- Associated Press - Sunday, January 26, 2014

CLINTON, Ill. (AP) - Alonna Dukeman was not one to sit.

“I always need something to do,” the 59-year-old rural Clinton resident said.

On the table in front of her were trays of cinnamon rolls and candies that she baked that morning. She spoke in a home that she and her fiance, Ron Deatrick, transformed from a farmhouse to a showpiece including doors with stained-glass windows suspended from the dining room ceiling.

“There was no stopping me,” she said. A co-worker called her “Indy 500.”

“Not anymore.”

As Dukeman motioned with her right arm, her left arm hung at her side. As she walked slowly, she concentrated so her left leg wouldn’t drag behind her right leg.

“I’ve learned that if you’re going to do anything, it’s slow,” she said. “This was the hardest thing for me.”

Dukeman had a stroke on May 21, 2012. But she’s doing OK, she said last week, and not only because of post-stroke rehabilitation, her exercises and Deatrick’s support.

About a year ago, she and Deatrick began attending meetings of the Stroke/Brain Injury Support Group of the Bloomington-Normal Area. She learned she was not alone.

“I’ve learned that I can’t dwell on what I used to do,” she said. “I’ve learned to be proud of whatever I can do.”

Those lessons helped her to be less self-conscious, to get out in public again and to help other stroke survivors.

Her lesson illustrates a benefit of support groups, not only for stroke and brain injury survivors but for survivors of other illnesses and injuries.

“One survivor said, ‘When I’m with the group, I don’t feel ashamed of my disability. If I forget something, if I can’t get the words out, I still feel safe, accepted and understood,’” said Jackie Smith of Clinton, co-founder of the stroke support group.

Support groups add dimension to the lives of survivors and their caregivers, Smith said.

Candi Gray, social worker at the Community Cancer Center in Normal, agreed, because information and support comes from people who have faced similar challenges.

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