The Art of Hope
When we first meet, she's so soft-spoken, so unassuming that it takes me a while before I see it; she's a woman with two sides: the side that's openly passionate about her message of hope for those with illnesses; and the side that's quietly passionate about her art. We speak immediately of health and diet, but it's not until the end of our time together that Cynde shows me some of her drawings and paintings throughout her home. Indeed, one is a self-portrait, a spoof of the Old Masters still life paintings with shoes arranged around a silver platter on a table. The different shoes represent the different facets of Cynde, imagery both striking and revealing. As a young adult, armed with dreams of becoming an art teacher, Cynde married and planned to pursue a degree in art immediately, but put her plans on hold when she became pregnant with her first child. While she remained determined to graduate and took classes as she was able, three more children followed the first, and it was not until her youngest two were in high school that she went back in earnest, ultimately graduating with a degree in art from the University of Arkansas. Although Cynde now keeps her hand in art and says she may someday pursue it more extensively, her life took a different turn in 2010 when she accepted a job as a buyer for Hilton Head Regional Hospital. Having lived most of her life in Tennessee and Arkansas, she knew almost nothing of the Lowcountry when she arrived, but her first thoughts were, "Oh my gosh, we've been transplanted to paradise!" She laughs as she describes her position at the hospital, explaining, "I jokingly say I buy everything from screws to body parts." In the spring of 2011, Cynde learned that one of her daughters, Jessica, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. After a series of medical treatments, Jessica began researching dietary treatment options, and after careful consideration, she opted to refuse the rest of her chemotherapy treatments. Instead, she enrolled in the two-week intensive McDougall program designed to help her improve her dietary habits and reduce her need for medical intervention. Jessica found great success with the program; she's lost 100 pounds, and much more importantly, she's now cancer-free. Cynde's story became interwoven with Jessica's a few months later, when Cynde herself was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which was discovered during a health screening offered by the hospital. She calls it "God's timing," because while she initially attempted the ADA diet with minimal success, Jessica had recently uncovered interesting information on diabetic diets during her own research, and she told her, "Mom, you've got to look at this." "This" turned out to be a book called Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes, information she credits with helping her effectively reverse her diabetes without medication. She eats a "plant-strong, low-fat, low-glycemic diet," in addition to exercising regularly. Her lifestyle change has been markedly successful; without any medication, her A1C went from a 9.6 to a 6.1, and in a three-month period, her cholesterol went from a 217 to a 151, prompting her doctor to label her a "walking miracle." Amid this lifestyle change, however, Cynde faced another challenge. In the spring of 2012, she had two strokes. Doctors discovered the strokes were caused by a hole in her heart, which was ultimately closed with a PFO closure procedure at MUSC in Charleston. Amazingly, Cynde persevered with her diabetic diet throughout both strokes and her subsequent surgery, and experienced no relapse. Cynde's very grateful to Hilton Head Hospital for the health screening and for the fact that it alerted her to her diabetes. She tells her story to "encourage and give hope" to people, and she urges anyone facing a daunting medical diagnosis to "do the research to find out. It doesn't always mean that it (the diagnosis) has to be a stamp on your life." She attributes her current healthy state to her diet and believes that, when possible, we "should treat our food like medicine and let it be our medicine. It's not an easy road. But don't give up. Be encouraged. Life can be so much better." UP CLOSE Her name: Cynde is actually a combination of her first and middle names, Cynthia and Denise. Family: Cynde and her husband Ray have three girls, named Honey, Jessica and Desiree, and a boy named Nicholas. Funny story about getting her degree: At one point, Cynde started taking classes again, only to find herself pregnant yet again. Determined to at least finish the course she was taking, she literally had to sit sideways in the desk by the end of the course. Her professor looked at her sitting in her desk one day and remarked, "Now that's a picture of sheer determination." On a diet and eating out: Cynde says people question her about her diet and how that affects eating out. "It is best if you can cook for yourself," she concedes, but she's also found that it's relatively easy to "find places that do things just a little bit different," and says she's found plenty of dining out options.