The sedentary lifestyle of a freelance writer has been a challenge but at 60 years of age I felt I had a healthy lifestyle. My diet was reasonably balanced, I’d given up smoking twenty years ago and I exercise regularly by cycling, walking, swimming, cross country skiing and am an ardent practitioner and teacher of Akido, the Japanese art of self defense. When we moved to a more rural environment I was forced to give up my regular practice of Aikido and increase my other forms of exercise. I never worried about diabetes because there was no history of it in my family.
My annual physical in the fall of 2005 revealed no hint of what would happen a year later. My doctor did mention that in spite of my physical activity, I had gradually accumulated an additional 15 pounds around my middle and he suggested I try to lose some weight. My only other complaint was that like many in their sixties, I had a little arthritis in my feet. Orthodics helped but the desire for long walks and jogging had decreased. Still, I was convinced I was living well and so my diagnosis came as a shock.
Diagnosis: Things weren’t perfect in the summer of 2006. Looking back, I remember there was considerable tension. Over the past year, I had increased my intake of fruit. In fact, I recall my wife commenting on the amount of fruit I consumed. Over the hot summer, I developed even more of a craving for cold semi-frozen fruit. My mouth felt dry, so to relieve my thirst I drank a lot of cold drinks and ate a lot of frozen fruit. Consequently there was more than the customary single early morning visit to the washroom.
The next symptom I noticed was that it became difficult to read the print on the TV even when wearing my prescription glasses. A change in vision, thirst, dry mouth, increased urination, a craving for fruit – weren’t those all symptoms of diabetes? I began checking my symptoms on the internet but I kept telling myself it must be something else given that no one in my family has had diabetes. Nonetheless, it was time for my annual physical.
My appointment was the morning of August 9th and at 7:00 that evening I had a call from my doctor.
“Dennis you have Type 2 diabetes, I am giving you a prescription for Metformin to control your blood sugar. You must fill it immediately. Make an appointment tomorrow to see me, we have to talk.”
My first reaction was denial, “Are you sure, couldn’t it be something else?”
“Dennis your blood sugar is double digits. You will be able to manage this.”
I told my wife. She was equally surprised but really supportive and listened to my rant as we headed to the drug store.
Acceptance: What’s next? Acceptance of the diagnoses for me meant becoming pro active. I did further research on the internet. I learned that Type 2 diabetes can mean that the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough of the hormone insulin, or it does not use what it produces properly. The consequences of not managing blood sugar levels can be serious and lead to heart disease, loss of limbs, and loss of eyesight. In the meantime, my wife began buying diabetes cookbooks. Cooking is her hobby and she looked on the production of delicious nutritious meals suitable for those with diabetes as a challenge.
Connecting: I called a friend who has diabetes to share my news. It was an important step in accepting the diagnosis. He had Type 2 diabetes since he was forty. He was on the same medication for the first 19 years that I’m on now. He now takes insulin; has had a triple bypass and was recently declared blind. Those consequences are more than just words; they are a real possibility if one does not follow a strict regime. He only began following that stricter regime after the age of fifty-five. He has a wonderful sense of humour and reassured me that I would be all right with a few adjustments, “Give up some of those sweet lady friends, cut the beer and dance a lot faster to burn those calories.”
Speaking with other friends with diabetes was both comforting and helpful. I learned how they were managing the disease. I was not alone and those conversations helped me accept my new long-term health status.
Learning & Eating: A heart-to-heart talk with my family doctor about my symptoms and test results led to a plan of action which included some more blood analysis, setting up a meeting at my local Diabetes Education Centre and an appointment with a specialist in diabetes (an endocrinologist) affiliated with the Centre. The goal of all this was to get my blood sugar levels back within normal ranges, below 7 mml before a meal and not sky high 2-3 hours after. My wife and I met with two Diabetes Educators at the Centre and went over my lifestyle as it related to food and exercise. My wife, who has had a life-long weight problem, was quite aware of the importance of portions, counting calories and selecting some foods instead of others. For example, whole wheat or whole grain breads instead of white. No more high sugar foods such as high sugar beverages, grapes, raisins or other dried fruits.. Desserts are difficult. But I learned to make banana bread with a sugar substitute. I also found a delicious Kraft recipe called Berry Berry Cake with blueberries and raspberries. I can still have a slice of my favourite carrot cake -- it just has to be a smaller portion.
My wife and I have become avid label readers looking at the carbohydrate, fibre and calories of foods. This information is a big help in selecting what to eat. Getting whomever does the shopping on board with diet changes makes them part of your team and helps with adjusting to the condition.
To keep track of my progress, I acquired a blood sugar monitoring device, known as a glucometer, with a prescription from my doctor. And I prepared a daily meal diary of my food intake and blood sugar levels to establish some benchmarks. The content of our food cupboard was adjusted. Out went regular pasta and in came whole wheat and spinach pasta, flour tortillas became whole wheat, cheeses changed to lower calorie ones.
Living: A regular exercise routine became an essential part of my action plan to help lose weight and get my blood sugar back to normal again. Walking the dog more has become part of my routine along with a 45-50 minute daily use of my exercise bike, Total Gym and free weights. In the winter pushing snow around to clear the driveway is an opportunity to keep moving as a morning or noon activity. The cross-country skis have come out of mothballs. In the summer bike rides and long walks are a pleasure and going to an Aikido class in Toronto when I can is a real treat. A morning stretching routine I learned from my Aikido training helps get the old joints going.
A couple of months of making the needed dietary changes and increasing my exercise regime has resulted in the loss of 15 pounds and my blood sugar levels are normal again and have been for the past year. I take my medication plus two other drugs, one for cholesterol and another to protect my kidneys. For me, managing Type 2 diabetes is about making good lifestyle choices in the food I eat and how I exercise. There is as yet no cure but I know I can live a normal life if I stick to the plan. I have a team of friends and professionals to keep me on track. Life is good.
Living does not end with diabetes but healthy living starts upon diagnosis!
Dennis Adair, Freelance Writer Recently diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes