SOUTH OGDEN -- A plaque in George Garwood Jr.'s kitchen reads "Enjoy the Journey."
He chose that option rather than wallow in the misery of health problems that threatened to keep him down.
In 2005, while running for re-election as South Ogden mayor, Garwood began feeling ill, with symptoms of fatigue, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, spots on his skin and swelling in his legs and feet. For nearly a year, he went from doctor to doctor trying to find a diagnosis.
Then he got one: Lupus, an autoimmune disease that can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, heart and other internal organs, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.
"Lupus is one of those diseases where you have to eliminate other things," Garwood said. "It affects every person differently. For me, it affected my kidneys and my joints. It caused me to have arthritis in the balls of my feet and the joints in my toes. It's very, very painful to walk, stand and even to sit. I also have to have a kidney biopsy once a year to make sure they are working OK. I lost around 30 pounds and couldn't eat. I had no appetite, and when I did eat, I would throw up."
Garwood's doctor put him on a powerful steroid and a kidney medication and suggested he drop out of the mayoral race, but he refused. He continued to attend his city council and various committee meetings, and he didn't miss one of them.
"I went through a period of depression," he said. "I would function during the day, but when I got home, I would break down and cry, and I would say to myself, 'Why is this happening? What have I done?' I was really feeling sorry for myself."
Then he woke up one day and decided things were going to change.
"I said to myself, 'You know, George, you're either going to live or die, but it's up to you how you reach that point.' I decided I was going to enjoy my life. Enjoy the journey."
Garwood served another four years as mayor and then auditioned for, and got, a spot in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which has a grueling schedule of its own that includes rehearsals, recordings, performances and tours.
He works full time as a hearing officer for the Utah Driver License Division and has continued serving on various committees, including those at the Weber-Morgan Health Department, Weber County Sheriff's Office and Ogden Community Action Agency. He began exercising and also spends an enormous amount of time doing yard work.
"I would spend hours and hours in my yard mowing and raking and pruning. I just threw myself back into all of the things I enjoyed," he said.
Last Christmas he made 45 poppy seed cakes for friends and neighbors and had three major dinners at his home. During the summer, he made homemade ice cream, and the neighbors all came over with different toppings. He also sings at numerous functions, including church, funerals, weddings and social events.
"He never complains," said Jacklyn Hunt, who accompanies him on the piano. "Before he told me he was sick, I would have never known, because he just keeps going. He accepts every request to sing and just has an incredible attitude."
Garwood said he decided to reprioritize and concentrate on what's important in life: family, community service and church.
Garwood said although he's feeling good, he still has to pace himself. His body reminds him when he's overdoing things, and he has learned how to manage stress, which is very hard on people with lupus.
"I've realized what I've needed to do to bring myself and others around me joy. I've learned how to enjoy the journey. Life is a journey, and you can either sit around and feel sorry for yourself and say 'woe is me,' or you can have a positive attitude, even in the darkest of hours," he said. "Nothing helps when you're negative. Attitude is a big part of the journey."