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Growing up in a poor Italian family in the Bronx, Caroline LoCascio and her mom, dad and eight siblings embraced FDR’s famous quote as something of a family motto to deliver strength: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” they would say.
A lifetime later, in the early 2000s, after raising a family in Westchester, and following a successful career in fashion, including her own Larchmont boutique, LoCascio began slipping into the dread of Alzheimer’s.
Daughter Lisa LoCascio began to see the signals. The bedrock of her family — the matriarch — began showing signs. Confusion with the checkbook, getting into pickles, hiding mistakes.
It crystalized into stark focus for Lisa when Caroline forgot that her beloved older sister Anna had passed away, about a month after she died.
Initially Caroline resisted Lisa’s intervention. But secretly, she got herself checked and her fears were confirmed: a clinical diagnosis of progressive dementia.
“Heartbroken,” Lisa recalls, “I embraced her and gently said, ‘As long as we have each other…-right mommy?’”
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” her mother replied.
In that moment, she remembered.
The mother and daughter team (both Pelham residents) plan to participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Sunday, Oct. 2.
Caroline will be clutching a blue flower in honor of people living with dementia during the event’s opening ceremony at Westchester Community College in Valhalla. The Alzheimer’s Association ceremony features four flower holders, with each flower’s color representing a different relationship to the disease.
It’s especially important to Lisa to spread awareness about the walk to propel local action in the battle against the disease. In a writeup of her own that Lisa prepared to tell her mom’s story, she quotes Caroline as saying: “As long as we continue to help the Alzheimer’s Association support new research, the future looks bright.”
Despite the optimistic note, it’s impossible to sugarcoat the current reality of the disease’s impact.
“Nobody plans for this,” Lisa remarked in a phone interview Saturday morning.
One deeply important message Lisa wants to ensure people understand is how Alzheimer’s isn’t just a disease impacting the elderly.
One of the greatest benefits Lisa received from the Alzheimer’s Association (Hudson Valley Chapter) was the sense of community she was provided, especially in the early days of the pandemic.
Zoom sessions with other caretakers offered a window inside the lives of other local residents navigating similar terrain. Lisa met a young woman, in her 20s, who takes care of her father, a middle-aged man who could be enjoying his prime if not for the cruelty of Alzheimer’s.
“I never once felt overwhelmed during the pandemic,” Lisa recalled, crediting the association’s Zoom sessions.
When Lisa and her brother were teenagers, they saw their mom go from housewife to businesswoman in 1976.
Along with her best friend and sister-in-law, Joyce LoCascio, Caroline opened a boutique in Larchmont aptly named ‘Sweet Caroline’s.
Of course, observing her “mom-preneur” mother endure the impact of Alzheimer’s has been exceedingly difficult for Lisa. But people who meet Caroline for the first time often don’t know she has the disease.
When speaking by phone to the 91-year-old Caroline, she evokes warmth and intelligence to an interview on the other end.
“I couldn’t possibly tell you all she does for me,” Caroline said, also noting the “quality of her love,” referring to Lisa.
“She’s my right hand and left foot,” Caroline concluded wistfully.