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Friday, July 31, 2009

It's Taken Me Years to Publically Say...

I'm a diabetic. Oh yeah, and I have Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Basically, these came on due to a viral infection when I was 23 years old that has forever weakened my Immune System. But this isn't intended to be a sob-story post, so let's just focus on me coming to terms with my Diabetes. There, I said it publicly again - heck, I might even get good at this!

Sure, I've talked with select individuals about being a diabetic, but overall I have tried very hard to hide it because Diabetes has had such a negative stigma in the past. Did you know that Mary Tyler Moore has Diabetes? So does Larry King, Randy Jackson, Nicole Johnson Baker (Miss USA '99) and the Seattle Mariners pitcher Brandon Morrow. Did you also know that most of these people hid their disease for fear it would derail their careers by giving the impression that they were damaged goods, high-maintenance or be seen as unable to keep their commitments.

In this day and age, it seems strange that people have been denied jobs, promotions, access to airplanes, treated as if they had the plague, looked at as an oddity and dumped in relationships because the other person "couldn't handle it." All because they were labeled 'Diabetic'.

I remember the first time my doctor said "I'm certain you have Diabetes, but we need to run a test to confirm it." I began to cry and quickly refused the test, explaining that if I was diagnosed with Diabetes, I could be dropped or denied future health insurance (which is true in many states). The negative stigma related to Diabetes is strong and it is still in existence.

There have been countless times that I've started to write about my experiences with Diabetes, but didn't want it to come out in a 'poor me' kind of way. I just think it's time I state the facts, not just for myself, but for everyone around me and for those who may be facing the same scary issue.
  • First, I am a Diabetic. I'm a Type 1 so that means I will ALWAYS be a Diabetic
  • Yes, I can have deserts & carbs, but only in moderation
  • Next, if you see my 'pager' it's really my insulin pump (a medical device). If you hear a beep, it's probably my insulin pump. If I'm pushing some buttons on it while we're talking, please continue on, I'm not ignoring you or taking a call
  • I'm sorry (I'm apologizing in advance), but when my blood sugar is low or high, my moods aren't my proudest moments. It's a chemical thing in the body and I really, really can't help it. Please don't take these moments personally, but rather as a clue that something is going wrong in my body and I need help.
  • Oh yeah, when my blood sugar becomes too low, I have discovered that my breathing becomes very quick, shallow and labored. I become very hot & sweaty. I also become incredibly task-oriented and can no longer multi-task. As mentioned previously, I might be a bit short in our conversation. This means I need sugar NOW so please ask if I need to check my blood sugar level or just hand me some sugar.
  • If I need sugar you need to know it comes in all types of forms such as sugar packets, orange juice, regular soda, a candy bar and my favorite for traveling, gummy bears.
  • My sugar can drop quickly when I'm exercising, it's hot out, when I eat a high carb meal (which I generally try to avoid) or for no apparent reason at all. What a pain it is!
  • Does Diabetes scare me? Of course it does. I know that statistically, the chances of me dieing at a much earlier age because of this disease is a very real future for me. I'm more susceptible to organ failure, limb amputation, blindness and much more.
  • With that said, I'm certainly not going down without a fight! I have heart, I have gumption and I work hard to focus on other things besides the negative what-could-be.
Having Diabetes is a challenge and there are days I'm just tired of it. Unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of taking a vacation from it, although I so wish I could just have 1 week a year! But on the flip side, Diabetes has put a lot of things in perspective for me. I don't sweat about a lot of things I used to and I feel like I live in a great place that supports a healthy diet - which is key for my daily living.

Diabetes has also shown me that my husband loves me unconditionally. He was there for the diagnosis, the 3-day hospital stay that followed and for all of the education 'we' have had to endure! I say 'we' because the first thing Dan said when I was diagnosed was "What do WE need to do..." I wouldn't have blamed him if he would have chosen to run far, far away - it's no secret that I wish I could have had the option to run from Diabetes!

After almost 5 years of living with this disease, the one thing that continues to surprise me is how my friends and family accept and support my Diabetes life. It started when my mother-in-law took an entire day of her personal time to come & support me at an informational Diabetes Conference. She doesn't have Diabetes, but boy did she jump in to help me get educated that day!

More recently, I went on a long hike with some friends and with the exercise and heat, it was challenging to get my blood sugar stabilized. I had to keep stopping along the trail to bring my sugars back up and in my embarrassment, kept apologizing. My friends didn't think it was a big deal and my husband was his usual supportive & patient self (which also meant he carried a loaded backpack full of supplies for me).

Taking that hike was a big deal to me and a bit of a milestone. I've read about real people who do triathlons, long distance cycling and marathons, so accomplishing my 9 mile hike (which really turned into a 12+ mile hike) was a start. Next I really want to get back to swimming, which means having my insulin pump injection patch in plain sight thanks to the swimsuit. Since being diagnosed with Diabetes, I've been playing it safe when it comes to physical activity, I've been living in fear of the sudden drop in my blood sugar and I've been hiding my patch. I think it's time to move forward, get back to full living and to remember that the what-ifs are going to happen whether I'm sitting at home on the couch or climbing a mountain.

I may have a disease that requires intensive daily management, but I can still make & accomplish goals - it just takes a little extra planning and a contingency plan.

I know I'm not the only one out there with Diabetes who is trying to keep their chin up each and every day. I just hope that my story will inspire someone else to keep going, to stay engaged and most importantly, know that you're NOT alone.

Thanks for letting me write this.


  1. Beautifully written, Lisa! You have nothing to be embarassed about and everything to be proud of. And, you're right. You're not the only one out there who is trying to keep their chin up each and every day...and we don't all have Diabetes.

    Thanks for writing this.

  2. Great post. Having lived with Lupus for 10 years now I truly know where you're "coming from" and what it means to have a great support system. Having Diabetes or Lupus or any other auto immune disease is nothing to be ashamed of. It's part of who we are. Doesn't mean we have to like it.

  3. I really think its important that people around you know that you are diabetic. If you were at a trial and people didnt know, that could be a problem. Most poeple just want to help. They would feel horrible if something happened to you because they didnt know. Ive had a kid come to my office ( Im the school nurse) who was still awake and could walk but couldnt talk. His blood sugar was 30. But I knew he was diabetic. So I knew what to do to help him. I hope that people that go with you to trials know where you keep your supplies and what to do. You would be surprised how many people, just like you, are diabetic and you just dont know it. Im glad you have a supportive family. Good luck. Diana

  4. Thanks for the great words everyone! I am lucky because my husband is generally with me and know what to do and one of my best friends is a critical care nurse. Comes in handy!

  5. I have a good friend who has diabetes and has embraced it in an impressive way. It's like you say, there is no vacation from it. She is a personal trainer and lawyer who has started a business with the sole intent of "making the most of your life with diabetes outside the doctors office". If interested, check out her website ( I like you, she has a positive attitude, reasonable approach, and wisdom to share. AND she loves my Labrador, so you KNOW she is wise. :)