Diabetes: Prioritizing my heart & health

"It’s hard to take care of a Latina and even harder to convince one that she needs help."

“I hope you never get tired of hearing your eyes are healthy,” my ophthalmologist told me  the last time I saw him.

Oh, no, doc. I don’t think I ever will.

Diabetes is a multi-organ disease and I have to see about six doctors a year.  Diabetes doesn’t just deal with a malfunctioning pancreas, it affects every part of the body; from your toes to your salivary glands and even your heart. So my doctors test my  liver enzymes, check for protein in the urine and determine sugar percentage in the blood stream over a three-month span.  These are only a few of the many tests I undergo; and that’s just the order of the endocrinologist, it does not include the dentist, ophthalmologist, optometrist or podiatrist.

I’ve been seeing these specialists since I was first diagnosed as a child and they have kept me aware of what could happen if I am not cautious. Especially since the first endocrinologist I ever had used scare tactics to get me to stick to my “diabetic diet.” He literally threatened me with stories about losing my feet, going blind and dying as a young person.

“If you don’t take care of yourself now, you’re going to see a lot of complications in the future,” he said. My mother bought it and I guess I did, too.

As a diabetic I am also at higher risk for stroke and heart disease.  Over the years, my doctors warned me to control my cholestorol because bad cholesterol builds up faster in people with diabetes–it can lead to artery blockage and compromise the strongest and one of the most important organs in my body–my heart.

Diabetes among Latinas is very prevalent.
Latinas are 17 times more likely to die of diabetes than non-Hispanic white women, according to WomensHealth.gov. In addition, the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates lifetime risks to be higher for Latinas than white women. Go figure. But I think the most shocking discovery of the journal is that Latinas born in 2000 have a 52.5 percent risk of developing diabetes. Not only are we at higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, but we are also at greater risk for gestational diabetes, which develops during pregnancy and is troubling for a possible overweight baby and may lead to complications during delivery.

Another alarming statistic is that of the eight million Latinas  living with heart disease, only one in six believe that heart disease is their greatest health threat.  According to Go Red Por Tu Corazon, heart disease is the number one killer of Latinas, which outranks all forms of cancer combined. In addition, heart disease is two to four times more likely to appear in a person with diabetes.

Heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a broad term used to describe a range complications; from congenital heart defects to problems affecting your arteries, blood vessels and valves. It basically includes anything that affects your heart, meaning heart attacks, strokes and chest pain.

“…heart disease is the number one killer of Latinas…of the eight million Latinas living with heart disease, only one in six believe that heart disease is their greatest health threat.”

This is a scary thing and I’m not trying to scare anyone into taking care of themselves. But if you know that changing your diet and taking preventative measure every day can help stop the onset of heart disease and diabetes, why not do it?  In fact, the good news is that heart disease is preventable–just like diabetes.

These statistics alone should inspire Latinas– strong, powerful, head strong women– to take care of themselves. So, why don’t we?

Help everyone but yourself
It’s hard to take care of a Latina and even harder to convince one that she needs help.

The theory I have is this: Latinas attempt to help everyone and care about their families before themselves. Because they want to make sure that their children, parents and relatives are doing well, they neglect their own health.

I once met a young woman who told me about growing up with a mother who worked very hard, taking a job at McDonald’s because she couldn’t find another one, and on her feet all day–never making it to the doctor. When she finally did,she was diagnosed with diabetes–a result of  the food she was eating, being overweight and not having the time to exercise. But you better believe that her daughter was going to school and her grandchildren were put into good day care programs.

It’s circumstances like these that lead Latinas to believe that they don’t have time for themselves, when in reality, if they don’t care for themselves, who will? So ultimately, it is up to us to find the time and the care and consideration to make sure our hearts and our health are up to par. Besides, who’s going to be there to take care of everyone else if you’re not?

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.

Image: Nuttapong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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