In Sickness and in Health
Five weeks before we were to be married, in 1981, my fiancé called me from the emergency room. We had been worried by Bill's blurred vision, extreme exhaustion, frequent urination, and plummeting weight. Now the diagnosis was in: type 1 diabetes. Suddenly, the wedding invitations, rehearsal arrangements, and last-minute fittings seemed unimportant compared with learning how to give insulin shots and maintain good blood glucose control.
Bill and I had met at my church three years before, and he soon was helping me with my own health problems. Earlier in my life, I had experienced congenital hearing loss and fought tumors that resulted in a paralyzed vocal cord and the removal of nearly half of my stomach. These tumors were later diagnosed as part of the Carney Triad, a rare syndrome resulting from a combination of three types of tumors. Bill became my ears when I couldn't hear and my voice when mine gave out. Now it was my turn to help him.
Uniting to fight chronic disease early in our marriage taught Bill and me how to harness our personal strengths in a new way. I understood the value of supportive partnerships—both from my experience with health problems and from my job as a social worker—and I strove to encourage Bill in his diabetes management. At the same time, Bill's diabetes helped him to better understand what I faced. He stuck by my side through the intensive procedures and long periods of recuperation that I would experience over the years to come. He kept my spirits up when tumors and everything else were bringing them down.
Bill's diabetes was often hard to control. He experienced wildly fluctuating blood sugars. Increased stress, extreme weather: It seemed that anything could throw off his control. When he was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a complication of diabetes, he decided to go on an insulin pump. That was eight years ago, and his control has greatly improved since then.
In 2005, our seasoned partnership braved its toughest test yet when Bill was diagnosed with a blood cancer, mantle cell lymphoma. Now, when he needed it most, we had the experience, patience, and determination to work hard to control his diabetes while chemotherapy wreaked havoc on his blood sugars. We even decided he could brave a particularly risky procedure: a stem cell transplant. The courage we had gained over the years paid off. Four years after the procedure, Bill remains lymphoma free.
Walking down the aisle when I was 30, I never could have guessed all the obstacles we would have to overcome—and how one constant, Bill's diabetes, would both challenge and enrich us. Our unexpected wedding gift prepared us for all that life has thrown our way.
Ronda Armstrong lives with her husband, Bill, in Des Moines. Now retired, they enjoy ballroom dancing.