For nearly nine years now, I have fought a two-front war: I'm an officer in the U.S. Army, and I'm living with type 1 diabetes. Just after returning from South Korea, where I served as a tank commander, I was diagnosed in 2001 at age 26. My life-changing news came just after a world-changing event: the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that led to our country's war on terror.
When I was diagnosed, my friends and family assumed it would mean the end of my military career. (If you have diabetes before enlisting, you can't join the armed forces. But the rules are different if you're diagnosed while serving.) I wasn't about to give up. I applied for a medical evaluation and transfer to the military intelligence branch. A medical review board allowed me to keep serving as an intelligence officer and sent me to train for my new role. The Army not only gave me a chance to fulfill a career ambition but also ensured me a lifetime of care for my diabetes.
Probably the biggest challenge of being a soldier on insulin is dealing with the intense physical demands. In previous assignments, I underwent physical training four to five days a week, sessions that included at least half an hour of aerobics and several miles of running. I learned many strategies to help me deal with these demands, like dropping my basal rate or even turning off my insulin pump about an hour before exercise. If I knew the activity would be exceptionally strenuous, I'd eat snacks ahead of time or during exercise. Quick carbs and protein often worked best. With experience, I also learned how stress and adrenaline affected my blood glucose. When I took a fitness test, it would often skyrocket because of anxiety and activity.
Over the past couple of years, my work as a student or instructor has been sedentary. I've spent most of my time behind a desk or reading books, which has led me to a different type of challenge: keeping my blood sugar from running too high. Before entering the academic world, my A1C was always in the high 5s. But it has crept up, and now my test results tend to be in the low 7s. My most recent A1C was 6.5.
I've found a few strategies for keeping that number down. First, I still exercise four or five times a week, but independently and at my own pace. I put in at least 30 minutes per session, if possible. Exercising in the evening works better for me—at that time, my body is fueled. Plus, the end-of-day exertion helps me decrease stress from the day.
These lessons have helped me keep my A1C results where they should be. However, as many people with diabetes can attest, the battle to wrestle that number down requires vigilance and determination. Like the other war in which I am involved, it will undoubtedly prove to be a persistent conflict. But I am determined to do all that I can to win both.
Maj. Jeremy Finn is 35 and a student at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he lives with his wife, JiYoung, and 4-year-old son, Shawn.