Two hands being held, one is wearing a wedding band
Credit: National Cancer Institute

Am I allowed to be sad when I hear good news?

By Rothery Sullivan

Views Editor Rothery Sullivan voices her regret that the Alzheimer’s vaccine didn’t arrive sooner.

In mid-November, news of a potential Alzheimer’s vaccine was released after successful trials on mice. The results suggested that the drug could possibly improve (or even reverse) the memory of humans. Less than a week after this news, the first human trials were announced – a nasal vaccine trial, consisting of 16 participants, will begin in Boston. The possibility of this vaccine is incredible news, especially considering that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of death in the UK. We should be nothing but exhilarated at this ground-breaking possibility. 

Despite the joy I feel, though, this news hit me pretty hard. Having lost my grandmother to this disease, I understand the pain that dementia puts people through, as well as the toll it has on the loved ones of those affected. Losing memory is frightening and frustrating for the person affected – they struggle to understand why they no longer recognise the things, places or people around them. Watching someone I love gradually forget me and everyone they loved was heart-breaking. I felt like the person I knew and loved was slipping through my fingers as they forgot all of the memories we shared together. While my love for her was (and still is) unwavering, losing a loved one over a matter of months and years draws out the pain, and in turn makes the grieving process more complicated. At the end, the person I loved sat in front of me, but the part of them that remembered our relationship was gone. How do you grieve a loss like that? Can you grieve someone before they are gone? These are questions that millions of family and friends face every day with each new case of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Watching someone I love gradually forget me and everyone they loved was heart-breaking.”

Knowing how horrible it is to lose someone to this disease, I was relieved when I heard about the potential of a vaccine. Not only will millions of lives be saved, but millions of loved ones will be saved from the drawn-out heartbreaking process that comes with losing someone in this way. But, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated at the timing or location of this trial that is taking place only a year after my grandmother passed, a mere 30 miles from where she lived. 

I began grieving all over again. My mind was filled with confusion and doubt, how could this be possible? How could a memory-reversal drug exist? I began bargaining, thinking if only she hadn’t gotten sick for another few years. I was filled with rage at how unfair it was that the disease took her life before the trial was introduced. I was angry that I was experiencing all these emotions again, over a year after her death. Then, I was sad – heart-wrenchingly sad. 

“Millions of loved ones will be saved from the drawn-out heartbreaking process that comes with losing someone in this way.”

Now, I’m okay. I can see the bigger picture and feel nothing but grateful that progress is being made in the field of Alzheimer’s. Yes, it hurts that my grandmother didn’t live long enough to have the opportunity of a vaccine, but I’m grateful that we may have a vaccine now. This vaccine might save my parents, my friends, or even myself. The hope is that the vaccine will work as a preventative measure, at the very least slowing the effects of the disease. If we can find a way to give people even a few extra years, I would consider this an incredible advancement.

With each scientific development, it can be easy to feel anger that the progress didn’t come sooner. We can’t help but look at the lives lost and grieve them. However, it’s important to remember that progress has to start somewhere, and reflect on how fortunate we are to be alive when these advancements are happening.


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