Vradenburg, a comedy writer with plays, TV shows, a novel and even Senate speeches on he resume, became an advocate for research on Alzheimer's disease after her mother died from the disease. Two years ago, she and her husband, who live in D.C., founded USAgainstAlzheimers, a campaign advocating for more money to find a cure for the disease.
Do you consider yourself to be of a specific faith?
I'm a Jew. That's my religion, my belief. We have a belief in actually doing good to others -- tikkun olam -- the command to heal the world. I saw my mother suffering from a terrible disease, and now we're seeking, my husband and I, to heal those who are suffering.
Americans seem to struggle to balance thankfulness and the desire for more -- we go Black Friday shopping right after Thanksgiving. Have you found a balance between contentment in life and striving for better, especially in the fight against Alzheimer's?
I wake up feeling guilty all the time, probably because I'm Jewish. I wake up and feel, "Oh my God, I'm so fortunate, and there are so many people who aren't." There's always a balance that I can't quite get in my soul. I do have a really good balance in my mother's death, because I think this is why she died, so that I could maybe change the course of a disease that not only robbed me of my mom but has robbed so many people. One out of three people have the disease in their family or know someone close to their family who has it. It's really permeating the society.
Has your gift for humor helped you through trying times?
Every day. I don't know how you live without humor. If you don't laugh, you cry, and I don't feel like crying. I guess it's a defense mechanism, but it is a great defense mechanism for me. Because there is redemption in humor.
Not everyone whose family is affected by Alzheimer's turns around to fight it. What made you do that?
Caretakers are exhausted, and I get that. I want to get them organized so they can feel empowered. This disease robs you of power. People on different levels can take back that power by writing to their congressmen, by standing strong together. We want numbers, we want people who will say, "You've got to do something about this." When the government tried to take away mammograms for women, women stood up and talked about it, and within a week they changed their minds. And that's what we need.
At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?
We can make this world a better place. My mom always said that she wouldn't leave this world without leaving it a better place, and I think that's why we started USAgainstAlzheimer's. Some people have accepted Alzheimer's as an unfortunate part of life. We don't, because it isn't. We think we can stop it. We've got to get support for research. We're building a community of advocates who are engaged and enraged, and I think that is what Judaism is -- healing the nations. It's about not being sidelined and having enough voices and speaking out and urging our leaders to stop just accepting Alzheimer's but making it a priority.