Monday, July 24, 2017

A Sweet Journey

It's one of those mornings again. The house is quiet and still and the sun has just come up. Half asleep, I went to the bathroom sink and silently counted to 30 while I washed my hands. On the dining table, I took the glucometer from its case, got a test strip from the tube, pricked the side of my left hand's middle finger, massaged it lightly to draw blood, inserted the strip in the glucometer, and dropped the tiny bit of blood on the strip. Easy peasy. Five seconds later, the glucometer flashed 95. Oh, great. I gave myself a pat on the back. 

At 43, I am one of the world's 422 million adults living with diabetes (data from WHO), and the scene that I described is a common practice for people like me, it has become a part of our day to day existence. On some days it feels alright to do it, but there are days when I feel like crying when I have to prick a finger.

I received a full diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes mellitus in 2012 when I was only 38 years old. While I am genetically predisposed to the condition, I fell apart when my physician broke the news to me. I felt as if life was being taken away from me, and I was very, very scared. What am I going to do? How am I going to cope? It didn't take long for the answers to come. At the time of diagnosis, I was attending law school classes, and despite medication, the stress and lack of sleep took their toll on me. My blood glucose shot up, I lost weight tremendously, and my blood pressure got erratic. I was depressed, irritable, and working became too difficult. It was a tough decision to make, but I chose to continue living. Weak, stressed, and broken hearted, I left my first love behind.

Life with diabetes became a huge struggle. It's a constant struggle to achieve balance, to avoid the bad things, and to do the good things. I have been a witness all my life to the struggles of many people living with diabetes including friends, relatives, and most of all, my parents and my grandparents before them. Yes, I have known diabetes all my life, yet I feel that I'm still new to it. I met the biggest struggle for balance in two of diabetes' major risk factors: food and physical activity. I have a sweet tooth, and I love white rice, sweet breads, and beer, but my sedentary lifestyle meant that I never came close to burning the calories from all the food that I eat. Inactivity and my efforts in carefully choosing food seemed futile, so I gave up. Diabetes, I realized, is a cunning thief who attacks its victims stealthily.

I love drinking beer -- so much that I decorated pages of my journal with labels I collected
from eight different bottles of beer.

Looking back, it seemed that I was destined to develop diabetes in my adult life. I was born into a big family whose love for one another translates into cooking and food. Small and big family events and occasions are always planned ahead with plenty of food enough to feed all of us for three days: the day before the event, day of the event, and the day after. Growing up, I remember that something was always cooking on the wood-burning stove in my father's kitchen. We did not experience fast food then  my father is an excellent cook who never runs out of unique recipes to delight us. His braised pork ribs are legendary, and the leche flan he prepares is simply to die for. When I moved to a place of my own, weekend visits to my parents are always filled with stories, food, and even more food.

Suman (rice cake) and sweet nata de coco, one of my favorite Sunday afternoon snacks. I used to look
forward to treats like these whenever I go home to visit my family. Nowadays, I can easily say no to suman
and other Pinoy kakanin (native delicacies) when they are offered to me.

I'm not sure if it was a stroke of luck, but the sudden change in my life came in April when I got admitted to a three-month diabetes program. When I got in, I was full of questions, but stoked nonetheless that I will be joining an activity with many people like myself. As if awakened by a strong jolt, I decided to do a couple of tweaks in my lifestyle while I was in the program. I took out sugar-laden food items off my diet: white bread, biscuits and crackers, chips, yogurt, bottled fruit juices, iced tea, and candies. I cleaned out the fridge and got rid of everything that has to go. With a cold turkey approach, I stopped eating white rice during dinner and feasted on fresh vegetables and lean protein. It felt strange at first, but with the strong goal in mind to get fit, I carried on. To complement that, I took out my still-new-but-gathering-dust walking/running shoes out of the box and challenged myself into walking 10,000 steps 4-5 times in a week. During the first two weeks, I had a number of hard starts, but I held on to my goal and followed the program's recommendations. No pain, no gain, right? Right. Three months later, my blood glucose levels are near the normal values, my blood pressure has gone down, and I went from 66.8kgs to 60.5kgs!

No pain, no gain. I lost 6.3kgs in three months, and I was never hungry the whole time!

The program, together with my own personal goals, allowed me to understand myself and my condition better. I realized in the previous three months that managing diabetes is not about going hungry, but is anchored on proper food types and the correct serving size. Regular blood glucose monitoring helped me greatly in listening to my body's response to food, medication, and physical activity. The greatest lesson here is that diabetes is a highly manageable condition. It's not like the flu that can be treated with antibiotics and a couple of days' rest, but it's definitely unlike cancer that has no known cure. Diabetes is highly manageable, and its management needs frequent, continuous, and dedicated effort not only from the person with the condition, but also from the people around him/her. 

Above all these, it is important to keep in mind that there is no single treatment plan that works for all people living with diabetes. Each one of us is unique, each person's diabetes is different, and only our doctors can create the best treatment plan that will work for each one of us. 

Friends, my diabetes story does not end here, for it has only begun. Each day comes to me as an opportunity to learn something new about this condition, for there is still so much to discover. I invite all of you to join me in my sweet journey in living life with diabetes. Through this blog, I will share diabetes stories and experiences with you. I will also post important and useful news and information resources about diabetes, and I hope that we could all be engaged in a healthy discussion about this sweet condition. Come join me, let's have fun!

Comments and questions are welcome, but please keep in mind that I am not a medical professional or a diabetes expert. The articles I write in this blog should not be considered medical advice. I am simply a person with diabetes sharing my own experiences with you. Please consult with your personal doctors if you have questions about your treatment plans.