Thanks to one of my readers, I just learned that atheist and writer Terry Pratchett, author of the bestselling Discworld novels, has been diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer's disease. He has donated half a million pounds (approx $1 million) to Alzheimer's research and appeared in the media highlighting the low levels of research funding that Alzheimer's disease receives. As a result, millions of loyal readers from around the world have responded and are helping to match Terry's donation. If you would like to help, check out this blog, Match it for Pratchett, which is acting as a news source as well as a vehicle for fund raising. Looking over the collection of people who are part of this fund-raising effort is really inspiring.
There's a fairly good interview with Terry in The Grauniad, 'There's humour in the darkest places':
"It's so strange that people don't use the word," says Pratchett, laying down his fork and standing to face me. "It's strange. There used to be this thing where someone had 'died after a long illness'." I never knew what that meant. And then it became clear that they meant cancer and suddenly people could talk about it."
But even today nobody really talks much about Alzheimer's? "That's right. When I found out, I thought, 'I have got to tell about eight to 10 people who are really close to me.' Then I thought: 'Why am I worried about this? Why am I keeping it a secret? I haven't actually done anything wrong!' But I was behaving as though I had. So I decided to stop."
For Pratchett, an atheist and a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association, there is no fate that cannot be overcome by poking fun at it.
What symptoms does he have? "As you can see, I'm a gibbering wreck incapable of having even the simplest conversation," he says, stabbing fruit with dexterity. "No, if I hadn't told anyone, they wouldn't know. I know there's something wrong and I'm told it's Alzheimer's."
I was in shock when I had heard Pterry was diagnosed with Alzhimer's. I have a grandmother who is in rapid mental decline from the disease and a great-grandmother who suffered from it until her death at age 92.
As a person who likes to think, a lot, this is the scariest of fates. I would rather have my body waste away than my mind.