Cupcakes and Caregiving: A Successful Shark Tank Business Owner Balances Work Life with Caregiving

Tracey Noonan, CEO and co-founder of Wicked Good Cupcakes, started her business along with her daughter, Dani, in their Boston home kitchen. The company, which appeared on the TV show “Shark Tank” nine years ago, grew tremendously after an investment from Kevin O’Leary, one of the wealthy investors on “Shark Tank.” Following their successful “Shark Tank” deal, Wicked Good Cupcakes grew to be a nationally known multimillion-dollar company online.

During her successful venture, not one, but both of Tracy’s parents, were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Add to that Tracy’s father-in-law, who was battling stage four stomach cancer, and her daughter, Dani, who has bipolar disorder. Tracy and her husband, Scott, made the decision to move all four parents into their home in an attempt to care for them all while navigating her successful startup.

The Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

Tracey realized her mother, Judith Wheeler, was not herself after she got a call from a hospital in Israel that her mother, who was on a church trip, fell into the Dead Sea. She learned that her mother only brought one change of clothes on the trip and none of the medication that she needed. She was also told her mother didn’t know where she was.

Upon hearing of her mother’s accident and her subsequent return to the states, she went to see her father in Florida to realize that their once meticulously neat home was a terrible mess. No bills were being paid, and money was hidden all over the house. Tracey quickly moved her parents with her to Boston where they stayed as she cleaned up their home and prepared to sell it. While she was in Florida doing so, the neighbors told her that her parents would drive around Florida and get lost, and they’d be called often. She also found out that her father, Edward Wheeler, would go to the bank every day to take out money, which is why their account is completely drained. They left the iron on and nearly started a fire once, and her father no longer knew how to turn on the television.

In Boston, a neurologist diagnosed both her parents with Alzheimer’s, which at that point, wasn’t surprising to Tracey.

Tracey Noonan Shares Her Caregiving Experience and Advice

In Being Patient’s LiveTalk series, Noonan shares her experience caring for both her mother and late father as their Alzheimer’s got worse. Prior to launching her cupcake business, she wrote scripts for TV and stage productions. Using these talents, she and a colleague co-wrote a TV script for “What The Family!,” a show about her family’s journey with dementia that she has recently been pitching as a sitcom.

According to Noonan, “(o)ne of the most important reasons that I wanted to write the script and share my story was because there are millions and millions of other people like myself who have been thrust into this role of caregiver. It can be a really lonely, lonely place. By sharing my story, the story of my family and my parents, I thought that it would be a really good way to connect to these other people, offer entertainment in a humorous, yet respectful way, and to be very genuine about portraying what this is actually like living with this disease.”

In her interview and her show, Tracey discusses some of the emotions she experienced in her role as a caregiver, wife, mother, and entrepreneur.

  • On feeling isolated and alone. Tracey describes that feeling of not being able to live your life and then the subsequent frustration, anger, resentment, sorrow, and feeling that your life is just not what you pictured, and how it can make you feel isolated and alone. She thinks that lots of caregivers can completely understand this feeling.
  • On seeing the humor in things. Alzheimer’s is such a sad subject, and yet, there are moments that Noonan believes are pretty funny. She describes how her mom and dad would say and do things that were hilarious, and how she would share them with others who appreciated the stories. According to Tracey, “(i)f we didn’t accept the humor that was part of this journey, I think we’d all curl up in a ball and die, because it is so tragic. When I would go to caregiver meetings and we’d all share stories, it was wonderful to see all the people around the room say, ‘Oh my God, my husband says that, my grandmother does that or my sister says that.’ There was this really cool, common bond that we all had because there were so many commonalities within the disease that we all shared.”
  • On not knowing the extent of what’s involved in caregiving for loved ones with Alzheimer’s. When asked if it was a difficult decision to move her parents to her home and care for them there, she said “no.” She explained that “at the time … I didn’t realize the extent of what it would be like with not only the physical aspect of it, but also the emotional aspect of it.” She also talks about her father-in-law, who was dying of stage four cancer. She said, “I had four adults in the house with varying degrees of disease or illness that we were taking care of and somehow we were managing.”
  • On other responsibilities for loved ones. According to Tracey, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to caregiving. She says, “(t)here were a lot of things to deal with like Social Security, assistance, insurance, and prescriptions. You spend hours on the phone, hours on hold, or hours trying to find who you need to talk to.” She sometimes enjoyed going into the office for respite, connecting with her coworkers and her business, and having people who were supportive and understanding about what she was going through.
  • On running a business while caregiving. Tracey shares the following advice for running a business while caregiving.
    • Don’t be a hero: “If someone offers you help, take it. Don’t feel like you have to be Superman or Superwoman.”
    • “Express your emotions, even if you have to hold a pillow up to your face and scream into it. Don’t let all of this consume you and grow inside you. Share what you’re feeling. Go to support groups. Talk to friends and coworkers.”
    • There are things you can do for work. “You may not be able to do everything you were doing. You can still be attached and be a part of it. But don’t beat yourself up. Do what you can do.”

Other advice she gives is to “immerse yourself in your situation; understand what’s happening; read and get rest; and understand that you’re one person fighting a big battle. It’s a lot, but you can do this, and people want to help you.”

For a podcast about Tracey Noonan called “Alz the Cupcakes,” click here to listen on Apple Podcasts and here to listen on Spotify.

Facing Dementia in the Family

When you or a loved one receives a dementia diagnosis, you may feel a range of emotions, sometimes simultaneously. Many people undergo a period of profound grief, with feelings of shock, denial, and deep sadness. Some may feel a sense of relief. Finally, your suspicions have been validated, and you and your loved ones can seek out more support and therapeutic interventions.

Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. If needed, find someone to talk to regularly, who can provide support, educate you about the illness, and coach you on how to cope as it progresses. Support groups can be helpful! Be sure to pace yourself and rest when you can. Make time for daily exercise, such as a daily walk in a park or just around the block. If needed, keep a sturdy transport wheelchair stowed in the trunk to broaden your options for walks together while running errands!

For Farr Law Firm articles with lots of information for Alzheimer’s caregivers, please click here. For caregiver tips, please click here.

Are You a Family Caregiver?

If you are a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it is wise to plan in advance. Nursing homes in the DC Metro area cost $12,000 to $14,000 a month, which can be catastrophic for most families. Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection includes the process of protecting your assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into a nursing home, while also helping ensure that you or your loved one get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a group home or a nursing home. Please call us today to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Elder Care Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Care Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Care Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Care DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.