June 1989 was when I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. There was no history of it in the family and we were all a little taken aback. Life as I knew it was in for a huge change, measuring and weighing food, taking needles, testing blood glucose, and generally changing both my way of life, and that for my parents.
Over the course of the next 10 years, there were numerous challenges to living with diabetes. Being otherwise healthy, I developed chronic migraines, that through many painful months of suffering, evaluating, and tests, the end diagnosis was that the migraine cause was greatly attributed to large scale fluctuations in blood glucose levels. Through numerous advancements across the decade, the understanding of how best to manage Type 1 Diabetes increased along with better glucose monitoring equipment, changes in insulin technology, and general better understanding of the disease. My insulin therapy was adjusted to 4 injections per day to better replicate how the body regulates insulin with respect to food. I adapted to the new treatment protocol, and my migraines disappeared. Nothing comes for free, and with the increased glucose control, reducing my Hemoglobin A1c, came weight gain and more rapid adolescent growth.
Fast forward a few more years, although I had maintained better than average, but far from perfect, glucose control, my endocrinologist had noted the presence of albumin in a microalbumin urine test. Albumin is a protein that is normally found in the blood and filtered by the kidneys. When the kidneys are working properly, albumin is not present in the urine. But when the kidneys are damaged, small amounts of albumin leak into the urine. This condition is called microalbuminuria, and although this can be caused by other conditions, it is most often caused by kidney damage from diabetes. It was at this time, at only 18 years of age, that I was put on a form of blood pressure medicine known as an ACE inhibitor. ACE inhibitors block an enzyme needed to form a substance that narrows blood vessels. As a result, blood vessels relax and widen, making it easier for blood to flow through the vessels, which reduces blood pressure. These medicines also increase the release of water and sodium to the urine, which also lowers blood pressure. As it doesn’t affect blood sugar level and helps to protect the kidney against further damage, it is a primary candidate for diabetics. This appeared to work, my blood pressure was reduced, albeit due to a high dose of medication, that I felt was only for “elderly people”, and my microalbumin levels decreased. An additional drug was prescribed not long after, to lower my cholesterol. Why did I need to take another medication, especially when I didn’t have high cholesterol?! The reasoning was that studies had shown, as a preventative measure for many chronic circulatory related ailments associated with long term diabetes, could be reduced by maintaining a below normal cholesterol level, so that’s what I did.
All in all, life went along “normally” and I have better than average glucose control, fluctuated my weight up and down, but was generally 30+ lbs overweight, had a generally sedentary lifestyle, poor eating and sleeping habits, and suffered mild depression. Now here I was, 30 years old, many things in my life hadn’t gone as intended, but not yet suffering any chronic health ailments and in a position where I had a chance at a fresh beginning. The problem is that we are creatures of habit, my poor lifestyle was the product of these bad habits, each one compounding the next. I felt overwhelmed at how to go about changing the only way of living that I knew how. Where to even begin?! I had made some mild dietary changes here and there, lost some weight, but nothing sustainable, nothing that became a new way of life. It took a friend, someone that believed she could help me be more, to ensure that I would have a long and healthy life, not living on a dialysis machine with amputations, living a meager existence, and not getting to enjoy the friends, family, and my children as could and should be doing.
I am quite shy when I’m outside of my comfort zone, and believe me, athletic activity was the furthest thing from that comfort! The idea of even going into a sporting goods store to buy clothes and shoes was daunting, so I avoided it to the best of my ability. My friend was very persistent in that she would get me to do something “fitnessy”, and it took some time, but she never gave up, and it may have taken a bet in order to make that first move, but it ended up being the first step forward into a new existence, one with a much brighter future! And so it began, walking up the hill at Memorial stairs and I thought I would die, but I went back again, and a little longer, and then again, and soon I was going every day, rain or shine. I had begun watching my diet, making healthier choices, maintaining portion control and calculating insulin amounts based on my carb count. It didn’t take long and the pounds were coming off, my insulin intake was down, and I felt better, happier, healthier, both physically and mentally.
As this motivation to change began to form a series of new habits, it became easier. I started attending boot camps, got a mountain bike and began riding, for the first time since being a teenage. I was hooked at how I felt and the sizes I was dropping in my “giant” pants. I started looking for new ways to increase the level of control I had of my blood sugars and create an even more stable range. I began recording my exercise, all of it, with Runmeter and my chest strap heart monitor. I downloaded an app, My Net Diary, the diabetic edition, to record my caloric burn, food intake, blood sugars, water, weight, everything. It would record the carbohydrates, fiber, protein, calories, everything. If it wasn’t in there, I could add it and scan the barcode to make it easier to look up later. This was one of the greatest tools to really rein in my glucose control, it enabled me to see glucose patterns related to food, exercise, and insulin with respect to time. It was instrumental in making the finer adjustments that would better permit me to maintain high levels of rigorous activity without continually fighting a hypoglycemic response, and additionally reduce the followed hyperglycemic swing from “over treating” the low. I had always found getting into most forms of high intensity physical output to be so difficult to manage with my diabetes, being such a contrast to my sedentary ways, which was tremendously discouraging. These tools, and finding things like Dex-4 fast acting glucose tabs to help me quickly and effectively treat my lows when involved in activity, better facilitated my participation and enabling me to better refine my understanding of how these activities would affect my glucose to be more proactive in my approach. I felt unstoppable now and was feeling and looking better than I ever had in my adult life. Now it was time to validate those feelings, get a complete health assessment and evaluation of blood work from my doctors…
My overall body fat was down to 15%, all of my physical tests were well above average, and the true mark of success was having been able to drop my Hemoglobin A1c to 6.1%! Additionally, my blood work indicated even greater drops in my blood pressure, traces of protein in my urine have all but disappeared, my cholesterol had become so low from my high levels of activity and wholistic nutritional regime that I was taken off of the medication to lower it, as I needed to have MORE CHOLESTEROL in my blood! If that wasn’t awesome enough, my doctors telling me that I was a very rare example of someone with diabetes and asked what they could do to better help me! Combined with a much healthier and happier existence, I feel great, look better, and am so very grateful that I will get to enjoy the company of my loved ones for years to come and feel good along the way.
One of the greatest achievements in my life has been increasing my fitness level and overall health. The one person who was key in making that happen is still there motivating me, and helping me today. Julie Dee has been instrumental in getting me here and has done the leg work in supporting me through the JDRF and YYC Cycle to create a great opportunity to increase fund raising while also increasing awareness. It is because of this amazing girl who inspired and facilitated in a tremendous change to my lifestyle, health and overall wellbeing.
I am thanking all of you for your support in advance and look forward to rockin' it on June 8th with an AWESOME Biker Gang at YYC after a great walk from Stanley Park starting @ 9 am on the Telus JDRF Walk for the Cure!
If you have any questions or would like to chat more about how I manage my Diabetes, please contact me at: