13,422 days. That’s how long it’s been since I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes, an auto-immune disease in which the body’s immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. About 5% of people with diabetes in the U.S. have Type I, which requires taking insulin. People with Type II may control their diabetes with diet, medication, insulin, or a combination of all three. Physical activity and stress management are also important parts of any diabetes management plan.
When I was diagnosed, standard treatment included taking insulin once a day and peeing on test strips 3-4 times a day to see if my blood sugar was in a normal range or so high that I was “spilling” blood sugar into my urine. Back then, the insulin came from either cattle or pigs, extracted from the pancreas after slaughter. I started on insulin from cattle but soon switched to the more expensive pig insulin due to allergies at the injection sites. For a while it looked like I had golf balls lodged under my skin. Not pretty. Not pleasant. But within a few years insulin produced through recombinant DNA technology was made available. That technology is incredible. Scientists insert human genes into bacteria that then produce human insulin. Click here to learn more about the technology.
Today I take 4-6 insulin injections each day and I prick my finger 4-8 times each day to test my blood sugar. Many people ask why I don’t have an insulin pump, and the answer is easy. I don’t want a device attached to me 24 hours a day. Diabetes already invades so much of my life.
I walk for exercise…and for stress management. Daily physical activity is so important, but it’s not always fun or easy. I have a treadmill in my office, which I use when the weather is too hot, too cold, too rainy. It’s easy to find excuses, but the treadmill makes it hard to justify not walking for a bit.
My husband and I recently bought a house with a pool. Nightly swimming had a wonderful effect on my blood sugars this summer. In fact my hemoglobin A1C test (a measure of blood glucose control the past three months) was so good at my last doctor’s appointment my endocrinologist hugged me, which was very sweet coming from that very awkward man.
The swimming not only helped with my blood sugars; it also helped with my mood. Swimming is fun. Managing diabetes is not. But attitude is everything with this f-ing chronic disease. I have to deal with it every single day. No excuses. No vacations. No time off for good behavior. Every single choice I make related to food, beverages, mood, exercise, even sleep will have an impact on my blood sugar levels.
Thus far I’m doing well. Yeah, there are good days and there are bad days, but overall I’m doing well. No complications with my eyes, kidneys, or otherwise. I see my ophthalmologist for a dilated eye exam every spring, and he’s always amazed that he can’t see any changes in my eyes. He’s been in practice for nearly 40 years, and he said he’s never seen a patient with Type I make it this long without any microvascular damage to the eyes.
What does that mean? It means I’ve done a good job managing my diabetes. It also likely means I have a genetic variant that’s less likely to lead to complications. But it also means the clock is ticking. One day I will get diagnosed with a “complication.” It’s part of the package. But for now I’m doing everything I can to live well with diabetes and keep complications at bay.
November is American Diabetes Month. If you read this far, and you want to do something for yourself or a loved one, visit diabetesforecast.org/adm and read about the new America Get Cooking to Stop Diabetes campaign from the American Diabetes Association. Cooking is one very powerful way to improve diabetes control. And to have some fun!
On that note I’m hopping on my treadmill for a brisk walk. And then I’m heading into my kitchen to work on dinner. Cheers!