicks and strokes. She just kept swimming.

Thomas dedicated the swim to cancer survivors, as she’d just completed treatment for breast cancer the year before. In a Facebook post, Thomas wrote something that could easily be applied to anyone battling Alzheimer’s disease. Insert “dementia” or “Alzheimer’s” for the word “cancer” in her statement and it’s equally powerful.

“This is for those of us who have prayed for our lives, who have wondered with despair about what comes next, and have battled through pain and fear to overcome,” she wrote. “This is for those of you just starting your cancer journey and for those of you who are thriving with cancer kicked firmly into the past, and for everyone in between.”

There are rivers to cross and mountains to climb.

Caregiving through Alzheimer’s disease is a grueling journey that will take you and your loved one to physical, mental, and spiritual depths of which you didn’t believe yourself capable. You’ve “wondered with despair about what comes next,” but you continue to “battle through pain and fear.”

You won’t climb Everest today or swim a great body of water, but you’re a conqueror. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and with one stroke after the other, you will not drown.

You have the same innate design as a successful Nepalese Sherpa, and the inner tenacity of a cancer-surviving ultra-marathon swimmer. Trust me, I know it doesn’t seem like it, but it’s true. You have what it takes to keep going.

It is within you.

Recently, a 91-year-old grandmother had a stroke and lost her ability to walk. As strokes go, it could have been much worse for the nonagenarian, who is now weak on one side and must relearn to walk. She has trouble with short-term memory loss, which was present prior to her stroke, but her work ethic for regaining strength is outrageous.

I mentioned this to her, noting that other people her age and in similar circumstances may have decided they’d had a good life, a good run, and now it’s time to give up. I am sure it was her innate conquering spirit that prompted her answer to me.

Grandma has lived a good life and wants to keep going. Her children are grown and doing well. She’s reached the pinnacle of seeing her six grandchildren live good lives. She’s reached the summit, but is nowhere near the edge of quitting. She’ll give it her best to get back to herself, and loved ones near and far are cheering her on.

This lady’s spirit to conquer is as great as that of any extreme sport enthusiast.

Maybe the person for whom you provide care has let go of their inner conqueror, or perhaps as a primary caregiver, you’ve misplaced your inner strength, and the will to keep swimming is waning.


“For everything there is a season,” the Bible declares, a time to laugh and cry, a time to live and die. But we don’t choose the season in which we’re placed any more than we’ve chosen the innate survive-and-thrive instinct. It’s chosen for us.

If you’ve lost the will to keep going, or if your loved one has reached the edge of their pinnacle, seek help. There are resources available to you, people and organizations within and outside your circle that are willing to help you regain the will to fight.

Start at the Alzheimer’s Association’s website. The 24-hour helpline number is 800-272-3900. Dementia care resources are available on the site, and you can even go through an online course that may prove beneficial. Local resources are available where you live. The Alzheimer’s Association can point you in the right direction, and we’re cheering you on from afar.

Like Grandma, you may have had a good life, a good run, but run on!


Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


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