Diabetes primer: How to occupy the body

I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 7 years old and in second grade.  One day,  while my mother checked my blood sugar, I asked, “Am I going to have to do this for the rest of my life?” I don’t remember clearly, but I don’t think she answered me. I looked down at my young fingers–still callous-less, milking a sufficient amount of blood to place on the One Touch monitoring strip–hoping my sugars would come down from being too high.

There are approximately 26 million people who have diabetes in the United States. According to the American Diabetes Association, about five percent (maybe more) of those people have Type 1 diabetes.   I am part of the five percent living with Type 1 diabetes. I am one member of the five. I occupy my body and thoughts and diet because of it. I can say that now. But I couldn’t say that as a child, adolescent and young adult with diabetes, that, at the time was called juvenile diabetes since it was only found to be prevalent in children. No, my control was exactly the opposite of the word and my path was a decent one, but by no means was it good. Let me tell you a bit more about diabetes before we talk about me.

The scientific explanation
Type 1 diabetes an autoimmune disease that disseminates the use of your beta cells which create insulin for the body to properly digest simple sugars called glucose and thus carbohydrates. Because of this, the person with such a disease is responsible for daily doses of insulin injections to make sure that blood glucose levels are maintained and normal, since the result of diabetes, Type 1, Type 2, Gestational, Late Adult Onset and any other types of diabetes, is an abnormally high blood sugar range. A normal blood sugar range is anything from 70-120. The goal of people with diabetes is to keep it below 200.

My simple explanation

Type 1 diabetes:

  • With Type 1 the pancreas, a major gland in the body, no longer produces insulin, a major hormone that is a key player in digesting simple sugars or glucose. Make sense?
  • Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease because according to researchers, it is one’s own body that diminishes the beta cells. Why? I’d like to know the same. I don’t know and neither does anyone else, apparently. When I was a kid, they thought that drinking cow’s milk too early in life was the cause of the disease. Now, they think that because of unhealthy mothers during pregnancy, the health risks are somehow passed on to the child, which develops into Type 1.
  • It’s getting more complicated as time goes on because what they thought was juvenile diabetes (Type 1) is now diagnosed in people of all ages.

Type 2 diabetes

  • With Type 2 the pancreas either does not produce enough insulin or the body does not, for some reason, properly use the insulin that is being produced.
  • Type 2 diabetes is said to be hereditary, carried in the body, developing because, quite frankly, of having an unlucky gene pool or due to unhealthy lifestyles. Type 2 has also evolved over time. Years ago, it was said that only people over the age of 40 who were typically overweight and had unhealthy lifestyles were developing this “disorder,” as I personally like to call it. Now, skinny people and children are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. In addition to that, because of the unlucky gene pool, some of the healthiest people can develop pre-diabetes, meaning there are tendencies to have abnormally high blood sugar levels.
  • Oh and by the way, Type 2 is preventable and has a high chance of being put into remission.

As you can see, diabetes is an epidemic that is spreading throughout the world. Approximately 366 million people in the world have diabetes. It doesn’t seem like a lot when you think about it, but according to the ADA, one person is being diagnosed with diabetes every 17 seconds. The ADA also has shown that diabetes complications have killed more people than AIDS and breast cancer combined.

Once diagnosed, I was admitted to the hospital for four days and placed on insulin therapy. Doctors taught me how to give myself insulin and control my glucose levels. Growing up with diabetes meant that my family and I went to support groups and I was introduced to my first endocrinologist, or doctor of the glands and hormones, after I was diagnosed, around 1992. He yelled at me for not controlling my blood sugar. I don’t remember the details, but all I know is that I had no answers for him. My blood sugars were high and I had to stick to a beyond strict diet. This was the beginning of my frustrations with the disease.

In high school, my endocrinologist was happy I was “stable,” but the fact that I survived college– even though, I can’t really tell you how because there was the drinking and the terrible eating habits–I was in no way the educated diabetic I am today. It wasn’t until I fell ill due to my gall bladder and met a doctor who turned my beliefs and ideas upside down and to the left.

Getting ready to go jogging!

Dr. Grazia Aleppo loves diabetes, and little did I know that she was also the best endocrinologist in the Midwest region. People outside of Chicago know about her and say things like, “You were her patient? Tell me about her. I hear she’s amazing.” Boy, she was amazing. She explained things to me, told me that it was my job to do as she said and her job to figure out my problems. Dr. Aleppo taught me the value of nutrition, counting carbohydrates and above all, understanding what role diabetes played in my life and in my body. I owe my transformation and my desire to talk about the issues of diabetes within the Latino community to her–and she’s Italian.

I invite you to stay tuned for my series on Proyecto Latina,  where I will continue to share what living with diabetes has taught me. I’m going to tell you about issues within the Latina community. I’m going to tell you how it was for my mother to raise me and my sister to live with me. I’m going to tell you about the problems that statistics have shown within Latinas and how it ties heart disease with Type 2 diabetes and somewhere in between I’m going to tell you about the issues I see with the names each Type has and how it affects those of us of the five percent. And after all of that, I hope you come to understand why you should Occupy Your Body and make a difference while you still can.

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez is the editorial director at Extra Bilingual Newspaper and has been living with Type 1 diabetes for the past 20 years of her life. Developing a need to educate her peers and those around her about the long-lasting and lethal effects of unhealthy living especially within the Latino community, Christina started blogging for ChicagoNOW on her blog titled Check Yo’ Self,  which delves into the complications, nutritional insight, stresses and successes of living with diabetes. In addition, she is also the Communications and Social Media committee chair for the American Diabetes Association Young Professional’s Board. Christina has been a featured guest on Poco A Poco radio as a diabetes activist, is a monthly guest blogger for Latinos in Social Media’s Salud Saturdays and also talks to high school health classes when asked. To get more of her musings and diabetes insights, follow her on Twitter at @kiki416 and @kikisbetes.

This project is supported by the Local Reporting Awards, The Chicago Community Trust , Community News Matter initiative.  Get the full scoop on The Reportera Series here.

One Response to “Diabetes primer: How to occupy the body”

  1. Great story Christina! I’m happy to say Dr. Grazia Aleppo will be our guest speaker in May and I’m sure you won’t want to miss this meeting. I look forward to seeing you before then. Merle

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