MOUNT AIRY, MD (WUSA9) - Struggling With Alzheimer's:
To understand Kathy Siggins' passion for a new stamp, you have to wind the clock back almost 50 years. Speaking with WUSA9 on her living room couch, she explained that it's all about honoring the memory of her late-husband, by turning grief into action.
Kathy met Gene Siggins, while working at the Post Office in the early 1970's. The two quickly fell in love, and on March 30, 1978, the two got married, and moved to Mount Airy.
"I guess love just came in," she laughed.
But these happy memories didn't last forever. In the late 1980's, Gene started to forget things.
"He would go and get firewood," Kathy said. "And he would feed the fire, feed the fire, feed the fire. And it was like, this is not good."
Concerned about the memory loss, the couple went to the doctor, only to get devastating news.
"They said Mr. Siggins, 'you have Alzheimer's,'" Kathy recalled. "'And we strongly recommend you get your affairs into order.'"
From there, things quickly deteriorated for Gene. As he started forgetting, Kathy stopped being a wife, and became more of a caregiver.
"The husband I knew was no longer there..." she said. "He used to take pride in being a good provider for his family. And he did well. And to watch him go from there to like my child, that was hard."
For ten years, Kathy took care of Gene, and watched him fade. On January 24, 1999, her beloved husband passed away.
"When he died," she said. "It was like, I felt that there was a reason why we were taken on this journey. And it wasn't supposed to die with him."
An Elusive Goal:
After Gene's death, Kathy became an advocate for Alzheimer's research. She began to tell her story, and raised tens of thousands of dollars for the cause. But one achievement had always eluded her: A stamp.
Kathy heard about the semipostal breast cancer stamp, which sells for above the average price, with proceeds going to breast cancer research. In 20 years, this stamp has brought in more than $86 million for cancer research.
Seeing the success of this stamp, Kathy made it her mission to get an Alzheimer's semipostal stamp. She collected more than 85,000 signatures on a petition to get it approved. And yet, for 18 years, she was denied.
"I was told no an awful lot of times," she said. "And the disappointment. I went through a lot of disappointment each time people would say no."
Despite that, Kathy was relentless. She contacted politicians, bureaucrats, advocates, and anyone else who would listen. Finally, this year the phone rang. On the other line was The Director of Stamp Services, Mary-Anne Penner, with an important message. The Alzheimer's stamp had been accepted after an 18 year struggle.
"I was so happy I cried..." said Kathy. "It was like this weight had been lifted. After 18 years of waiting for this call."
Call To Action:
Despite this major accomplishment, Kathy said her advocacy is not done. She said her next big mission is raising awareness around the stamp, so more people will buy them.
The stamps are currently on sale nationwide for 60 cents each. They're sold in packs of 20, for $12. For more information on the stamp, visit here.
In the 18 years since Gene's death, a lot has changed for Kathy. In 2006, she remarried, and she has found peace in Gene's death. And yet she said her rigor and passion for advocacy are as strong as it was two decades ago.
"If we don't talk about this disease," she said. "Nobody will ever know what it's like to live it."
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