Member Stories

Q&A: What it’s like to live with type 2 diabetes

Feb 10, 2015 | 9 years read

A “Do you have diabetes?” poster hung next to an elevator in Premera Manager Kelly Jones’s office. By the time the elevator arrived and she stepped in, she had read the poster a couple times — and thought the warning signs sounded familiar.

Months earlier, her doctor advised that she was considered “pre-diabetic.” He was monitoring her A1c, which measures average blood sugar level over a three-month period, and he recommended she get more exercise and improve her diet. Jones made an effort, but was diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic at her next visit.

We asked Jones to share her experience as a diabetic, and offer tips to help others manage this condition, experienced by 30 million Americans.

Q: What symptoms of diabetes were listed on the poster?

A: Excessive thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, tiredness, blurred vision or tingling in your hands and feet. It was around Halloween, and I was eating too much candy at the office. So what I was calling “fuzzy brain” was actually a symptom of diabetes. And I was really thirsty.

Q: Simply stated, what is diabetes?

A: There are two types of diabetes: type 1, where your body is unable to make insulin; and type 2, where your body is unable to properly use the insulin it makes. When your body doesn’t have enough insulin, you can’t move glucose from your blood to the cells, and then you don’t get the nutrients your body needs for energy. Type 2 diabetes is also often genetic, as in my case.

Q: What risk factors did you have?

A: The extra weight I was carrying was one factor, but not the only one — many people with type 2 diabetes are a normal weight or only moderately overweight. In my case, both my dad and sister have diabetes, so it was in my family history.

Q: What have you found is the best approach to managing diabetes?

A: For anyone, eating healthy and exercise are keys to better health. For a person with diabetes, it’s vital to find a balance between eating the right foods and getting enough exercise to keep your blood sugar levels in check. But too often, I let things other than my health take priority. When that happens, I don’t plan my meals, I blow off a daily walk or Zumba class, or I forget my medications.

Q: What happens if you don’t manage it well?

A: I can tell when my blood sugar levels are too high over a period of time. It’s harder to stay focused, my vision can get blurry, and I’m thirsty. The scary part is that I know this can lead to serious complications — blindness, nerve damage in my legs or feet, higher risk for a stroke or heart attack, losing my kidneys. You’d think that would be enough to keep me on the straight and narrow! But it’s not always that easy.

Q: What’s the hardest part about living with diabetes?

A: The fact that there’s no break from the disease. I have diabetes 24/7, 365 days a year. Managing what I eat is a constant challenge, especially when there are potato chips nearby. And honestly, I hate cooking and I’m always looking for easy recipes. I can make sandwiches or pasta — but those foods aren’t always the best choice for someone with diabetes. Also, it’s really frustrating when I find myself going to McDonald’s drive-thru, buying food that I know I shouldn’t eat. Too often, I eat the wrong thing when I’m hungry and in a hurry.

Q: What suggestions do you have for others with diabetes?

A: There are two. First, put together a support network. My family, friends, doctor, nurse practitioner, nutritionist and counselor — they’re always trying to help me. There’s also a diabetes support group at work. I’ve learned so much and felt less alone sharing successes and challenges.

Also, get educated about diabetes. Each person’s body reacts differently. My older sister can take oral medication and manages beautifully — and she’s never been the exercise/active type.

But for me, it takes oral medications, insulin, about 15,000–18,000 steps a day and cutting out simple carbs to keep it under control. Frustrating. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all disease.

Q: Any quick tips that have helped you?

A: I don’t like to cook, and even chopping up vegetables can be a challenge! So my sister-in-law took me to a “how to use knives” class. I learned what knives to use for what purpose and how to position vegetables and fruit to chop them.

I’ve also learned to use FitBit, and I love challenging myself to walk a certain number of steps or increase steps each day with my family and friends. I like using the EveryMove app, where I record activities (from walking to cleaning the house) for points. When I’ve earned 500 points, I get a reward!

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