Alice Lee knows something about being resilient. She has had to be resilient to survive this far. You see, Alice has spinocerebellar ataxia type 3, an inherited neuro-muscular condition similar to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). The disease is fatal, slowly reducing the person’s mobility and finally shutting down the body. But Alice decided early on in life - or was she just born feisty? - that she would not let adversity take her down forever. She decided to be a survivor, not a victim. "I get down sometimes," Alice told me, "but I get right back up." She means that both figuratively and literally.
Alice tested positive for ataxia in 1995, which killed both her mother and sister and perhaps several other family members, but it wasn’t until 2002 that she started to develop symptoms of the disease. Around that time that she brought a service dog into her life as a constant companion - Morgan, a beautiful golden retriever, who is in the picture, above, with Alice. Morgan knows over 90 voice commands, including "Get the phone, Morgan." Alice says that dogs have a tendency to slobber on the phones they fetch, so she buys cheap ones and doesn’t care when Morgan ruins one! It was Morgan who saved Alice’s life in 2003, when she fell while alone in her home and broke her leg - and sprained her ankle. Morgan came to her side at once, and she told him, "Morgan, get the phone." He brought her the phone, to which she had taped a list of the neighbors’ phone numbers. She was able to call her neighbor to ask for help.
After Morgan came to her aid, Alice was confined to a wheelchair. She remembers her mother was in a wheelchair for the last ten years of her life, and Alice wanted not to have that kind of life. She was determined to recover from the accident. "I’m not ready for this," she declared to herself, referring to the end of her life. Instead of her fall being the beginning of the end, Alice sought out physical therapy and worked hard to regain her ability to walk. She was ambulatory when I met her at Upaya Zen Center in July of this year, five years after the fall. Her smile and spirit were strong and radiant. However, Alice must practice mindfulness all day, every day, because of her illness. "I have to be aware of where my feet are at all times," says Alice. "I have to practice mindfulness or I’ll fall."
I asked Alice about two things: pain and death. When I asked her about what it was like to know that she would die, she said, "We all die. I just have a little more information than most people about how my end will come. I’m not afraid of death, it is a part of the cycle of life. Society makes it scary. I feel that I’ve lived 3 lifetimes. If I die, I die, but I want to be here for my daughters and be a grandmother."
Regarding pain, Alice said, "You just go through it. You let it come to you, then go through it. It’s your resistance that tries to keep it at bay. I breathe through the pain. When I was working, I had horrible back spasms. I couldn’t make my 30-minute commute without stopping to stretch several times. I would get out of my car, stretch and breathe." Alice is grateful for the muscle relaxers and pain medication that keeps the pain at bay, and recommends that others who suffer from pain seek medical help in that way also.
Alice is facing another test of her resilience: Her faithful service dog, Morgan, who has served her so faithfully for more than five years, has developed arthritis and needs to retire from his service dog duties. Alice needs a new dog that will be trained by Assistance Dogs of the West (a non-profit organization) for the hefty price of $3500.00. Alice has $1750 already, but needs help raising the other half. Her dog dancing group, The Santa Fe Dog Dancing Club, is holding a fundraiser for her tomorrow, Friday, August 29, 2008, at which they hope to raise the rest of the purchase price (another $1750.00) for another service dog for Alice.
Alice’s story and her spirit have touched me deeply. Alice is resilient, but she needs our help. Please join me in contributing to the cost of a new service dog to join brave Morgan in caring for Alice. You can make a tax deductible donation at www.assistancedogsofthewest.org (at the bottom of the page, click on "make a donation". In the comment field, please type "for the Alice Lee Fund"). Any amount that you can give from your heart is most welcome! Let’s help Alice stay resilient!
Blessings to all.