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November is National Diabetes Month, bringing awareness to a disease that affects 9.3% of Americans.  To start, I want to say I'm one of the lucky ones who is not personally affected.  Some people can be born with the disease (Type One), and others can get it from a poor diet and lack of exercise (Type Two).  People living with either diabetes don’t live an easy life.  They have to constantly take care of their bodies and be aware of how their habits are affecting their health.

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I want to share my story about the biggest scare of my life and the lesson I received about how we all have to treat our bodies with care.  At fourteen years old, I learned the importance of what it means to protect the temple that is my body.  Going from a girl who never thought twice about the food I ate, to keeping an eye on the ingredients going into my mouth, this is the story of how I learned to respect my body, inside and out. 

When I was young, I never thought about the importance of exercising on a weekly basis.  I was the teenager who spent too much time inside and on the computer, writing stories and painting, instead of going outside and appreciating the sun on my skin and movement in my body.  I didn't notice I was putting on a lot of weight from the pizza I was secretly eating every day for lunch or the soda I was drinking behind my parents’ backs, or that I was spending a large amount of my allowance on unhealthy snacks.  I didn't notice how big I had gotten until I went to a doctor’s appointment with my mom.  She insisted on sitting with me when the doctor took my height and weight.  At only 5’1, I weighed one hundred and sixty-seven pounds.  When I got home that night, I stood in front of my mirror realizing for the first time how my body had changed.  It was not the body I thought I knew.  I imagined my body was healthy, but I never fully observed my health until this moment.  My arms, thighs, and face seemed to be blown up two sizes, and then I looked down at my belly.  That’s when I started to cry; I couldn't even see my own two feet.

What followed was my family and I trying to discover whether I had inherited my father’s genes.  A little piece of family history that I didn't know was that both of my father’s grandparents had diabetes and their daughter, my great aunt, died from it.  While I threw myself into a workout routine every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and went to a nutritionist four times a week, my parents were making an appointment for my diabetes blood test.  

I remember my mother telling me the night before the test that if I had diabetes, it would affect me when I tried to have kids, and that I might have an insulin pump attached to my hip.  Thinking back to the movie Steel Magnolias when Julia Roberts’ character died because of her pregnancy, I was very scared.  Laying in my bed that night I couldn't sleep–I always wanted to be a mother and I didn't want to jeoparize my health or my future children's health.

Sitting in the waiting room, a nurse told me to drink a pink liquid that came in a small soda bottle.  It looked like Pepto Bismol, smelled like pure sugar, and to any kid it looked like the perfect candy, but it didn't taste like that at all.  I remember having to force it down my throat because it tasted like the liquid version of the long sugar sticks you get from carnivals.  Once I gulped it down, I had to sit for thirty minutes as it entered my bloodstream.  I immediately felt tired, and felt weak to my bones.  I watched as my blood got pumped out, and taken away for testing.  

For two weeks I sat in class, did my homework, and continued my exercise and diet, all the while wondering whether I had diabetes.  None of my friends knew, and I thought it would be better if they didn’t know.  That part I do regret because I chose to suffer alone consumed by my own thoughts.  On a Friday I got my answer: I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic; but I had the chance to save my body from everything I had put it through. 

I learned a lot at fourteen from all of this.  When someone learns that they have the choice to save their health, it makes them recognize how much possibility there is in the world, and that you can't treat your body like a toy.  You can't get another body–yours is sacred, and you must take care of it.  Today I suffer a little bit from body dysmorphic disorder from my need to make sure I can see my toes; consuming foods that don’t bloat my stomach and avoiding soda that causes acne.  Fourteen was a big year for me, and I reminisce about that time in my life reminding myself that I can do a lot better for my body.  Today I can say I am a healthy 140 pounds at 5’2.

I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic; but I had the chance to save my body from everything I had put it through. 

Pink line

For people living with diabetes, they can tell you that their lives have been altered, but they don't resent the disease that claimed their body.  Children born with diabetes are able to attend programs and camps to guide them in living a healthy life, while adults learn very quickly that their body isn’t what it used to be.  When I tell my story to people about my weight gain and my diabetes scare, they call me lucky.  I know my luck, and I count my blessings, and think about other people who are afflicted by this disease such as Tom Hanks, Nick Jonas, and Salma Hayek, as they'e in the spotlight and also have to take care of their bodies inside and out.   

While there are 21.0 million people diagnosed in America with diabetes, another 8.1 million Americans are undiagnosed with the metabolic disease that is diabetes.  Diabetes affects how the body breaks down sugars.  When you think of your metabolism, you think of how your body takes in nutrients from the foods you eat.  When you have diabetes, the nutrients aren’t fully absorbed and the body is unable to produce any or enough insulin that causes elevated levels of glucose in the blood.  Glucose is the molecular chemical compound for sugar that has the ability to produce insulin.  Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps store and use glucose.  When you're diabetic, you don’t have enough insulin to complete the breakdown process, which is why diet becomes a huge factor in a diabetic’s life.  A reduced-sugar diet helps those with diabetes for these reasons.  Type one diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, is an insulin dependent diabetes because the pancreas produces none or too little insulin.  Type two diabetes is more common when the body becomes resistant to insulin, or can't produce it.

Please go for your annual check-ups, eat more fruits and vegetables, exercise, and keep an eye on your body.  If you have someone in your family that suffers from diabetes, speak with your doctor and see if you'e at risk.

With November being National Diabetes Month, it's time to acknowledge how this metabolic disease can affect the people around us.  Raise awareness and be thankful for the loved ones who are still here today teaching us all that diabetes is not a curse, or a blessing, but another reason to be alive and well.  

 

Pink line

 

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