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Sharing a diagnosis with the public

Sharing a diagnosis with the public

by VANESSA MILNE

Darce Fardy was a CBC journalist for 40 years.

So when he ran into a famous old colleague, Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play man Bob Cole, at the St. John’s airport, it was no surprise they had a pleasant conversation.

What was surprising: Fardy didn’t remember who the broadcaster was. Only his wife, Dorothea, who’d seen the men chatting, recognized Cole.

“I thought who was that? And she told me it was the guy I knew really well,” Fardy says.

Oftentimes now I’ll get texts from the kids and they’ll put ‘don’t forget’ at the end – that’s our little joke.

Concerned, 81-year-old Fardy went to see his GP last summer, and was referred to the local memory clinic, which diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s. Fardy, whose brother also suffered from the disease, was half-expecting the diagnosis.

But before telling his story to the world, he invited his family to the memory clinic so they could ask questions and get informed. As he’s written since, “when dementia happens, the family is affected as much as the person diagnosed.”

Riffs like this punctuate our interview: “Oftentimes now I’ll get texts from the kids and they’ll put ‘don’t forget’ at the end – that’s our little joke,” Fardy says.

The couple’s lighthearted, matter-of-fact attitude is endearing, leaving me with the desire to hop on a plane and join them for a cuppa.

And the same tone carries through in his writing when Darcy describes his first appointment at the memory clinic: It began with Fardy answering a list of questions. “I thought the first question unfair: What’s today and what’s the date?” he explains in his first column. “My ‘examiner’ laughed when I complained that thousands of people would have stalled on that one. But I soldiered on.”

His monthly piece runs alongside one written by the head of the memory clinic, which is part of the Geriatric Medicine Research Unit at Camp Hill Veterans

Memorial Building. And along with Dorothea, he has also told his story on CBC’s The Current. “I’d like to take some of the mystery out of it, and just to tell people, if this happens to you, it’s not good news, but it’s not the end,” he says.

Dorothea has a simpler explanation: “Darce could never resist a good story.”

She wondered if friends and neighbors would treat Fardy differently after he was labeled with a disease, but they’re happy to report that hasn’t been the case.

“The first time I went public, my barber came out and said, ‘Next time you get your picture in the paper, I’ll do your hair,’ ” Fardy remembers.

He says his candor is a departure from how he was raised. “When I grew up in St. John’s, people didn’t talk about their health at all… we didn’t know what our parents died from.”

But he wanted to be open, and to encourage others who were afraid to be diagnosed or hiding at home, to discuss their own conditions. It seems to be working: Since his first column in February, he’s gotten hundreds of emails from acquaintances and strangers, and he’s been stopped by people on the street who want to chat about their family members.

On the advice of the memory clinic to be active, he’s rejoined the gym. He’s been told his habit of reading two daily papers will help keep his mind sharp, and has been prescribed Pms-Donepezil as a daily medication.

He’s also stopped driving, worried about being distracted and about whether his insurance coverage could be questioned.

Other than those modifications, his day-to-day life hasn’t changed much – “not at all, except for that bloody pill at night,” says Fardy – and his wife driving him around.

They have carried on with a long-standing plan to move into an apartment, and they’ve also talked about changing the power of attorney from Fardy to their son, as well as clarifying their long-term care directives.

Mostly, they’re taking the diagnosis in stride – though they’re careful to point out that they understand others have a very different experience with the disease.

“It was caught early on, and he could outrun it. Old age could kill him before he gets to the point where it’s really difficult,” says Dorothea. “I think there are an awful lot of people in worse situations than we are.”

Read all of Darce Fardy’s columns about Alzheimer’s here.

The Geriatrics/Centre for Health Care of the Elderly (CHCE) is a multi-service, interdisciplinary program based primarily in the Camp Hill Veterans’ Memorial Building (CHVMB) of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, Capital Health.

5955 Veterans Memorial Lane, Halifax, N.S., B3H 2E1

 

Vanessa Milne is a health writer based in Toronto, Canada



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