Not sugar-coating it

**Editor’s Note**: November is Diabetes Awareness Month. One in 10 Americans have diabetes while another 84 million adults in the U.S are at risk of developing type two diabetes. The Chanticleer sat down with two people that have diabetes and asked them a series of questions about life as life as a diabetic, when they were diagnosed and how it has changed their lives. One is in their twenties, one is in their sixties, one has type 1 diabetes and the other has type 2. While their stories and lives are different, in the end they must do a lot of the same things in order to keep themselves healthy and well.

 Name: Katie

Age: 21

What type do you have? Type 1

What exactly does that mean? Type 1 Diabetes (or T1D) means that my pancreas’ beta cells do not produce any insulin at all. They shut down for no discernable reason.

How long have you had it? I was diagnosed on April 18, 2012. I was 16 and a sophomore in high school, which is pretty old for T1D. T1D used to be called Juvenile Diabetes, because it almost always appeared exclusively in young children. People still use the term Juvenile Diabetes (it’s not “wrong”), but we’re finding out that older teens and young adults can be diagnosed with T1D, too, and that it’s not so much an age factor as a “what’s going on with my pancreas” factor.

With your type, what are you supposed to do as far as regulating? I check my blood sugar 3-4 times a day and inject myself with two types of insulin (the stuff my pancreas should be making, but isn’t). Novalog is the insulin I take when I eat. It’s fast-acting and breaks down the carbs in the food I eat so that my body can process it. The amount of Novalog varies by what I’m eating at that meal as well as what my blood sugar level is. Before I eat, I check my blood sugar. A “good” blood sugar level is generally between 80 and 120, but that number varies for every diabetic. Ithe insulin I take for the carb content of my food. As far as that goes, I my ratio (ratios vary for everyone!) is one unit of insulin per every five grams of carbs. If my blood sugar is low (below 80), I take less insulin or I only do insulin for the food I’m eating, and then I eat or drink something extra like a small candy bar or apple juice. Then, every night I take Lantus, another insulin. I take the same amount of Lantus every night. It’s a long-lasting insulin that keeps my blood sugar stable throughout the day. Sometimes, despite all my efforts to “regulate” it, my blood sugar still doesn’t cooperate. So, sometimes, you just accept the number and correct for it.

With diabetes is it strictly about controlling sugar or is it other levels as well that need regulating? Well, yes and no. But, to put it simply, if I’m sick, my blood sugar will probably be high. When I’m on my period, my blood sugar will probably be high. If I’m really stressed, my blood sugar will be high. (It’s kind of like blood pressure in that sense.) For some people, exercising brings their blood sugar down. For me, it tends to send it up….and then down some. Alcohol, too, does weird things. So all those things are things that I need to understand about my body before I do something. It doesn’t mean I can’t do those things. It just means that I have to prepare a little in advance.

Is it difficult to go without things that you know you shouldn’t have? At first, yes. For about six weeks after my diagnosis, I refused to eat any carbohydrates. (I’m talking no bread or pasta or potatoes or candy or cake or ice cream or anything!) I was so afraid of the needles and so afraid of ending up in the hospital again that my solution was to ignore my diabetes. And it was miserable. I was so tired all the time. But after a while, I decided that I loved bread and pasta and potatoes and candy and cake and ice cream more too much to give it up. And, honestly, it’s not healthy to not eat carbs. They literally give you energy. So that adjustment period was really hard, but my parents never told me I couldn’t have any of those things. They never “deprived me” of being a normal teenager. Anything like that was self-imposed because I needed to figure some things out for myself.

Do you sometimes cheat? Sometimes? Ha, depending on who you ask, I cheat every day! I love food, so I do tend to eat whatever I want. I’ve come to the point now that I eat whatever and do insulin for it. I will say that I’m very bad about checking my blood sugar. I usually just eat food, guesstimate my carbs and do insulin for that. And I’ll admit that that’s not normal. I’m very “stable” as far as diabetes goes. I’ve known diabetics who have to know exactly how many carbs they’re eating, and they have to eat at the same time every day. I’m not like that, thank God. I’m very, very lucky.

