Diabetes Forecast

Let’s Talk About Diabetes With DJ Spinderella

By Robyn Webb, MS, LN , ,
rapper DJ Spinderella sitting in chair

Hip-hop pioneer DJ Spinderella

Even if you have diabetes, you can have a healthy lifestyle and the quality of your life can be improved.
–DJ Spinderella, hip-hop pioneer

While she’s still spinning music, DJ Spinderella (aka Deidra Roper) is no longer spinning her wheels when it comes to getting the right information to help her family members who have diabetes.

There was a time when she felt lost and confused about how best to help those around her. Since becoming actively involved with the American Diabetes Association (ADA), first as a Dallas-based spokesperson for Step Out®: Walk to Stop Diabetes® and now as a newly minted member of the American Diabetes Association Celebrity Cabinet, those days of feeling lost and alone are long gone. I had the pleasure of sitting down to talk to this remarkable, spirited woman. Her infectious determination and courage in the face of the challenges her family has endured were inspiring. Though she’s received many professional accolades throughout her illustrious career, starting back in the mid-1980s as one third of the iconic hip-hop music group Salt-n-Pepa, she says helping people with diabetes work through their difficulties means just as much to her, if not more.

Your family has been affected by diabetes,which many people can relate to. Would you share some of that history?

Diabetes wasn’t something I was really aware of until my mother had it. I do remember, though, that both grandmothers had diabetes, and I remember them taking their insulin. My brother has had diabetes for 20 years now, and my nephew, his 15-year-old son, also has diabetes.
When my mother was trying to manage her diabetes, I didn’t know where to turn. I felt helpless in assisting her. In essence, I was really lost.

When your family members were diagnosed, what were some of your first concerns in terms of helping them?

After my mother passed away from complications of diabetes, I undertook a lot of research to make sure I could share the right information with my brother and nephew. What I realized was that even if you have diabetes, you can have a healthy lifestyle, and the quality of your life can be improved.

 I had to look at myself as well. I began gathering cookbooks and other resources so we could change things up. Being proactive made the difference. I’m still in the learning process. I also learned that it is important not to be quiet about your diabetes—whenever you can share about it, it can make a difference.

My nephew is 15, and being a person with diabetes has been hard for him, and he doesn’t always want to share. My brother is more open about it. But stress plays a major part in my brother’s life. Every time I come across really useful information on the American Diabetes Association website, I’m right there sharing it with both of them. I think constantly sharing with both of them really helps.

Did you have concerns about helping yourself prevent type 2 diabetes?

I know now that I really have to be as consistent as I can. Watching my portion sizes was something I really had to work on. From the Dallas ADA office, I received tremendous support and information on how I can successfully meal plan.

Now, the kind of busy lifestyle that I live doesn’t always help with consistent home-cooked meals, but I like to stay active in my kitchen at every opportunity. Together with my inspiring daughter, I have fun cooking. The spirit of competition is alive in our kitchen; we see who can prepare the better-tasting, more interesting meal. My daughter is so supportive, as she eats very well and loves to exercise. I do find I get down on myself when I slip, but I realize that’s a continuous fight I may have. But I’ll get it eventually!

What was the hardest thing you had to go through as a family when (or since) they were diagnosed? And what have you celebrated?

The hardest thing was not having the answers when my mother was dealing with her diabetes. I didn’t know what low blood sugars were, and she had a lot of them. Frankly, it was heart wrenching to watch. I didn’t know where to go and who to turn to.

But now, on the plus side, when my brother has great energy and my nephew is doing well, I know that it’s a collective effort. Our family is closer because of it. It’s still a day-to-day process, but now we have the resources and know where to go for answers!

Now that diabetes is no longer brand new for your brother and nephew, what do you find are the most challenging issues?

As I mentioned earlier, my nephew is very shy about sharing about his diabetes. I make myself available to him, but it’s hard to know what he is thinking. But he looks well and is feeling well for the most part.

It’s also challenging to see both my brother and nephew have their ups and downs. I wish I could be there every minute, but I simply can’t. I’m not with them on their doctor visits, but I would love to be there so I can hear what the physician says or doesn’t say. Still, I’m so grateful that when I’m not present, I can refer them to the American Diabetes Association website for clear answers.

What’s your best piece of advice for people who love and care for friends and family members with diabetes?

If you are a direct caregiver, you are spending a lot of time with your loved one, so make sure you know what you need to know. Empower yourself and be proactive in the kitchen. Be as strong as you can. It won’t always be perfect. It can be done. You are not doing this alone. Always have hope.

So, the big America Gets CookingSM to Stop Diabetes® question: What’s it like in the Spinderella kitchen? What are you usually whipping up for yourself?

I love lots of fruits and veggies, but I still eat a lot of cheese. I know I’ll have to curb that one! I love Asian food. I make a mean chicken lettuce wrap with a fantastic ginger soy dip. Oooh, it’s so good, I can taste it right now!

Did someone mention Asian Chicken Lettuce Cups?

Visit diabetesforecast.org/asianchicken.

What is your very favorite tip for adding flavor to foods while keeping a meal all diabetes friendly?

Garlic and onion are indispensable, but let your food have a natural taste. For example, I find just a pinch of sweet added to a sauce really punches up the flavor. I’m all about using my grill to get that fabulous smoky taste without adding excess fat, sugar, or sodium. I really love preparing vegetables on the grill. My daughter and I compete with each other on who has the better grilling technique!

If you had to pick your top three motivators, what keeps you focused on supporting your family members with diabetes?

I now do the opposite behavior from when my mom was challenged by her diabetes. Instead of wandering around being lost, knowledge is my power.

I focus on being as healthy as I can be. I really want to live a long life, and I want to inspire that in my family.

And finally, it’s my very loyal fans and followers that I so desire to connect with. Among the thousands of people I touch, I just love being the vehicle of information. I don’t want my fans to have to go through what I went through initially with my mom. I want to empower them to empower themselves.

Could I have your last thoughts on how it feels to be part of the American Diabetes Association Celebrity Cabinet and what you want to accomplish?

It feels great! The pressure is on in a good way! I’m a part of the cabinet so I can use my celebrity to help people with diabetes and the people who care for and love them find their way.

Here’s to happy and healthy living.

November is American Diabetes Month 

See more healthy-living tips and great recipes from DJ Spinderella and food editor and author Robyn Webb, who are amplifying the message of healthy eating and living well with diabetes during American Diabetes Month®. Visit diabetesforecast.org/adm.



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