Her Story: First of all, I want to say that I am extremely grateful for my faith, friends and family. My husband, Paul and daughters Ashleigh and McKenzie are my cherished delights and best supporters. I want to thank my mom for loving me and instilling my faith at a young age.
Most people know me from Fiesta Villa. My husband Paul and I started the restaurant in 1977 after a trip to Mexico. We fell in love with the authentic Mexican food and the culture and wanted to bring it back to Bismarck. We owned Fiesta Villa for over 32 years.
Those who really know me know I love the river, music, reading, traveling, good coffee and lipstick.
The C Word
In 1997 I was diagnosed with stage 3 invasive breast cancer. My family took the news hard – Paul had been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) a year prior. Our girls felt very threatened by the thought of losing their parents, but we assured them we would beat this disease.
I was scared. I tried to live by this quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
I had a radical mastectomy, chemotherapy, reconstructive surgery and lived my life as normal as I could. I tried to stay focused and strong, but there were some tough times. I remember watching one of my daughters in the Nutcracker, and I just couldn’t hide my tears. I tried to surround myself with positive people. One of my friends talked about pulling weeds along the way and nurturing your beautiful flowers – the people that will help you.
I did find out who my friends were, the ones that supported me, prayed with me and for me. My birthday club came to my last chemo treatment with bottles of wine to celebrate.
I found that I would get angry, which would cause depression. I hid my fear and anger by staying busy. My girls were teenagers, I was active in the community and of course, busy at the restaurant. Volunteering on numerous fundraisers kept me from feeling lonely and afraid.
Around 2006 I started drinking more. I had an empty nest, more free time and the social glass of wine or cocktail on the weekends turned into everyday. I neglected the feelings I was having and stayed in denial until my friends and family confronted me. It was like I was in a deep hole and couldn’t crawl out.
Alcoholics are great liars and can hide things, or at least they think they can. I hate the way this affected my family. I would put wine in a coffee cup so no one would see it. My daughter found some liquor I thought I had hidden well. They knew.
A few people said, ‘just quit drinking!’. Little did they know of my addiction. My family made my first appointment to seek help. I was so angry, thinking, ‘I’ll do it myself.’ I knew I had a problem, I just didn’t want to admit it. I used alcohol as an escape because I didn’t want to deal with my feelings. I was also experiencing back pain and the alcohol helped mask that, too.
I started a partial program with addiction counseling and AA meetings, but I had too many relapses. I even went to an AA meeting drunk.
Finally, I made plans to become an inpatient at Hazelden, an Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota. During treatment they give you the tools you need to succeed, but I needed to retrain my brain. It was easy when I was in there, but once I got out, it was difficult.
I was taught to take a personal inventory and to quit neglecting my feelings. I could not deal with issues sometimes, so it was easy to escape to that glass of wine. I didn’t go out and say, ‘I’m going to get drunk tonight’, I just had one more, and then one more.
Alcoholism is an addiction, it is a disease. I think a lot of people look at alcoholism as the guy sitting on the railroad tracks with a brown bag. It can be anyone.
I continued with the counseling and AA meetings and with the support of my family, friends and my sponsor, Gloria, I am finally free of my alcohol addiction. That was a big thing for me, it was hard. I am a social person and alcohol is everywhere.
It has been almost seven years. December 16th is my sober birthday.
Last September I was hospitalized with severe stomach pain. I don’t remember two weeks of my life, and almost died. Apparently God wasn’t ready for me yet.
I was septic, I was so full of fluid that my organs were suffocating. When I think back, the problem actually started about four years ago when I would have severe bouts of diarrhea and my stomach became severly distended. However, I did not have any pain, no infections, they could not see anything wrong.
Something inside of me is leaking and they can’t figure out what it is. It is not going through the proper channels, so right now I have a drain. They have ruled out my pancreas, duodenum, liver, kidneys, colon, colitis, all the usual, and unusual things.
During one of the stays I had such severe constipation they wouldn’t let me have food for eighteen days. In the past eight months I have been hospitalized twice locally, then air lifted twice to Mayo. I spent more than a month at St. Mary’s Hospital the first time. The diagnosis at this time is ‘unknown’. They don’t know what is wrong with me. It is very mysterious and complex, they have no idea what I am dealing with.
I am continuing with medical appointments in Bismarck and at Mayo. The medical staff in both places has been fabulous. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. They just don’t know everything.
I am getting stronger every day. I actually feel normal, but I get really tired and sometimes I don’t have the greatest appetite, so I don’t really do much right now. My husband is amazing, he has been by my side through everything. Now he even cleans my wound and injects me every day. I really feel he was chosen for me.
When this latest struggle is over, I plan on becoming more active, volunteering again – maybe at the hospital, since I have spent so much time in them lately.
The survival skills I learned while going through cancer and addiction recovery have really helped me become stronger and more resilient. One thing I learned in AA – Remember that your spiritual progress in life is more important than your spiritual perfection. Anyone can be a survivor – believe and pray.
After retirement I started painting. I paint how I feel. Most of my artwork is for gifts, but the one I have hanging in my bathroom, my favorite, is ‘Jesus and I’. I dreamt it three times – I feel he is holding my hand and leading me down the right path.