I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes more than a decade ago. Upon researching my condition, I discovered some statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
• As of 2012, 29.1 million people 20 and older had diabetes in the United States; that’s almost 1 in 10.
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• If your parents or siblings have diabetes, your risk is much higher.
• As you get older, your risk increases.
• Racial/ethnic minorities are at higher risk; 15.9 percent of Native Americans/Alaska natives have diabetes, 13.2 percent of blacks, and 12.8 percent of Hispanics. By contrast, only 7.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites have diabetes.
• Of those with diabetes, 13.4 million are women.
• Heart disease is the most common complication of diabetes, and women are more seriously affected than men.
• Women are at a greater risk of blindness from diabetes.
• Women with diabetes have a shorter life expectancy.
I realized early on that I was high risk (family history, overweight, black), so I had my doctor check my glucose every year since my early 20s. My glucose results were normal for many years, and I thought I had beaten the odds. Then, while being treated for an infection that would not heal, it was recommended that I get a blood test for my glucose level. And sure enough, it was off the charts — above 300. (The American Diabetes Association recomments a fasting plasma level of 70 to 130 mg/dL.)
Of course I was perplexed because I was being routinely checked; what happened? I realized that one thing had changed — my walking routine. Due to an Achilles heel injury, I had not been doing the one exercise I was committed to. That inactivity was just enough, added to my weight, to put me in the crosshairs of diabetes.
I didn’t panic; I have great doctors, nurses, nutritionists and diabetes educators to assist me and my family. Medication and dietary changes were the most immediate steps.
Education was the next step. The courses offered at Mount Nittany Medical Center covered many topics: science behind the disease, medications used to treat it, impact of neglecting it and lifestyle changes necessary to live with diabetes. My doctors and I also talked about the emotional impact of the disease on my life and my family.
It was probably at that point that I decided that I would not be a victim, so I don’t call myself “a diabetic.” Instead I say “I fight diabetes.” It’s only a little difference in words but a powerful — perhaps the most powerful — weapon in dealing with this disease.
Another important thing I did was to tell my family, friends and co-workers. It helps if the people around you are familiar with the disease in an instance of low blood sugar. Even more important may be the support you get from family and friends to fight diabetes; with so many of us living with diabetes, there is real power in working together as families and in the workplace.
I also joined People Centre’d on Diabetes, a local organization dedicated to education and support.
I try to do the things I am supposed to, and I do some things better than others. The greatest challenge for me right now is engaging in regular exercise. It often seems like the “final frontier,” but I must learn to conquer it. I am mindful of what I eat, properly take my medications, maintain regular glucose testing and checkups, take time to rest, try to reduce my stress and listen to my body. Am I perfect at this every day? No, but I have learned to forgive myself and move forward.
Get out of denial if you’re there; your life depends on it. Denying you have diabetes will only cause you to avoid self-care. Denial shields you from the fact that diabetes is a lifelong, chronic illness, which, left untreated or poorly treated, can result in severe complications.
You can live with diabetes and even thrive. Just take it on. And if you have not yet been diagnosed, learn about your personal risks by taking a fast, easy and free test at www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/diabetes-risk-test.