My dearest oldest friend, Karlene, has diabetes and is amazing. She’d probably hit me for that accolade though. She was one of 9 people in Corona, California, who came down with the West Nile Virus through a mosquito bite; and as an 80 year-old diabetic woman, she was the only one to come through it alive. The doctors were incredulous. She’s made an almost full recovery and still manages her diabetes and lives a full life!
Still, it was my first up close and personal experience with diabetes, and since then I’ve learned how to make sugar free pomegranate jelly for her, what a diabetic diet looks like and does not look like, and of course, where to get the tastiest sugar-free chocolates and candies. I’ve seen how strong she is emotionally to control her sweet tooth, and to keep her optimism and a positive perspective despite being pricked and poked more times in a day than I’d wish on anyone, and to persevere in her physical therapy every single day, despite neuropathy, pain and fatigue.
Experiencing a small part of what it is to live with diabetes through Karlene’s friendship, has caused me to rethink many of my food choices and their potential consequences. It’s also given me an awe of Karlene’s self-control as she makes and sells thousands of cookies by hand for fundraisers multiple times per year, and still keeps her blood sugar in check. She regularly allows members of the community to use her Farm free of charge and hosts more gatherings than many people go to in several years. And she does all this with a smile, openness, kindness and generosity.
Attached is a picture of Karlene with my son, Zachary, one evening after an impromptu barbecue at her home where one of her former students “just dropped by” to visit as is a fairly usual unusual experience for her. Karlene was also a local public high school teacher until last year when illness forced her into retirement. A more inspiring octogenarian would be hard to find, diabetic or otherwise.