When Setsuko Harmon was in her early 70s, the doctors told her that she wouldn’t live for more than six months. She had stage 4 colon cancer. Her husband, Bob, dropped everything to care for his beloved wife.
Doctors recommended chemo solely for quality of life; it was not intended as a cure in a case that should have been fatal. But after two years of chemo treatments, Setsuko’s tests came up empty. She was cancer free.
Attitude is everything, they say. The Harmons’ adult daughter, Christine Stone, believes that it was her mom’s endless optimism that saw her through to health. “She just always had such a good attitude and was smiling like nothing was wrong,” Stone told People magazine. “Because to her it wasn’t.”
Setsuko never knew that she was in treatment for cancer. Or, if she did, she quickly forgot. Setsuko, you see, is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
“She knew she didn’t feel good and that she was losing her hair, but she didn’t understand that she was sick because of the Alzheimer’s,” Stone said. “And I actually think that really helped her recover.”
Dementia can be hell on patients and their families. It’s torture to watch a parent’s mind slowly fading into the ether. But sometimes—as in Setsuko’s victory over cancer—Alzheimer’s can establish conditions for wonderful outcomes, too. Stone really realized that when she got pregnant.
Stone is a 38-year-old office manager who lives with her husband in Florence, South Carolina. They were overjoyed when they learned they were expecting a child. She couldn’t wait to tell her mom.
Setsuko is thrilled at the idea of becoming a grandmother. And she’s thrilled again each time Stone tells her the news.
“I can tell her and two to five minutes later she won’t remember,” Stone said. “It’s like watching a kid at Christmas wake up and see his presents over and over again, because each time she gets so excited… When I give her the pregnancy news she claps and smiles each time and asks which month the baby is due. It’s very bittersweet.”
Bittersweet is just the word. Setsuko‘s journey through Alzheimer’s disease has been harrowing for her entire family. Fortunately, her bright spirit and positive attitude remain intact—even if her husband of many years has to face daily reminders that his wife is slowly drifting away.
“They are still very much in love,” Stone said, describing her parents’ relationship. “So it’s been really hard on my dad to see her when she puts things from the refrigerator into cabinets and they spoil or she pulls open every drawer in the house.”
There’s still so much to look forward to for Stone and her parents. Soon her baby will arrive. Stone lives for the day that she presents her mother with a sweet grandchild.
“I expect her not to remember her, but I know when my mom meets my daughter she’s going to get excited every single time,” Stone said. “It’s sad, but it’s not sad, because she will be just as excited to meet her over and over again.”