As a nurse, Tanis Rummery was dedicated to caring for others. Now she’s caring for herself and her dementia, living, shopping and driving on her own while challenging the stigma surrounding the disease.
"I’m going to speak up where I can," said Rummery, 76, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2013.
More than 23,000 Manitobans have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. That number is growing at an alarming rate and is expected to hit 40,700 by 2038, the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba says.
When she realized something was wrong, Rummery went for a brain scan and discovered she had vascular dementia, a form of the disease that is caused by an impaired blood supply to the brain.
"I did a lot of crying," she said. "I live alone with my cats." Facing hard times on her own wasn’t new to the nurse who grew up "extremely poor" on a farm near Sperling and was widowed at a young age with two small children.
In 2014, Rummery reached out to the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba and joined a support group.
"It was such a healing thing," she said. "I was processing the idea that I could still make it."
The weekly group was an eye-opener, Rummery said.
She got to know a 51-year-old woman with Lewy body dementia, who would be mistaken for someone "on drugs, drinking or crazy," she said.
"I thought, this is nuts," she said.
So she decided to let people know about her vascular dementia but to keep living life to the fullest for as long as she can. She has a valid driver’s licence, two cats and is managing well in her own place. She has not had a traffic ticket or an accident, she said. "That doesn’t mean I don’t forget."
What’s helping her stay on track now is her professional training and work habits. "As nurses, we had to chart every damn thing we did," she said.
Now Rummery charts everything in her life, with a daily diary logging what she has done and what she needs to do to make sure nothing is forgotten. "The place is clean, my garbage is emptied."
She drives herself to her weekly support group and runs errands. If she’s having trouble somewhere, she’ll quietly tell someone, "I have dementia — can you help me?
"It’s really nice to feel that I’m not afraid."
The manager of her apartment building is aware of her dementia. Rummery said she knows that if she ever parks her car outside her designated stall, someone will report her to the manager. Staff at her bank and support people at the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba know she has dementia and what to do if there are signs that she’s not managing the disease any more.
"It will progress," she said.
For now, she wants to focus on enjoying each day.
And Rummery knows how to live. When her two daughters left home, she did, too. After working as an ICU nurse at Victoria General Hospital, she went to Toronto, found a place to stay and started taking nursing contracts that interested her.
"I had no idea what my life would be... I was willing to try anything." Rummery was the "set nurse" on a production starring Mr. T, cared for patients at a hospice in the early days of the AIDS crisis in Toronto, then worked in Saudi Arabia for two years.
She learned a lot about the world, including not to accept long contracts in unfamiliar places. After arriving in Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf War began. It was a restrictive society but full of discovery for the adventurer who had never travelled abroad.
She remembers getting a newspaper from the West that had former British leader Margaret Thatcher’s photo on the front page. It was torn out by officials in the Arab kingdom because it revealed too much of Thatcher’s skin.
"It was weird," she laughed. "And it was so hot you could cook your potatoes on the sidewalk." Rummery then took nursing contracts all over the United States and in remote northern Manitoba, which left a mark on her — literally. "I got an eagle tattoo."
It was a sign of how much she loved working in the Indigenous community near Oxford House.
"I thought it was an amazing experience," Rummery said from her Winnipeg home where she retired with no regrets.
"I enjoy these memories now. When they’re gone, it’ll be really sad."
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
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