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Napan with Alzheimer's is Woman of the Year

RUTHERFORD — When Cynthia Guzman was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease three years ago, the retired nurse was determined not to let the disease knock her down.

As long as she could, she would be out there, raising awareness about the disease and the need to support research to put an end to Alzheimer’s.

Guzman, 66, was one of five women U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, honored Saturday as the Fifth District’s Women of the Year at Mike and Stephanie Honig’s home in Rutherford. The event, an offshoot of Women’s History Month, recognized a woman from each of the five counties in Thompson’s district.

“We are here today to honor five outstanding women in our five-county district,” said Thompson, who handed Guzman and her fellow honorees a framed copy of the statement about their respective achievements he read into the Congressional Record.

Guzman, who joked she may walk around with the framed statement for a while, explained that her brain does not allow her to feel the excitement of the occasion.

“Everybody is happy for me,” she added. “So it must be good. I think it’s an honor.”

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Guzman has been meeting with Thompson and his staff in Napa and Washington, D.C., to ask for resources to fight Alzheimer’s on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association.

She has been lobbying for more money for research, educating the public about the disease and telling caregivers in assisted living facilities how she would like to be treated. She’s also appeared at town hall meetings to discuss the dangers of concussions, Thompson said.

Guzman is scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C., to meet Thompson during the Alzheimer’s Association Advocacy Forum this week. This will be her third trip on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Thompson, who said he first met Guzman when she went to Washington, D.C., to lobby him, praised her commitment to fight back against the disease and desire to make a difference.

“You’ve got a couple of choices when you get a diagnosis like that,” Thompson said. “You can take it and go back in the living room and sit around and fell sorry for yourself or can do something about it.”

“And I was very, very impressed with Cynthia because she said ‘I’m not going to let it knock me down. I’m going to take it on.’”

Guzman said she contacted the Alzheimer’s Association at the suggestion of her doctor in San Francisco.

She remains determined to continue her efforts for as long as she can, she said. “The Association allows me to have a purpose.”

“Our legacy is going to be that we had the chance to do something, and we did,” she said after the ceremony. “Our name is going to be on the list of people that made an end to Alzheimer’s. I’m going to work to keep our name at the top of the list.”

“I want people to know that I live a good life,” said Guzman, who moved from Arizona to The Meadows of Napa Valley in Napa a few years ago to be closer to family.

“I live a wonderful life. Probably the only stress I have is picking the wine with my meals in the evening.”

Thompson sought Women of the Year nominations from city councils, chambers of commerce and other organizations in each of the five counties in his district. He received about five candidates from each county, he said.

Gaye LeBaron, the longtime columnist with The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, and Karen Taylor, a longtime volunteer in Vallejo, were also honored Saturday. So were Pamela Phillips, for her work at the Lakeport Social Security Office, and Maureen Toms, for her support of the Special Olympics and the community in west Contra Costa County.

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