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I Can't Do It
"I can't do it," Adrian blurted as I started to explain how to count carbohydrates to control his blood sugar levels. "I have to give myself four injections and check my blood sugar ten times a day and now you want me to count how many grams of carbohydrates I am supposed to eat as well? I just want to have fun like all of my friends and not think about so many things. I see what happens to people who get diabetes. Why should I even bother?" Adrian looked beaten. Being alive had become a chore that he wasn't very enthusiastic about fulfilling.
At eighteen years old, Adrian had many psychological issues to deal with regarding his diabetes. He was too young to be so accountable for his health. Adrian had many considerations; he needed to follow a schedule—a demanding schedule. His friends didn't share this level of responsibility at all. "Adrian, let me tell you a little story," I said, hoping that I could help to change his perspective about his disease. I wanted him to realize that less than a century ago he would have died.
"You see, Adrian," I said as I began my story, "before 1922, children were starving to death from diabetes. Without insulin, these kids couldn't feed their body with energy or sugar and the body would literally eat itself to death. James Havens, the son of the vice president of Eastman Kodak, was the first child to be treated with insulin in the United States. His weight was down to seventy-three pounds and he was dying. Insulin saved his life. Five-year-old Teddy Ryder was down to twenty-seven pounds and approaching death when he received insulin and went on to live until he was seventy-six years old. Then there was Elizabeth Hughes, the daughter of United States Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. Diabetes ravaged her body until her weight was below forty-five pounds and she could barely walk. Her doctor put her on a starvation diet to prolong her life. It allowed her to live long enough for a treatment to be discovered. Within weeks of the discovery of insulin and her visit to Dr. Banting in Toronto, she began gaining weight and her health improved significantly in no time. Elizabeth went on to marry and have children. She died at age seventy-three.
"Eighty years ago, you would not have lived unless you were one of the fortunate ones who survived long enough for insulin to be discovered. For you, Adrian, there is a long and healthy road ahead if you care to follow it. I will give you the tools to save your own life and then it's up to you."
Adrian sat still in contemplation about his disease, his life and the choices he was forced to make. "Twenty-seven pounds and forty-five pounds? How could they have lived?" Adrian asked, looking overwhelmed at how destructive "his" disease could be.
"As humans, we want to survive. We fight until the end. Their fight was painful, uncontrollable and horribly scary. All they were able to do was pray that a treatment or cure would be found before their bodies gave up," I said. "And for some their prayers were answered."
"I suppose these children were so thankful to be alive that they were grateful to follow a regimented treatment plan," Adrian said, realizing how truly fortunate he was. "So, did you say I need to inject five units of insulin for my breakfast?"
"Yes, and if you would like I can give you other breakfast samples and we can figure out how much insulin will be needed. And you know what? I bet a cure is within reach. Maybe you can join me in the Walk to Cure Diabetes next Saturday?"
"I'll be there!" Adrian smiled as our session ended. His new outlook on life was just beginning.
* Page GarfinkelCHAPTER 2
A Medal-Winning Diabetes Support Team
I had spent my entire life eating right, exercising and minding my health. Something like this wasn't supposed to happen to someone like me. I was an Olympic swimmer, a world class athlete. But in 1999, I started experiencing a number of symptoms, like blurred vision, constant fatigue and an unquenchable thirst. Finally, after collapsing at a party, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 25.
As most people with diabetes will tell you, taking the first decisive step to admit you need help isn't easy; some would argue that it's the hardest step in the diabetes care process. I'm here to tell you that it isn't any easier when your doctors are telling you that you won't ever be able to do the one thing you've been training for throughout your whole life. I was a week away from the Spring Nationals and had been feeling more confident in my swimming, but all of a sudden I felt like my whole world was crashing down around me. My girlfriend at the time—now my wife—became my support system. She stuck by my side even when I felt like giving up completely, and she encouraged me when I wasn't sure if I would ever swim competitively again. I was lucky.
As an Olympic athlete, I was used to being surrounded by a team of people who would work with me to help me train and achieve my goals. After thorough research, I was able to add diabetes experts to my team of coaches. I surrounded myself with a team of experts from across the country who believed that I would continue to swim and who knew I could go for the gold despite my diabetes. They helped me learn how to care for myself; how to monitor my blood glucose levels to avoid getting too high or too low, how and when to inject my insulin—my life line. Essentially, I had to relearn how to live my life to incorporate my diabetes care needs.
