CIRCLEVILLE - Linda Cundiff is preparing to take her third annual walk in honor of the mother she lost to a disease long before losing her in death.
Cundiff, a Circleville resident, is the team captain for "Hanging Tuff," one of 27 teams currently registered for the Walk to End Alzheimer's set for Aug. 15 at Mary Virginia Crites-Hannan Park.
"The name came about because my mom, her whole life, whenever you asked how she was, she would say, 'Well, I'm hanging tough,'" Cundiff said. "So now we're continuing on and hanging tough for her."
This will be Cundiff's third year walking in the local event to raise awareness and funds for the Alzheimer's Association.
"The first year I did it, she was still alive," Cundiff said. "I decided to get involved then. It's one of those things that, until it affects you, you just aren't aware it's going on."
Her mother, Betty Jacobs, was born and raised in Circleville and graduated from Circleville High School in 1950. She eventually returned to school and graduated as a registered nurse in 1980.
"She was an RN at Berger for years, so she was an intelligent woman," Cundiff said. "By the time we finally got the unfortunate diagnosis, she was very far midway into her journey."
Cundiff said the changes in her mother were subtle at first because people with Alzheimer's get creative about hiding things.
"If you didn't know, you could carry on a conversation with her and never know until she got really, really bad," she said.
Cundiff said her first real indication was in 2009 while she was off work following back surgery.
"She called me one day in September and was really, really mad," Cundiff said. "She said, 'I need you to get out here and help me!' I was like, 'Mom, I can't drive yet. What do you need?' And she said, 'I can't balance my checkbook.'"
Cundiff said her mother had always been able to do math in her head and never once used a calculator.
"I went out there, and her check register was just destroyed where she had tried to erase and redo it," Cundiff said. "It starts out with simple tasks like that they can't do."
By November, she said, things had gotten progressively worse. The woman who always hosted Thanksgiving dinner at her house and annually made fresh-baked pies, cranberry relish and celery sticks with peanut butter was having noticeable memory problems.
"I had worked the day before Thanksgiving, and I called her about 6 that evening," Cundiff said. "I asked her how the pies were doing, and she said, 'What are you talking about? I didn't know I was supposed to make pies.' She would never forget something like that."
Still, she said, doctors were not quick to diagnose Alzheimer's. They performed some simple memory tests, and it took a series of four or five visits with her and with family members telling them all the behavioral changes they noticed before the diagnosis finally came.
"We had to tell them all the things she had forgotten and all the simple things she couldn't do," Cundiff said. "For instance, she didn't know how to ice a cupcake. Things she always did, she just couldn't remember how to do."
Betty Jacobs was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease about four years before her death at age 81 in October of 2013. Cundiff said she believes a stroke in May of that year may have hastened her mother's passing.
"I guess she was one of the lucky ones, if you can say that," Cundiff said. "She didn't live in a nursing home for 20 years not knowing anything. It was probably about six months before she died that she didn't recognize us anymore."
There are currently about six people on the "Hanging Tuff" team, including her 6-year-old grandson, Cailen, who raises money himself selling home-grown tomatoes and lemonade in Logan Elm Village.
Cundiff said they are always looking for more members to help them reach their fundraising goal.
"My personal goal is for us to raise $2,000," she said. "We're only at about $580 now. I'd love to have more people on our team."
As a whole, the event currently has raised about $24,000, or 64 percent, of its $38,000 goal.
Participants can register as a walker or a team online at act.alz.org or in person beginning at 8 a.m. at the park the day of the event. The walk begins at 9 a.m. Aug. 15.
Each walker carries a brightly-colored flower, she said, with each color symbolizing a different aspect of the disease, such as a patient, a caregiver or those who have lost someone to the disease.
"I think this is huge," Cundiff said. "It would be hard to find very many people who haven't been touched personally by this disease or know someone who has or has had it. If you see a person go through it, you see the devastating effect it has, not only on the patient but the family and caregivers as well, because it always comes to that day they just don't know you anymore."
The local event is sponsored by Berger Health System, Health Care Logistics, Kroger and The Savings Bank.