This December, my oldest son married his long-time love. The event space sparkled, spirits ran high, all the guests more than ready to celebrate a joyful occasion thanks to vaccine boosters required of all.
But while I watched the couple prepare to exchange their vows, my mind wandered back to some 37 years ago, when 3 months into my pregnancy, my internist diagnosed me with gestational diabetes. And how, following a second pregnancy with the same profile, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the relatively young age of 38.
Almost the same age as my son is now.
What I remember most about all those diagnoses was fear. I feared my every bite of food might endanger my babies. To fight possible high blood sugar, I pushed exercise: an hour of stationary biking both morning and night, an hour of swimming, and long, exhausting walks. The day of my first diagnosis, I recall being handed a glucose monitor the size of a small handbag and a printed list of allowed and forbidden foods and was sent on my way to worry.
With my second pregnancy, I took insulin. While I was able to cut down my exercise, the drug had its own terrors: I feared taking too much or too little and I didn’t want my father -- who also had diabetes -- to blame himself for “giving me” the disease. During family visits, I hid in hallways, bathrooms, and basements to check my sugars and administer my shots.
Let’s be honest, a diagnosis of any chronic condition can be frightening. Type 2 diabetes, which can exacerbate a case of COVID-19 and, if uncontrolled, cause multiple complications including loss of sight, nerve damage, kidney disease, and cardiac issues, is no joke.
But -- and this is a big but -- we no longer live in the dark ages of diabetes treatments or care. Today, doctors have a wide variety of medication options for bringing down stubborn blood sugar readings, and it’s easier than ever to find a nutritionist, a diabetes educator, and/or endocrinologist to consult about your concerns.
It’s also easier to track your blood sugar readings. Monitors have shrunk from the size of pocketbooks to index fingers, and the amount of blood necessary has been similarly reduced. Scans that take continuous blood sugar readings are also available, as are insulin pumps. And insulin needles have thinned so an injection feels like the prick of a pin.
Which is not to say that managing diabetes is easy. It is not, but it is a disease that can be managed. Not by a doctor who sends you off with scary marching orders to upend your life, but by a team of caregivers who can help to figure out how to live with a chronic disease. A fixed diet plan is gone. If you have type 2 diabetes, you might become a vegetarian, eat low carb, follow a keto diet, or work out your own eating plan. Strength training can be added to cardio; yoga or meditation can reduce stress.
What was once a “one size fits all” has become a “choose your own adventure.” It’s about figuring out the best, healthiest, and most comfortable way to live your type 2 life.
As the couple moved to the front of the room, I sipped on champagne and surveyed the crowd of friends and relations gathered around me. All of us had weathered a pandemic and various health issues, but all of us were gathered together to focus on the young couple and their future. At that moment, I felt no fear.
Photo Credit: Rob Melnychuk / DigitalVision via Getty Images
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