Not everyone is so lucky. I have been very active in the diabetes community since I was diagnosed, and I often meet people who feel alone in their challenge to manage their disease. I was fortunate enough to meet a few people who reminded me how lucky I was when I became involved in the BD Diabetes Makeover program. The participants in the Makeover program came together from all over the country to get a better grip on their diabetes management. Like so many others, they had lost the motivation somewhere in a busy, often hectic life to give their diabetes the attention it needed. Some didn't have access to the right tools and information. For others, the mention of diabetes was met with a groan, and a mental acknowledgment that they needed to start monitoring their diabetes in a more aggressive way to get their blood glucose level back where it belonged.
When I first met the Makeover participants, I was immediately overwhelmed by their enthusiasm. The teamwork they demonstrated reminded me of the team attitude I was accustomed to at the Olympic level. Everyone, including Olympic athletes, needs encouragement and support—and the room was full of it. They became my inspiration, despite the fact that I was there to be theirs. The determination I saw in their eyes, and seeing these ordinary people take control of their lives, motivates me to test my blood glucose levels when I don't feel like it, to give myself that extra shot of insulin, and to swim an extra lap in training.
The team approach paid off for those participants just as it paid off for me. I managed to win four more medals in the 2000 Olympics, as well as two more in 2004. But those medals belong not only to me, not only to my team of coaches and doctors, but to everyone out there who is determined to control their diabetes and take charge of their lives.
* Gary Hall Jr., 10-time Olympic medalist in swimming
A Wake-Up Call
Diabetes is a disease that causes the body to not produce enough insulin, or not use it properly. Insulin is essential to keep your body functioning properly.
This is a serious disease that should not be taken lightly. For many people, the diagnosis can actually end up having a positive effect, because it gives them a much-needed wakeup call to make some important changes in their life, and their lifestyle.
Facts About Diabetes
A quick look at the important statistics regarding diabetes makes it very clear this is a major concern for people in the United States:
5.8 million Americans had diabetes in 1980
By 2002, that figure rose to 13.3 million
Today, diabetes affects 18 million people, or 6 percent of the total population
One-third of people with diabetes don't know they have it
Think about ... what diabetes means to me
What (if any) serious symptoms and complications do I need to address right away?
What lifestyle changes can I make immediately?
Do I need insulin, pills or other regular treatment? If so, how can I incorporate that into my daily schedule?
Do I need to find a medical specialist?
How can I best benefit from the help of friends and family?
Where can I find a good support system?
How am I going to change my lifestyle in the long term to improve my health?
And, perhaps most important:
How can I put a positive spin on this, and maintain a good attitude?CHAPTER 3
It was a particularly beautiful spring day when I went to my gynecologist for a routine checkup and held out my finger for a needle prick. It was the first time that office had asked for a small blood sample, an acknowledgment that a gynecologist is often the only doctor many women see.
I was feeling on top of the world that day. Midlife was turning out to be a time of freedom, growth and terrific well-being. I hadn't even had a cold in months. My weight was fine. What did I have to worry about?
"Your blood sugar is extremely high," my gynecologist announced unceremoniously. "What did you eat before you came here?"
I recounted my sin almost jauntily, still not getting it. Lunch had been the usual: a fat bagel and a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, my daily indulgence. Dr. J. didn't smile. In fact, she looked rather grim as she advised me to get to an endocrinologist immediately. My reading at her office had grazed 300. A normal blood glucose one hour after eating, I would later learn, would have been far lower, probably in the range of 120 to 140.
The endocrinologist tested me again, and again found higher than normal readings. Talk about wake-up calls ...
I've had a lifelong obsession with weight. As a formerly chubby child, I'd vowed never to be anything but slim, so I'd leaped into the dangerous waters of crazy eating. To satisfy both the obsession—and the sweet tooth—I'd practically lived my adult life on limited doses of candy bars, cookies and an occasional protein. It's a wonder I'd made it without incident as long as I had.
Ah, but people admired my slimness—and that was the dubious reward for such self-punishing eating habits. I grooved on sliding into a size eight for decades.
Suddenly, however, I was no longer just a woman with a sweet tooth. I was prediabetic. And that made my self-imposed dietary route to size eight feel utterly foolish and yes, dangerous.
