11/25/2009 03:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

My Father's Hands

One of my favorite stories to tell people is about the rule my father had for us kids -- that when each of us turned 15, we had to get a job. And while my sisters took jobs "suitable" for girls, I decided to take a path that would fit my tomboy personality. So I took a job in my father's machine shop. He wasn't quite sure what tasks to give me as a girl in a machine shop. So he improvised and had me sweep the floors and wipe up grease. After a hard day of dirty, manual labor, there was no soap and no amount of water that could take away the grease from my hands.

"Look at these," my Dad said, showing me his own hands, which were sprinkled with scars, calluses, and permanent half moons of grease under his nails. "If you don't go to college, this is what your hands will look like for the rest of your life," he said.
A few months ago, HBO premiered a documentary titled The Alzheimer's Project ,which featured my father -- not as a father or a mechanic, nor anything he is known for -- but as a patient with Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's is a disease that now afflicts more than four million people in our nation, and one of them is my father, Ignacio. It is a heart-breaking disease that affects every member of the family. The HBO film documented the first-hand and devastating effects of Alzheimer's. What it did not document were the great memories I have of my dad.

I am who I am today because of the lessons my parents taught me and the personal strength, pride and values of my father. And out of respect for him and many others, I have worked relentlessly in Congress to educate and advocate on issues that will make a tremendous difference in the lives of thousands of people that are impacted by Alzheimer's disease.

I am proud to be a member of the bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer's Disease and am passionate about legislation I have sponsored to increase funding for adequate Alzheimer's research, outreach, and education. This is important for all communities throughout the United States, but particularly for Hispanics, who, given long life spans and increasing growth within the American population, are projected to experience a six-fold increase of Alzheimer cases by the year 2050.

This November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, a time to be mindful that help must be available for families of all colors and all ages whose resources are not sufficient to meet their needs. Increasing awareness, support, and outreach for those confronted with Alzheimer's disease and for their families will help increase community awareness and understanding and better equip us as a nation to face this disease. It is also a time to recognize those living with Alzheimer's and honor the caregivers, families, and friends who support them. It is my hope that a commitment to research and improving treatments will one day prevent Alzheimer's entirely.

This Thanksgiving break I will visit my father, whose hands never lost their memory, and I will give thanks that those hands helped shape my life.

Congresswoman Linda Sánchez represents the 39th District of California and is the sponsor of La CURA, the Cure and Understanding through Research on Alzheimer's Act.

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