Sunday Lifestyle

Alice Dixson to mom Socorro: ‘Don’t forget me’

OOH LA LAI - Lai S. Reyes - The Philippine Star

Who could ever forget the heart-tugging “Karen, po” TV commercial of McDonald’s back in 2002? The ad shows a girl named Karen who at first is annoyed because her lolo, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s, keeps calling her Gina. Her lolo, after slicing his burger, then says, “At ito (the other half of his burger), para sa paborito kong apo, si Karen.” (Sniff…)

If there’s one person who could relate well to Karen, it’s TV5 actress Alice Dixson whose mom, Socorro “Coring” Dixson, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009.

“At first, she kept on forgetting dates, and where she kept her eyeglasses. In fact, she would often misplace things in the house and would ask over and over again where she put it,” relates Alice.

Alice and her siblings have mistaken Mommy Coring’s memory lapses for the normal forgetfulness that often increases as people get older.

However, Mommy Coring’s memory problems became more severe and persistent.

In 2009, Mommy Coring was all set to go to Florida to visit her daughter Nelly whose family is based there. Her bags were already packed, but she would check her things regularly just to be sure she wouldn’t forget her passport, wallet, etc. 

“She got so stressed about forgetting things that she suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack or what doctors refer to as a mild stroke. Mom underwent a battery of tests. When the results came out, our fear was confirmed — Mom had Alzheimer’s,” shares Alice.

The most heartbreaking part, Alice says, was when Mommy Coring couldn’t even remember who she was when Alice visited her in the hospital. In fact, when Mommy Coring saw Alice, she asked Nelly: “Sino ‘yan?” to which the latter replied, “That’s Alice, Mom.”

“Mom was so upset that she fired back: ‘That’s not Alice! Huwag ninyo akong lolokohin.’ That remark broke my heart. How could she ever forget me?” laments Alice. “To think I was her favorite, before my younger brother Robert came.”

According to Alice, living with or caring for someone you love with Alzheimer’s is really tough.

“Because there’s nothing much we could do but watch Mom slip further and further away into her own world,” Alice adds. “Mom can very well recall a range of experiences, especially earlier memories — oh, how I love listening to her panahon ng Hapon stories — but she’s very forgetful about recent events or familiar situations,” notes Alice.

There was one instance when a member of the showbiz press asked Mommy Coring when did she get back from the US. The 83-year-old matriarch replied, “Ah, last week lang.” But in reality she’d been back for six months already.

I also had the same experience with Mommy Coring during our one-on-one interview last Tuesday at Edsa Shangri-La Hotel. Clad in a white top and black pants, Mommy Coring looked radiant as she was wheeled into the room by her youngest son Robert with a ready smile on her face.

In the course of the interview, I, too, noticed how her memory failed her.

For one, she couldn’t remember the name of her husband, but shared with me how persistent James was — yes, that was his name — when he was still courting her, as if it only happened yesterday. When I asked her how old Alice was when her husband James died, she replied: “She was only six years old.”

According to Robert, James died in 2006.

Although she looked tired and restless, Mommy Coring was gracious enough to grant me the interview, even if she struggled with words most of the time. But what really made my day was when she swayed her shoulders, looked at me, and said, “I Can Feel It!” — the phrase that catapulted her daughter to stardom.

Mommy Coring may be slowly losing her ability to hold a conversation, find words to express her thoughts, but one thing is evident: her love for her children never wanes — even if she sometimes forgets their names.

A trip down memory lane

Alice was only three years old when her family moved to the US. Her dad, James Dixson, was a former US Navy, while her mom worked as a dietician in a home for children with special needs. Mommy Coring is also a talented beautician, and she ran a salon in Staten Island, New York, and in her hometown in Tanay, Rizal, which she started when her family moved back to the Philippines.

“When I was younger, my mom would always fix my hair even if I was a tomboy. My classmates were envious of my hairdo during school plays. Mom would even braid my hair before playing volleyball,” shares Alice.

Mommy Coring was not just a good hairdresser but a tailor and trendsetter as well.

“She would make pretty dresses for me and my sisters. Did you know that my mom had gold teeth? Her front teeth had gold fillings when she was younger. I never saw anybody else who had gold teeth before,” she says with a hearty laugh.

The former tomboy grew up to be a pretty young lady, thanks to the good genes she got from both sides of the family. In 1986, after joining a former talent contest in Eat Bulaga!, Alice then joined Binibining Pilipinas (Ms. Philippines) and became the Philippine representative to 1986 Miss International in Nagasaki, Japan. She placed as one of the semi-finalists.

“Mom was so proud of my achievements. In fact, she was with me in Nagasaki when I competed,” Alice says.

In 1987, Alice became a household name through a Palmolive soap TV commercial where she sang the phrase “I Can Feel It.” Her showbiz career started when she played the role of Faye in the hit TV series Okay Ka, Fairy Ko.

After an almost decade-long hiatus, Alice is poised to continue what she started as she’s now part of Kapatid network’s stable of stars. She starred in TV5’s Ang Babaeng Hampaslupa (2011), Glamorosa (2011), Isang Dakot na Luha (2012), Enchanted Garden (2012), and For Love or Money (2013).

At 44, Alice still plays the leading lady roles, which is usually afforded to actresses younger or even half her age. In fact, in the latest made-for-TV movie Lady Next Door over TV5, Alice is the love interest of a troubled teen.

“I wouldn’t have achieved all these if it weren’t for my parents, especially my mom, who trusted and supported me all these years. My mom is my number one fan,” Alice enthuses.

Looking at her number one “fan” lost in her own world, Alice couldn’t help but wish Mommy Coring didn’t have Alzheimer’s.

“I love making small talk with Mom, but with her condition right now, it’s not just possible. It’s as if she’s trapped in a place that doesn’t make sense to her most of the time, and we have to make sure she feels safe,” adds Alice.

Over the years, Alice has adjusted to Mommy Coring’s decreasing mental function.

“We couldn’t leave her alone in the kitchen anymore, because she might forget why she turned on the stove. Baka magkasunog pa. As much as my siblings and I want to take care of Mom, we just couldn’t be there with her all the time. Since Mom wanted to retire here in the Philippines, we decided to hire a personal aid who can attend to her needs 24/7,” Alice says.

In 2012, Alice and Mommy Coring enrolled in a painting class to stimulate her mom’s mind and relax her body.

“But the doctor said it will come to a point where she will have no memories of our family anymore. Right now, she often forgets that the kids running around are actually her grandchildren that she so adores,” says Alice. “My siblings and I are mulling over the idea of letting her undergo stem cell therapy, not to reverse the condition, but to slow it down.”

And so, before Mommy Coring’s memory gets the better of her, Alice wants her to know that she’s loved.

“I love you, Mom. I may not be able to  connect with you verbally, but on a different level now: a level that brings us both peace. And please, don’t forget me,” Alice pleads.

* * *

Alice Dixson also stars in TV5’s made-for-TV movie More Than Words, the network’s Mother’s Day presentation, which airs today, 9 p.m., exclusively at TV 5.

More Than Words tells the story of a mother (Sabel, played by Alice) who struggles with words, and a daughter  (Emily, portrayed by Sarah Labati) who has numbed herself from the world’s deafening noise.












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