Life is definitely different now. I have a new and intense awareness of the importance of diet and exercise in my life, and I take it seriously. It took months, even years, for me to learn to relish foods that would love me back. But today, I'm as excited— well, almost— about devouring a huge, healthful salad as I was with the chocolate chip cookies of yore.
I'm also the proud owner of a home testing kit that allows me to check and monitor my blood sugars regularly. And as a former confirmed coward who practically fainted at the sight of a needle, I'm pleased to report that I do my finger sticks without even flinching. I know how important the monitoring is.
What still haunts me is that I didn't have a single symptom. That realization is also what keeps me committed to working hard to avoid what I have come to think of as falling off the looming cliff: developing full-blown diabetes.
So far, it's working. So far, my blood sugars are squarely in the normal range, which is where they have remained since May of 1994.
And what's happened to my proud size eight status? It's changed. Given my new healthy eating, and an exercise regimen that includes nightly walks with my husband during which we solve the world's problems, I'm now a size six.
Am I perfect at sticking to the healthy life? Of course not. There are still times when a peanut butter cup solves more emotional problems than a carrot stick. I keep the peanut butter cups in the freezer, however, and buy them on a one-at-a-time basis to make access a bit harder.
On our refrigerator door is a little yellowing piece of paper. It's the original note from my gynecologist, ominous blood sugar numbers boldly scrawled in her semi-indecipherable handwriting.
It will always remind me of the "gift" of that long-ago finger prick, and how it changed my life. In real and symbolic terms, that little drop of blood may even have saved it.
* Sally Friedman
It's relatively easy to diagnose diabetes. Here's the typical process:
Symptoms indicate possibility of diabetes
Initial blood test to check sugar levels
Fasting plasma glucose test
Urine test to check sugar and ketone levels
TYPE 1 DIABETES
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, you will fall into one of two categories. The first, Type 1 diabetes, involves a failure to produce insulin.
Previously called juvenile diabetes, this type of diabetes is often diagnosed during childhood (according to the American Diabetes Association, about one in every 400 to 500 children and teens have it).
While commonly detected during childhood, it can develop at any age.
Although the exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown, it is an "autoimmune" disease in which antibodies damage the insulin-producing cells.
There is no vaccine for diabetes, and no way to prevent it, at least in the case of Type 1 diabetes.
TYPE 2 DIABETES
The majority of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes.
Doctors haven't yet figured out exactly what causes this type of diabetes, but people with a family history of the disease do seem to be at higher risk.
Unlike people with Type 1 diabetes, people with Type 2 diabetes do produce insulin. They just aren't producing enough of it, or it's not being used as it should. This involves insulin resistance—in other words, the body isn't using insulin properly.
Most people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight.
On a positive note, it is preventable in many cases. Preventative steps include:
Watching your weight
Following a sensible diet
Exercising regularly (at least 150 minutes per week minimum)
What Is Insulin, Anyway?
You can't talk about diabetes without discussing insulin. What is insulin, exactly? Insulin is a hormone produced by the body. Its job is to deliver nutrients— especially glucose—into cells in various parts of the body. Remember how glucose travels through your body through the metabolism process? Well, it can't get into many cells by itself. It needs insulin to help carry it into muscle cells for energy or fat cells for storage. Insulin generally goes to work after you eat. If you eat something that's high in sugar, your body will need a lot of insulin to handle this.
Could You Have Diabetes?
Many people with diabetes do not have any obvious symptoms. If someone you love has diabetes, now is a good time to think about having yourself checked as well. Here are some common symptoms that are often a telltale sign of diabetes:
Always feeling thirsty, especially when accompanied by frequent urination
Constantly feeling tired
Risk factors include:
High blood pressure
Ethnic background (Hispanics, Native Americans and African Americans have a higher risk)
If you have any of the symptoms, or any other signs that you suspect may signal diabetes, see your doctor right away.
Think about ... things to ask my doctor
What type of diabetes do I have?
How high are my sugar levels?
What treatment plan do you recommend?
Why are you giving me this type of medicine?
What does it do? What are possible side effects?
Can you give me a good diet plan, or recommend a nutritionist who can?
Are any of my vital signs or lab results (cholesterol level, blood pressure, weight, etc.) a cause for concern?
Excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Soul Healthy Living Series: Diabetes by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Byron Hoogwerf. Copyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
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