I remember being scared of my Grandma when I was a little girl. Nobody ever explained to me why she was ‘different’. Since she was blind and had her artificial leg since before I was born, everyone just figured that I would not question the dark glasses she always wore, the glass eye, or the fact that sometimes she had two legs, and sometimes one. I never understood why she had to ‘feel’ my face when I’d give her a hug- if only I’d realized then that it was her way of looking at me. My Grandma passed away from complications caused by her Type 2 Diabetes when I was only 7 years old. That was the first time that Diabetes, “The Thief”, came calling.
Diabetes had always been a word to be feared in my family. Not only did my Grandmother have it, but two of her four children did, too. My knowledge of the disease was limited growing up, but I knew that there were diets and drugs out there that could help. I’d hear my parents say things like “I don’t know why Paul won’t take this seriously, he still eats all that junk food,” or “Mike isn’t taking his insulin again.” Even having watched their own mother die of the disease, neither took Diabetes seriously. They had an “It can’t happen to me” attitude. Which is exactly the attitude The Theif thrives on: Paul was dead before his 33rd birthday, Mike by his 40th.
You can imagine my horror when, several years later, newly pregnant with my first child and at the doctors for a prenatal visit when my Obstetrician looked at my lab results and asked “Are you a Diabetic?” I shook my head “no”, to which he replied “You are now.” I learned that I was amongst the growing number of pregnant women that had what was called Gestational Diabetes. I entered a new and frightening world. I had to monitor my diet closely, check my glucose levels five times a day, and eventually ended up taking Insulin injections. How I would cry in the beginning when I had to give myself those shots. I felt so sorry for myself, that my ‘normal’ pregnancy had been stolen from me by the same thief that had taken my Grandmother and Uncles: Diabetes. I knew, too, that if I was not careful, The Thief could even cause my baby to be stillborn! Still, I held onto the glimmer of hope that after the pregnancy the Diabetes would reverse itself, and things would return to the way they were. According to my doctor, I was a model patient, as I followed my new regimen with great care, and my vigilance paid off: I had a healthy and beautiful baby girl. Also, I’d “lucked out” as the Diabetes had vanished. Things were, indeed, back to normal…
Unfortunately, like my Uncles before me, back to “normal” meant being overweight, eating a high carb diet, and not exercising nearly enough. Being young and relatively healthy, it took years for my lifestyle to catch up with me. It was 11 years later, after the birth of my second child, that the inevitable happened: The Thief had come for me, too. It was a sore on my leg that would not heal that heralded in this new chapter in my life. At first, I was devastated. This time, there was no 9-month finish line ahead of me. I was in this for the long haul. Unless a cure was found, I was in it for the rest of my life. While I’d done research on the disease a decade earlier, during my pregnancy, most of it had faded in my mind over the years. My first thought was that I was going to die from Diabetes. I knew not today or tomorrow, but in my heart my fate was sealed. The Thief WOULD claim me, too. I knew, too, it was not going to be a peaceful death in my old age. I’d seen my relatives die. I knew how horrible it was. I would just look at my daughters and sob uncontrollably because I KNEW I would not be around to see them grow up.
I wallowed in my self pity for longer than I care to admit. Not only was I a Diabetic, I was a very depressed Diabetic. Life looked so bleak, so futile. What did it matter if I stuck to my diet, the end result would be the same. All I was doing was speeding up the process a bit if I glutted myself with carbohydrates and continued to live a sedentary lifestyle. To be completely honest, I wanted it to end quickly. The idea of having Diabetes slowly claim my life was completely bloodcurdling for me. I’d lay in bed at night and think about my funeral and who would be around to help raise my girls after I was gone. I knew great strides had been made in management of the disease. However, knowing it had killed in my family before, I felt it a foregone conclusion that I was next.
A friend of mine emailed me an article about a “cure” for Diabetes, and while the friend was well meaning, I knew the claim was bogus. A cure for Diabetes would have been first page news all around the country. This was a minuscule little article from a minor magazine. However, since my friend had been kind enough to send it, I felt obligated to read it. What the article talked about was not so much a cure, as the disappearance of symptoms and the return to near normal glucose readings from diet, exercise and medications. I was intrigued, so I researched some more, and saw the tiniest glimmer of hope in what I was reading. Since I believed fate had already handed me a death sentence, and that The Thief was already nipping at my heels, I really did not feel I had much to lose. I changed EVERYTHING I was doing. All of my eating habits (what I ate, where I ate, how I ate, even how often I ate). I started to exercise, just a little at first, but I gradually increased the amount. I committed myself to becoming as informed and as inquisitive as possible. I read everything I could get my hands on about Diabetes…
And I came to realize that Diabetes was NOT a death sentence after all, it was a life sentence! How I lived my life with Diabetes was wholly under my control. I did not have to become another statistic. My family was not fated to losing yet another member to this insidious disease. I would embrace life, even embrace the Diabetes, and use if as the catalyst to being HEALTHY. That’s exactly what I am doing, too. I’m losing weight. I’m enjoying healthy, delicious and nutritious balanced meals, and I have begun exercising on a regular basis. Most importantly, though, I am educating my daughters about Diabetes. Since it’s known to run in families, and there seems a case to be made for the possibility that they have inherited a predisposition for developing the disease, I am teaching them about impotance of a healthy lifestyle NOW. My oldest, now 14 years old, has been very proactive in her own research- and has decided to become a vegetarian based on what she’s learned. My three year old is not quite there yet…but she can sing you a song, from memory, with the following lines in it: “…Candy, candy it tastes yummy, but, candy, candy gets crazy in your tummy. Your body needs good food to make it work, too much candy will make it hurt…too much candy will make you sick, too much candy will make you so sick.”
Nobody explained to me when I was a little girl, why my Grandmother was different. I was left to wonder and to fear. I am dedicated to breaking that cycle with my own children. Diabetes is not a dirty word, nor is it something to be afraid of. If you are proactive you can live a long and healthy life even with a diagnosis of Diabetes. In fact, you can live a BETTER life than before your diagnosis. Diabetes IS a thief, it looks to take the quality of your life away from you, but it can only succeed IF ~you~ let it! I, for one, refuse to let that happen. Diabetes will not claim another life in my family because I am on watch. I will teach my children and my children’s children, how to avoid the disease–or how to deal with it should it come to call. And, I intend to be on watch a VERY long time, as I no longer see any reason I won’t live to a ripe old age. The Thief has no power here -it’s finally been defeated- and I know that, somewhere, my Grandmother is smiling down on me because I broke the cycle!