Raw and personal: Vernon resident with dementia publishes memoir | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Raw and personal: Vernon resident with dementia publishes memoir

Christine Thelker
November 28, 2020 - 11:54 AM

At just 55 years old, Christine Thelker was diagnosed with dementia. Doctors told her there was nothing they could do for her and that she had between five and eight years left to live.

Five years later and Thelker's first book has just been published.

For This I Am Grateful, tells the very raw and emotional story of life since her diagnosis.

"It really is very personal, I don't hide the hard days," Thelker told iNFOnews.ca. "It's all there."

While life for Thelker is very different post-diagnosis, the Vernon resident has spent the last five years advocating. She sits on the board of directors of an international dementia charity, has spoken at the United Nations in New York, and was scheduled to speak at an international conference in Singapore until the pandemic changed things. She calls herself the new face of dementia aiming to break the stereotypes and stigma surrounding the illness.

Her book is an extension of her advocacy.

"I want to give people purpose and hope," she says. "The purpose is to help other people, so people don't feel like they have to hide it, or that they have to be ashamed."

Thelker wrote daily about her life, and the book showcases the challenges and struggles over a four-year period from her diagnosis in 2015. She credits her sister-in-law, Kay Przybille, for compiling endless amounts of notes and editing them into a readable structure.

"It's very real, it's a personal story, it's about me... but really it's about anyone touched by dementia.. and all the people working in the dementia field in any capacity or the medical field, to give them a glimpse," she said. "In that sense, it's not about me at all, I just happen to be the character in the book."

Putting the most personal details of one's life in writing is not something most people would be comfortable with, and Thelker said she had her reservations about doing so.

"I could write any kind of a book about dementia but if you wanted people to really have an understanding of what it's like to be a young person (with dementia) I had to be willing to share those very personal pieces of it," Thelker said.

Parts of the book are so dark and personal, Thelker said it's difficult for her to read them now.

"It takes me back to some really difficult days... and a lot of them I have since forgotten of course, and it triggers those feelings," she said.

She even struggled to pick up her book when the publisher sent her copies and just left them in the box. At one point she woke up in the middle of the night with anxiety questioning why she'd chosen to tell the whole world her most intimate feelings.

"It makes you very vulnerable, you're vulnerable anyway when you live with this kind of illness, (and) it just elevated your vulnerability to a whole new level."

Ironically, it's her dementia that's led to her being such an open person and a published writer. Thirty years ago she tried to write a novel and after five years gave up.

"I don't hinder myself," she said. "Dementia has changed my brain."

Thelker is bubbly and cracks jokes and says the book is full of her self-deprecating humour. It's hard to imagine but she says prior to her diagnosis she was quite a reserved person.

"I was... very much doing everything proper, saying the right things at the right time, being careful not to offend anybody... but now I don't have any filters... society puts all those things on us and I have to say dementia has taken that away from me," she said. "And I sort of like me better now."

Since the book was published two weeks ago she already had people reach out and thank her for writing it. It's exactly why she wrote it.

"For me life is not about quantity, life is about quality," she said. "And quality to me is when I can close my eyes at night and think, no matter how much I've struggled through the day, I've done what I could to make a difference to someone in the world."

For This I am Grateful is published by Austin Macauley Publishers and is available at Chapters/Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and can be ordered through Coles bookstore at the Village Green Shopping Centre, Vernon. It can be purchased from Amazon.ca here.

— This story was originally published in July, 2020.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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