Okehampton woman takes on Dartmoor walking challenge to beat dementia

Laura White
Laura White
Sue (right) with her friend Sarah

A local woman from Okehampton has joined thousands of determined Alzheimer’s Society supporters, all conquering their own walking challenges, to raise vital funds for the UK’s leading dementia charity.

Sue Wonnacott, who turns 60 this year, is preparing for a gruelling 13-mile trek across Dartmoor this summer to support Alzheimer’s Society’s vital work.

Sue, who began walking to improve her fitness after being diagnosed with melanoma, is walking to stop dementia in its tracks after losing her mum to the condition. Sue’s mum was only 58 when she passed away, having been diagnosed with young-onset dementia in her early 40s.

Sue said: “I am turning 60 this year, and it is starting to hit home to me how much mum missed out on, and how young she was when she died. Her first grandchildren were born before she passed away, but never knew the real her. She would have been wonderful with all the grandkids but was never able to play that role. We all missed out on so much by not having her there.

‘It has been 20 years since she died but her memory and the impact of her death continues to this day for me, my dad, and the whole family.”

Sue will join hundreds of other supporters marching out to unite against dementia at five locations across the UK this June to September, including Dartmoor, the Brecon Beacons, Stonehenge, London and the Lake District.

The treks, supported by series partners Regatta, have all been specially adapted to accommodate social distancing and will take place in accordance with current government guidelines. Sue continues: “It has been a tough couple of years. I was diagnosed with melanoma 15 years ago. I had a lump removed from my back and thought that was the end of it, but unfortunately two years ago I then discovered another lump in my armpit.

‘The melanoma had returned. I had surgery to remove the lump, and my lymph nodes, and I now have regular CT and MRI scans to ensure any further outbreaks are found quickly and dealt with.

‘Following my operation I was not able to exercise for some considerable time so needed to find something as soon as possible to regain my fitness. ‘I started walking a lot more and as we live on the edge of Dartmoor it was an excuse to explore more of the beautiful countryside with my dog, Jess.

‘I found that walking was great for my health and wellbeing and have tried to increase the miles as I have improved my fitness.

‘I decided to sign up to the Dartmoor Trek to walk 13 miles in August this year as another way to raise funds and invited my oldest friend, Sarah, to join me. She had also lost her mum to dementia so we thought we could walk together in their memory.

‘My mother was diagnosed with dementia in her early 40s which was a huge shock to my whole family. She worked as a secretary and was very successful but had to stop work after her diagnosis. She was sharp, fit, and healthy, and we never understood why it happened to her. She was so young, and there was very little understanding at the time that people could get dementia in their 40s.

‘I had moved out of home by the time mum was diagnosed with dementia, and while we did everything we could, the caring duties fell mainly to my dad. He was an old-fashioned man who had always had mum look after him and do most of the domestic chores, and to suddenly become her full-time carer when she was still in her 40s was tough for him.

‘Dad struggled. Mum was everything to him, and he was forced to watch the person he loved disappear in front of his eyes. Nobody should have to go through that.”

Sue’s commitment comes at a critical time for those affected by dementia. People with dementia have been worst hit by the coronavirus disease pandemic in terms of deaths, both from the virus and knock-on effects of lockdown; thousands have seen their health deteriorate and mental health decline as a result of having little social contact and interruptions to essential care and support. Thousands of family carers have also been in complete despair because of care home visitor bans and a lack of respite.

Derek Dodd, Alzheimer’s Society Area Manager, said: “We want to thank Sue, and Sarah, and everyone taking part in a walking event for us. People affected by dementia need us now more than ever.

‘The coronavirus disease pandemic has hit us hard financially, despite an unprecedented demand for our services. Money raised will help Alzheimer’s Society reach and support more people through our vital services, like the Dementia Connect support line, which has been used almost three million times in the UK since March, 2020.

‘We are in awe of the resilience of supporters like Sue whose dedication to fundraising for Alzheimer’s Society ensures that we are able to support those who need it most during this difficult period.”

If you would like to take part in a trek or Memory Walk for Alzheimer’s Society, visit alzheimers.org.uk/events to sign up today.

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