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Walk (and wax) for Memories

Shouts and yelps filled the student lounge at Valleyview secondary this week.

Shouts and yelps filled the student lounge at Valleyview secondary this week.

In exchange for their toonies and loonies, students got the opportunity to channel their inner aesthetician and wax the legs (and one back) of some of the hairier male students — and one vice-principal.

But, if there were a few tears shed over ripped leg hairs, that’s nothing compared to the lunchtime assembly that kicked off the school’s series of fundraising events for the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C., when event organizer Monique Blanchet filled students in on her connection to the disease.

“Basically every single person in the room in the room was crying,” said her co-organizer Jordan Decker.

“It was amazing.”

Monique’s mom, Linda, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s a year ago.

While the disease typically hits people after 65, Linda is only 56.

“I talked to them about how this last year’s been for me since my mom was diagnosed and what it’s meant for my family and why it’s important to me that we help this cause,”  Monique said.

“And I was so overwhelmed by their reaction. Everyone was crying and I got so many hugs after. And I heard a lot of stories, too, after about how it affects their families, as well.”

The Blanchet family is being honoured at this year’s Investor’s Group Walk for Memories, which takes place on Sunday, Jan. 26, at the Tournament Capital Centre.

Registration for the event will take place at 9 a.m.

Monique said many students have signed up for that event, as well as for hat day, grad auction and leg waxing.

“Everybody in the school is really excited and really supports this cause,” she said.

With some events yet to be held, students have already raised more than $900 for the Alzheimer’s Society.

Overall, this year’s walk in Kamloops aims to raise $100,000.

Tara Hildebrand, support and education co-ordinator for the Kamloops branch of the Alzheimer Society of B.C., said one of the goals of this year’s walk, beyond fundraising, is to get more people looking for early signs of  Alzheimer’s.

That can include memory loss and changes in mood and behaviour and disorientation, but Hildebrand said they can be easy to write off in the early stages of the disease.

“We’ve got stress in our lives, we’re retired or starting a new job or have been through life changes. There’s always something,” she said.

Nor is forgetfulness alone enough of a sign.

Hildebrand said it’s important to look for changes in personality and behaviour, rather than longtime traits.

“If you’re notorious for forgetting people’s names and you still continue to forget people’s names, that’s not a change for you,” she said.

“It’s when you start to notice that things are different.”

Because Kamloops does not have a First Link program that refers people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to the local society, Hildebrand said she has to wait for those dealing with the disease to come to her.

She urged them and their families to do so as early as possible.

“One of the myths of Alzheimer’s disease is that, as soon as a diagnoses is made, ‘Oh, my life is over.’ That’s not true. There’s a lot of living left to do,” Hilebrand said.

But, she said, it’s important to get decisions about power of attorney and future made up front.

“We need to have all of that stuff planned in the beginning, when that person with the diagnoses gets to choose,” she said.

“They get to make those decisions for themselves. This disease is going to take enough away from them. We want to make sure they get to make their own choices.”

Monique said the year since her mother’s diagnosis hasn’t been an easy one.

“I was afraid of a lot of things,” she said.

“When they told us how long she basically had to live, it was two to 20 years. That’s a really broad kind of thing. That could mean she’s not alive when I graduate or she sees my grandchildren. So, for me, it’s kind of scary to think about that.”

But, at the same time, she said it’s brought her already tight-knit family closer together as they learn to adjust to their new reality.

“Now we have something to fight for and work for together,” Monique said.

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