One of the things I remember most about growing up is that my family rarely sat down together to eat a home cooked meal. The
majority of our meals were spent eating out. We ate big, paying no attention to fat or sugar content. All that changed when I was in the 4th grade when my father suffered a major heart attack. Thankfully, my dear dad pulled through and made a full recovery after an eating habit makeover. Little did we know that two years later I would be diagnosed with Type II Diabetes which would require me to undergo a lifestyle makeover of my own.
I was almost thirteen when I was diagnosed. Change would not come easy or anytime soon. I did not want to follow a diet and I definitely did not want to be checking my blood glucose (sugar) or taking an insulin shot before every single meal. Nobody else my age had to do any of those things. Why should I have to? I couldn’t understand what the big deal was, especially because I didn’t feel sick. Of course I didn’t. There’s a reason diabetes is known as the silent killer. It takes years of uncontrolled glucose levels to suffer the consequences. I was told if I continued with bad eating habits and uncontrolled glucose levels, I would eventually suffer long term complications such as blindness, amputated limbs, or kidney failure. Although the thought of any of these things happening to me was scary, it wasn’t enough to make me comply. I ignored my disease every chance I got- that is, when my parents weren’t looking.
The summer after being diagnosed, my family and I took a trip to Atlanta, Georgia for a family reunion. One of my relatives volunteered to take my cousins and I to Six Flags. After hours of nonstop fun and rides, it was time to grab a bite. My parents were not there to supervise and I took complete advantage of it. When my aunt asked what I wanted to order, I asked for a funnel cake even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to. That night, I had the worst cotton mouth and couldn’t make the thirst go away no matter how much water I drank. My mother noticed and immediately made me check my glucose. Needless to say, it was through the roof. She demanded to know why my glucose was so high and became furious with me after learning about the funnel cake. The whole ordeal was frustrating. I wondered why I couldn’t just be a normal kid that didn’t have to think twice about what she ate. I hated being diabetic. Aside from the inconveniences it was causing, it also made me different from my peers which is not something anybody entering their teenage years wants.
On one occasion in the seventh grade, I called my mom from school to ask if during lunch she would bring a cake for my friend’s birthday. She brought the cake accompanied by a bag of sugar-free cookies for me. I didn’t mind the cookies because I thought they tasted decent. I remember thinking it was thoughtful of her to bring them. That thought quickly changed. One of my friends was curious and wanted to taste the cookies since she’d never heard of “sugar free”. I was excited by her curiosity and handed her one. My excitement was quickly turned to embarrassment the second she took a bite of the cookie. Her face said it all before she opened her mouth and declared, “That’s disgusting!” It wasn’t her comment that made me angry. It was my mom’s failure to pretend, just this once, that I wasn’t diabetic. I wished she hadn’t brought the cake in the first place. It would’ve been less embarrassing to say, “She’s at work,” instead of “yeah, they’re pretty gross huh?”
I made up my mind that I would ignore my condition and continued with my rebellious ways. Nothing was going to keep me from fitting in at high school parties or college social events. That attitude landed me in the hospital twice a few years later. I was handed a well deserved reality check. I underwent two surgeries, one for my liver and the other for my appendix. In order to recover from these operations, my sugars needed to be in control so that the wounds would heal correctly. My disobedience had finally caught up to me. One of the wounds became infected and I became very ill. The physical pain of being sick made me realize just how much I’d been taking my health for granted. Essentially I had been gambling my life away each time I refused to take my medication and made poor food choices.
Once I recovered from the long and agonizing hospital stay, I knew that I never wanted to feel that sick again. I had a choice to make. I could continue to risk my health or I could take responsibility for myself and own up to my behavior. I chose the latter and never looked back. I admit, there are days when I don’t feel like exercising and there are definitely days when temptation gets the best of me. But what I realized is that Diabetes doesn’t have to control me. I am the one in the driver’s seat and I am fully capable of managing my condition with the choices I make. And for every healthy decision I make, I am essentially saving my life.