I've walked on fire and sky dived. It may surprise you that I also have dementia

I've walked on fire and sky dived. It may surprise you that I also have dementia

Every year for the last five years I’ve done something wacky to raise money.

I’ve walked on fire, paraglided, skydived and last year it was a wing walk. 

On Saturday 9 September, I’m going to abseil down one of the tallest buildings in London, The Leadenhall Building – aka the Cheesegrater.

Why? Oh, because I’m 67 and living with dementia. Instead of sitting home feeling sorry for myself, knitting and drinking tea, I’m a converted adrenaline junkie.

Nine years ago, I was given the devastating diagnosis of Young Onset Dementia at the age of 58 years young. 

At the time, I was working full-time for the NHS as a non clinical team leader. Running was my main hobby. I’d run every other day up and down the banks of the River Ouse in York. Then one day, my brain and legs stopped working at the same speed. 

I’d go to turn, but my legs wouldn’t receive the signals from my brain in time and I’d fall in a heap on the floor. 

To begin with, I thought I was just tired – but it happened several more times. The worst was when it happened at work. I came out of my office one day and didn’t know the name on the door, my name. 

I also had no idea who all the voices belonged to, coming from the other offices – my team’s voices, the people I’d worked with for three years.

I hid in the ladies for a while before the fog cleared and I knew where I was again.

Dementia never entered my head as a possible cause. I, like so many other people at the time, thought dementia only happened to old people. 

It was after 18 months of tests and scans that finally revealed the diagnosis. I thought my life was over. 

Again, like so many other people, when I heard that word dementia, I skipped straight to the end – not realising there was a beginning, and a middle, long before the end stages appeared. 

But the clinicians never told me this. I was given a handshake, a sad look, and told there was nothing that could be done. 

No explanation of how life might change, no support, but above all – no hope.

Once my daughters and I got our heads around the diagnosis, I suddenly realised that the only person that was going to help us was me. 

When I was diagnosed, I went into a deep depression – but once I found dementia support group, York Minds and Voices, I suddenly started to see more people like me. Ordinary people brought together by dementia – now, I call them my second family. 

I realised there was a life still to be lived because dementia doesn’t happen all at once, it’s progressive. 

It was then that I began my new life, my life of adapting. I was afraid of so much pre-dementia; the dark, animals. But all of that fear disappeared. 

Now, I’m no longer afraid of anything. I’ve faced my biggest fear in dementia, so what else is there to be afraid of?

Since being diagnosed, I’ve written two Sunday Times best sellers. I have received two honorary doctorates from Hull and Bradford universities for my work in health and dementia research and I’ve taken on some incredible challenges. 

I thought: why not become an adrenaline junkie in my sixties?

I’ve walked on fire, skydived, paraglided, wing-walked and earlier this spring I walked on a thin wire 1,000 ft up in the air across an old slate mine in Cumbria. 

So, when I saw that there was a challenge which included running 42 flights of stairs up, and then abseiling down one of London’s skyscrapers, well, it just had to be done.

As with all my challenges, I’m so excited. Flying off the top of an iconic skyscraper like a bird and coming back down to terra firma in seconds – it’ll be so exhilarating.

People ask me: ‘Won’t you be scared?’ My response is to laugh, because the hardest part for me will be to refrain from going back up and doing it all over again. 

Through people’s kindness, I’ve raised nearly £3,000 for Dementia UK. Hopefully when others see I’ve actually done it, I’ll exceed that amount. 

Why do I do all these things? To show people living with dementia, at any age and point in their life, that with the right support and right understanding, you can do anything you want. 

More from Platform

Platform is the home of Metro.co.uk’s first-person and opinion pieces, devoted to giving a platform to underheard and underrepresented voices in the media.

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And Heidi Crowter describes her perfect first date to her now-husband, James. The couple, who both have Down’s syndrome, instantly realised the other was their soulmate.

Not everyone will want to take things to extremes like I have, but I want them to see how you must never give up on yourself, never underestimate yourself – other people will do that for you. 

After all, who would have thought nine years ago, when I was given that devastating diagnosis of dementia, that I’d be about to step off one of the highest buildings in London. I know I certainly didn’t.

Never give up on yourself as you never know what opportunities may be waiting for you around the corner. 

Or up in the air.

Wendy is taking part in the London Landmarks Skyscraper Challenge to raise funds for Dementia UK. For further information visit https://skyscraperchallenge.co.uk/

Age is Just a Number

Welcome to Age is Just a Number, a Metro.co.uk series aiming to show that, when it comes to living your life, achieving your dreams, and being who you want to be, the date on your birth certificate means nothing.

Each week, prepare to meet amazing people doing stereotype-defying things, at all stages of life.

If you have a story to share, email [email protected]

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