By Ken Williams | Editor
Hillcrest woman raises money for Alzheimer’s research in honor of her dad
Christmas has always been a special time for Cara Shreiner, especially since her father was a professional Santa Claus for many years. Uptown and Mid-City residents may remember Abraham Lincoln Shreiner Jr. as the Santa bringing hope and joy to children at Kensington Park in 2013 and 2014.
One of the Shreiner family’s proud moments — and a keepsake photo — took place in 2013 when Todd Gloria, as acting mayor, stopped by to have his picture taken with Santa.
But three years ago, her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 62. The shocking news was devastating to the Shreiner family.
“I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ve pretty much already lost my dad,” said Cara Shreiner, a Hillcrest resident and an executive with TUK Footware. “But my mom has lost her husband, her best friend, her lover — all semblance of her life as she knew it — and my heart breaks for her.”
Despite the heartbreak, she is determined to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. One of the ways she is fundraising is by participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
In 2016, Shreiner raised $3,125 during the walk in San Diego and received a Grand Champions Club Member certificate that hangs on her office wall. This year, she will walk on Sept. 9 at Crown Point Park in Mission Bay to raise even more money. Another walk will be held Sept. 23 at Kit Carson Park in Escondido. Visit alz.org/walk to learn more information.
Here are five questions with Cara Shreiner:
- What are your fondest memories involving your father?
When I was 4 years old or so, I wasn’t a strong swimmer. My grandparents had a pool and my dad would have me climb on his back, wrap my arms around his neck and he would swim around, especially in the deep end, which was exciting for me because it felt like I was swimming in the parts of the pool I wasn’t supposed to be in.
Our family vacations were always camping trips, my dad could bake coffee cakes in a hole in the ground, a makeshift oven he would create. I always thought that was so cool, still do.
Those are the times I do my best to hold on to in my memory so that while I’m visiting with my dad, the shell of my dad now, I remember who he was, how smart and capable he was and know that, that version of him is still buried in there.
- How have you and your family coped since learning that your father has Alzheimer’s, and how has it changed your lives?
For coping, we take one day at a time, bobbing and weaving, avoiding heavy blows when we can. We’ve relied on classes provided by the Alzheimer’s Association to help us get prepared, learn about what was/is to come.
My mom’s life has changed drastically because she is his caregiver24/7. My dad is her shadow. He goes looking for her if she’s been gone for one minute just to go to the bathroom. He can’t be left at the house alone, so even what would be a quick hop in the car and run to the store for most people has to be a planned-out event because of timing, getting dad in the car and through the store without wandering off.
Mornings are a challenge because dad is obsessive about going to the bathroom in the mornings, which he can no longer handle on his own; he can’t process all the steps involved. He suffers from sundowners, so at nightfall he gets anxious, obsessive and can’t relax. My mom has little to no time to herself, for anything.
- What advice would you share with other families who learn that a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s?
The Alzheimer’s Association is the best resource. They have a 24-hour hotline anyone can call for advice, for help with resources, so many things.
Get informed! Attend classes to learn pointers on caregiving, to learn about the disease.
Get prepared! Find a financial planner or lawyer who specializes in working with families with a family member with Alzheimer’s/ dementia getting things like trusts, bank accounts, etc. arranged before the Alzheimer’s/dementia progresses too much.
Get support! Rally the family and close friends, talk about what’s going on. You’d be surprised how many friends may have already had to help a family member through this twilight zone. Be ready to call on all the spiritual powers you may relate to for love and patience — that is what you need most being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s. They lose all sense of logic so you have to be patient and sort of train yourself to use new approaches to communicating; you have to pause and consider how to proceed for every little normal day-to-day thing.
- What do you do with TUK Footwear, and what is unique about this company headquartered in San Diego?
I am the managing director at TUK. I would say our products are the most unique thing about us. We are also a rather small team pulling off some seriously extraordinary things. But the most special thing is the support I’ve been given in making my way through what’s happening to my family. The owner, Ian White, has been very kind and supportive when I’ve needed odd days off to go spend time with my parents and allowing me to work remotely here and there so I can send my mom on much-needed breaks away. And he’s buying me hats to make for my team at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Sept. 9.
- What do you like about living in Hillcrest?
I absolutely love living in Hillcrest. I like the community, the residents and the many small businesses, especially restaurants. I like how walkable Hillcrest is and being right along Balboa Park. Hillcrest is a great, buzzing hub of energy but still has a wonderful, relaxed neighborhood vibe.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.