What advice would you give to other young diabetics? Don’t let anyone else dictate what you do or eat. Everyone will think they understand diabetes because they vaguely know someone who is diabetic. And they all mean well, but the fact of the matter is that you know your body the best. You know when you’re feeling low. And you are not just “a diabetic.” Diabetes is as unique as every person it affects, so no one else can really say they “understand you.” Don’t let wannabe-know-it-alls put you in a bad mood. You can have your chips and salsa and margaritas or your cake and ice cream or your bowl of spaghetti. Or you don’t have to. The point is, it’s up to you. And, just a personal thing, go listen to “A Little Bit Longer” by the Jonas Brothers. Nick Jonas wrote it about being diagnosed with T1D, and even though I loved the song long before I was diagnosed, it had a completely new meaning for me after 2012.

Any diabetes myths you want to dispel? How many pages are in this paper again? Yes. So many myths. First, it’s not just sugar that affects your blood sugar. It’s carbs. Carbs are just complex sugars. To your body, a dinner roll and a candy bar break down into the same substances. Secondly, I did not get diabetes for being overweight or for eating too much candy as a kid. This is probably the most hurtful comment I’ve heard. T1D is an autoimmune disease. With T1D, my body attacked itself and stopped producing insulin for reasons still unknown to science. It is not my fault for “being overweight,” and it is not my parents’ fault for “giving me too much candy,” so please don’t say things that imply that it is.

And, just for fun (because I can still have fun in-between counting carbs), I’ll give you a fun fact: my pancreas’ name is Barbara, and I jokingly say that she quit working to focus on her career as a world dictator.

Name: Steve

Age: 64

What type do you have? Type 2

What exactly does that mean? Type 1 is the one where you take the shots. Type 2 is where you take pills.

How long have you had it? I would say 25 years.

With your type, what are you supposed to do as far as regulating? I’m supposed to watch what I eat. It’s not just about sweets. It’s about what you eat. Fried foods, carbs, stuff like that. You have to eat certain things, and there’s lots of things you’re not supposed to eat because it will raise your sugar level.

With diabetes is it strictly about controlling sugar or is it other levels as well that need regulating? It’s really about maintaining your sugar level that can come from many sources. Not necessarily just sugar and candy and sweet tea. You have to eliminate carbohydrates and lots of fried stuff and naturally it doesn’t help to eat a lot of sweets and stuff like that. To be honest with you, even though I don’t do it like I’m supposed to, your diet totally changes when you become a diabetic.

Is it difficult to go without things that you know you shouldn’t have? It’s hard to do without them that’s why I still do it. But you pay for it when your sugar’s up because you’re tired all the time, you’ll go to the bathroom every couple of hours. You rarely ever feel good when your sugar is up. Not to mention the health issues that can shut your kidneys down, it can be bring bad things on your heart. Can cause heart disease quicker, it’s just a totally different lifestyle that I need to be on and that I’m really not doing.

Do you sometimes cheat? Oh yes I admit that I don’t do well at all. That’s why the doctor gets onto me because my sugar is out of whack. But I need to learn to do better.

What advice would you give to young diabetics? Don’t do like I do. Don’t continue for 15 or 20 years not paying attention to what you eat but get it under control. The younger you are that you get it under control, the less worse it will get and chances are you can control it. If you don’t get it under control and it gets out of hand then the next thing is that you have to take shots. Get it under control while you’re young.

Any diabetes myths you want to dispel? Diabetics can live a normal life. There’s lots of people, many great athletes that are diabetics that live a normal life. But you have to pay attention to it. You can’t take it for granted that you pig out and eat what you want and not take care of your body. You have to get t under control. Diabetes isn’t going to heal itself I can tell you that. If you don’t eat the proper foods and you’re diagnosed as a diabetic it’s only going to get worse. I regret not taking care of myself. By not taking care of myself it only gets worse. I regret that I didn’t catch it when I was younger.


For more information on Juvenile Diabetes (or Type 1 Diabetes), visit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

For more information on diabetes in general, and specifically Type 2 Diabetes, visit The American Diabetes Association.

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