Alzheimer's blog

Dear Abby's connection to Mayo Clinic continues

By Angela Lunde January 22, 2013

You may have heard that Pauline Friedman Phillips, or Dear Abby as she was known to many, died last week at the age of 94. She had been living with, and challenged by, Alzheimer's for more than a decade.

She wrote under the byline of Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) beginning in the mid 1950's. Her column was read daily by millions of people who sought her no-nonsense perspective, advice and wisdom.

Adoring fans followed her throughout her entire run as Dear Abby. In 2002, when her family revealed publicly that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, her daughter, Jeanne, officially took over the column.

Pauline Phillips has a special connection to Mayo Clinic. Ten years ago, the Alzheimer's research facility where I work in Rochester, Minn., was named "Mayo Clinic Abigail Van Buren Alzheimer's Disease Research Clinic" in honor of a gracious gift from the family of Pauline Phillips. At that time, Edward Phillips, Pauline's son, made the following statement:

"My mother made a profound difference in the lives of generations of American families; in fact people throughout the world.  She suffers from Alzheimer's disease that has gradually stolen this precious resource from us ... It is our hope that this massive research undertaking by Mayo Clinic will make a major difference to those suffering from Alzheimer's and their families. We are proud to share a common vision with Mayo Clinic — to one day find ways to treat, cure and prevent this disease."

For me, Dear Abby validates a basic need we each have to reach out and feel connected to one another, hence, some asked her advice and millions read her responses.

We all need an affiliation and a sense that we aren't alone on this journey and that others share our vulnerabilities, struggles and doubts.

Dear Abby offered a window into the day-to-day lives of real people. Her combination of wit, humor and empathy, with an ample dose of candor connected a community of readers for over half a century.

In just a couple of months, another affirmation that you aren't alone on this journey will take place — and you're invited. The event is called Meeting of the Minds.

This is the Mayo Clinic and Minnesota-North Dakota Alzheimer's Association's annual conference for persons living with early stage dementia, families, caregivers, researchers, therapists and other caring professionals.

Themes for the conference center on well-being and caring, along with meaningful engagement, integrative therapies, spirituality, communication and research.

One special guest will be Pat Summitt. She's the winningest college basketball coach of all time. In August 2011, Summitt bravely shared her diagnosis of younger onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. Later that year, she started The Pat Summitt Foundation, a non-profit committed to Alzheimer's awareness, support and research at the local and national level.

For me, Meeting of the Minds is celebratory, a gathering of like-minded seekers of guidance, understanding and most importantly, connectedness. Together we gather to affirm our passion to the cause, extend compassion to one another and soak in the healing energy that I promise will be felt.

Please consider joining me at the St. Paul, Minn., River Center on Saturday, March 1. For details and to register, go to the Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter page of the Alzheimer's Association website.

Be forever in peace Pauline Esther Phillips, our Dear Abby.

I leave you with an excerpt for one of her columns:

"JUST FOR TODAY, I will live through this day only. I will not brood about yesterday or obsess about tomorrow. I will not set far-reaching goals or try to overcome all of my problems at once.

JUST FOR TODAY, I will be happy. I will not dwell on thoughts that depress me. If my mind fills with clouds, I will chase them away and fill it with sunshine.

JUST FOR TODAY, I will accept what is. I will face reality. I will correct those things that I can correct and accept those I cannot.

JUST FOR TODAY, I will refrain from improving anybody but myself."

— Abigail Van Buren

Jan. 22, 2013