By Deb Peterson | Photographed by Deb Peterson
For six months, it got harder and harder for Cheryl Starzynski to find the energy to walk up the stairs in the two-story home she shares with husband Bruce in Mountain Home.
“I had to sit down at the top of the stairs,” she says. “At first I had real bad fatigue and a dull ache in my chest, and then the pain started. It felt like an elephant sitting on my chest.”
It occurred to Cheryl that the problem was her heart. All but one person on her father’s side of the family, male and female, have died of heart disease.
But Cheryl knew a trip to the doctor would mean changing life habits, and she wasn’t ready to give up her burgers and fries, her comfort food. She had already changed her life more dramatically than most people could ever imagine.
Cheryl had struggled with alcohol for 32 years. She started drinking when she was only 14. Her life and her health were a downhill slide from there.
She never saw a doctor.
“Alcoholics do not eat,” Cheryl says. “I was down to 90 pounds.”
Cheryl remembers sitting with a group of women at a treatment center, watching the speakers and thinking, “I want to have what they have,” but the possibility seemed out of reach.
She tried anyway.
“I got sober because I was ready,” she says.
It didn’t happen overnight. She joined a 12-step program, found encouragement in the examples of other women, and met Bruce.
“He showed me how it could be different,” she says.
After her first year of sobriety, she was invited to the treatment center where she had first dared to dream of a new life.
“They surprised me and asked me to speak to the girls,” Cheryl said. “I stood there and I realized that I had done it. I had become who I never thought I could.”
Accomplishment started to take over as her new high. She and Bruce moved to Mountain Home and started a business, The Flooring Outlet. She turned on a computer for the first time, joined a golf league, something she never thought she could do, and found that a passion for animals helped her state of mind.
She was happy, and she thought she was healthy.
Except that she couldn’t walk up the stairs.
Six months after her first warnings, Cheryl lifted 10 heavy boxes in the flooring shop one day.
“I picked up the next one and got knocked to the floor,” she remembers. “It hurt so bad, and I had tingles down my left arm.”
Her symptoms subsided fairly quickly, so she and Bruce went to see her family physician, who sent her home to relax with instructions to meet him at the hospital in the morning for a stress test.
“I failed it miserably,” she says.
Cheryl’s heart doctor, Dr. Otis Warr, scheduled immediate surgery to insert a stent in an artery that was 80% blocked.
Today, five years later, Cheryl eats a low-carb diet, no more grease, and orders a salad when she finds herself at a fast-food restaurant. She quit smoking. The results of her five-year stress test were “awesome.”
“I learned how to eat right,” she says, “but I don’t deprive myself.”
She eats dessert now and then, and she’s active.
“I do fight my weight,” Cheryl says. “I make more and more excuses not to exercise. I can make a million excuses not to do what I don’t enjoy. I’m trying to come up with something I can do in my shop.”
She says she has learned to be aware of her body.
“I ignored that elephant on my chest for six months,” Cheryl says. “My fear is that other women are doing the same thing.
“I will never be foolish enough to ignore health issues again. I’m spiritually fit. I have taken the stress out of my life. I have tons of energy and I sleep better than I ever have in my life. I take care of myself and feel better than I have ever felt. Every single day is a blessing.”
The proof is in Cheryl’s stairs.
“I love to run my stairs!”
M! Feb/Mar 2012
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