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I had an idyllic childhood in Iowa. My life was full of colors—the greens and yellows of the cornfields, the blues of the sky, reds and oranges at sunsets, and the white of the snow that fell in winter. This was how I grew up, surrounded by the hues of the seasons and the rhythms of everyday life.
I attended Minnesota State University, Mankato, and tried many times to better myself and earn a degree but couldn't find anything that piqued my interest. After years of contemplating what direction I should go in school, I realized I truly enjoyed working. Working was the only thing that made me feel complete. I felt I needed to leave the Midwest, start fresh, and take a bold step.
I packed up and moved to Austin, Texas, with a friend for roughly two years. I truly loved Austin, but I felt Dallas might be where I belonged.
I was lucky enough to land a position at a luxury sixteen-hundred-room convention hotel, with eleven restaurants and six bars, waiting tables in the formal twenty-seventh-floor dining room, and knew almost immediately that this was where I was meant to be. I settled into—and loved—this job! It kept me firing on all cylinders. As I grew into my life and the work, I moved up the management ladder, first as restaurant manager, then outlets manager, and finally as second in command of the food and beverage department for the hotel.
This dream life changed about the time I hit forty. Rather than being energized in the morning, I woke up feeling debilitated.
I am a very social person, and this field offered the perfect opportunity to collaborate with a variety of people. I enjoyed working with my team, interacting with vendors, and finding ways to improve revenues on a monthly basis. I ended each day exhausted but woke up the next morning excited about life and ready to face the day.
This dream life changed about the time I hit forty. Rather than being energized in the morning, I woke up feeling debilitated. Instead of being able to meet the fast-paced demands of an intense corporate setting, I started to lose track of what was happening around me. My words began to slur and I couldn’t be sure my feet were going to take me home at night. One evening, a lightning storm started in my head. My left eye was playing tricks on me with colors and dimensions changing unexpectedly. By the morning I woke with my left eye officially blind.
I went to a doctor, who did a lot of tests, thinking it was allergy based, but when I returned to the parking lot afterward, I couldn’t find my car. After a few hours searching and being too exhausted to move any more, I called my friend, Scott, to pick me up. When he arrived, he found me standing next to my own car, which I did not recognize.
As you might have guessed, the ER room was where I spent the next hours, dissecting the issues with several doctors, one of whom was convinced I had a malignant brain tumor, since an MRI showed I had twenty-eight lesions on my brain. I was immediately admitted to the hospital for what I thought would be exploratory surgery to confirm cancer.
At this point, I was not as sharp as I needed to be. Fortunately, I was saved by my family—my mother, Marti, in particular. When I called her at midnight in Iowa to tell her what was going on, she said, “Do nothing until I get there; don't let them touch you.” I passed this on to the medical team, laughing as I embarrassedly explained that my mother had ordered this! When I woke the next morning, my parents, who had driven all night, were at my bedside. A few hours later the doctor came into the room and stated that although I had lesions on my brain and spinal cord, he believed, after reviewing the most recent tests, that it probably was not cancer.
We then spent several days trying to figure out why I was so ill. Six days later, one doctor suggested that it might be multiple sclerosis; a spinal tap confirmed this diagnosis. My mother spoke up: “Who is the best MS doctor in Dallas?” All of the responses were the same: “Southwestern Medical is very good, but their waiting list is at least a year, maybe two. You should just stay where you are.” We politely thanked them for everything, and without delay we checked out of the hospital. I later found out that my mother had spent the entire night speed-dialing one of the leading MS doctors in Dallas, Dr. Frohman. Somehow, she managed to reach him, and even though he was not taking on new patients, he agreed to add me to the patient roster of a new doctor just coming onto his team, Dr. Benjamin Greenberg. Seven years later, I’m still his patient.
And in an instant, I had to reevaluate: What's next?
Since that time, my diagnosis has stabilized, but my personal life has seen changes. I tried for a year to continue my work at the hotel, and though they stuck with me, in the end we agreed that I could no longer do the job. I was continually exhausted, few could understand the words I spoke, my impaired coordination left me unsteady, and cognition issues like memory hampered my work. And in an instant, I had to reevaluate: What's next?
I drifted for a few months, sleeping most days with none of the purpose I had in my younger years. I missed the constant stimulation of the hotel environment—the daily, ever-changing controlled chaos, being in a leadership role, laughing with my colleagues. I had lost my reason to get up in the morning.
But thank goodness for friends! A very special one, Tamara—a Dallas artist—suggested that I take up painting. I thought about it for a while and concluded that I could get started for only the cost of a few canvases and some paint. Besides, how difficult could it be? So I began to paint, working initially in acrylics, and learned quickly that I have an aptitude for color. I started small, working on pieces about a foot square and some rectangular panels. Fairly quickly, though, I became uninspired with acrylics and wanted a medium with more texture potential. I moved on to oils, and the more I worked with them, there was less actual brushwork on the canvas but many more layers of paint.
I look at some of my early work and try to reconcile where I started with where I am today. The designs, buried deep in my soul, were hard for my brain to interpret, but as I gained experience, and grew my painting surfaces, I realized that I had found a way to express myself without words. I developed my own sensory world and learned to interpret something new every day. I have grown in confidence on a personal level, and my art has encouraged this growth. It gets me out of bed every day, ready to tell a new story—one of certainty and determination.