Family History: Let's Disinherit Diabetes
When Ina Mendoza-Wilson was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at 35 years old, her first thought was of her mother. But not about how she'd share her news or what advice she might get. She thought of how, also at age 35, her mother had died of type 2 diabetes complications.
"It freaked me out," Mendoza-Wilson remembers. "I had a lot to learn about eating right and counting carbs. I had a daunting task ahead of me."
Diabetes had seemed inevitable to Mendoza-Wilson, now 46, a federal employee who lives in Bowie, Md. Her close-knit family was a textbook case of how type 2 diabetes can run through generations. Great-aunts and -uncles all had the disease, and several had amputations, the result of nerve damage and other complications of diabetes. Diabetes strikes Latinos more than 1.7 times as often as non-Hispanic whites on average, and the Mendoza family was a prime example of that.
But Mendoza-Wilson was determined to loosen the grasp of diabetes on her health and that of her family. Getting advice from her aunts and uncles who had been there was the first step, but Mendoza-Wilson found that some of her relatives had been using the same diabetes management techniques for years—sometimes even decades. "I actually ended up passing on information to them, but they were very supportive," she says. "Sometimes you feel like you don't have as much to talk to your older family members about. [Diabetes] gave us something to talk about and compare notes."
Comparing those notes has brought Mendoza-Wilson closer to her 90-year-old great-aunt, Mildred Gaskins, who has lived with type 2 diabetes for decades. "She's like a grandmother to me," Mendoza-Wilson says of her great-aunt, who lives in Front Royal, Va. Gaskins hasn't dealt with any complications from her diabetes. But Mendoza-Wilson thinks no less of her relatives who have lacked her great-aunt's tight control or who have faced complications. "Quite frankly, [they were] not being educated," she says. "I always say education, education, education. But the education has to be accessible and in a familiar environment to them, not something that they have to go far out of the way [for], or in surroundings that aren't comfortable to them."
That's why Mendoza-Wilson is a staunch supporter of the American Diabetes Association and volunteers at its events, such as Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes® and various health fairs, where she speaks about managing diabetes. She tells her personal story to other Latinos and anyone who asks, explaining how she stays healthy by balancing diet and exercise with an oral medication and an injectable non-insulin medication. She touts group workout classes, where having a community can push you to do more.
"It's more motivating for me," she says. "Deep water aerobics, Zumba, belly dancing, yoga. Anything and everything, I try at least once."
She brings that message home, too—especially to younger family members, including her daughter, Charmaine, 27. Mendoza-Wilson's husband, Wilbert Wilson, doesn't have diabetes but is familiar with the disease—his mother also lived with it.
Mendoza-Wilson says she wants her community to be a strong and healthy one. She hopes she can be a role model for that kind of lifestyle. "I try to pass on the knowledge that I get from the ADA and the doctor," she says. "If you see faces like yours, you might be more amiable to what the people are telling you."
Want to share information with Spanish-speaking friends and relatives? Visit diabetes.org/espanol or call 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383) to talk with a Spanish-speaking representative.