Diabetes Forecast

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The Healthy Living Magazine

18 People Share Their Diabetes Secrets

By Benjamin Page , ,

vekstok/Creative Marke

When first diagnosed with diabetes, people understandably have a lot of questions. What can I eat? Will I need insulin? How do I juggle all of these new supplies and gadgets? Your health care team will cover the basics. But developing a steady management routine that works for you takes time and a lot of trial and error. That’s why we reached out to people who’ve been there, done exactly that. Here, you’ll find tips from people who have lived with diabetes for years or, in some cases, decades. This isn’t the type of information you learn on day one of your diagnosis (or even day 100); it’s the kind of knowledge you can only pick up over time.

I wish I had known:
A smartphone is an essential diabetes device.

Smartphones didn’t exist when Allison Nimlos was diagnosed with type 1, but now she uses hers for everything. “Cell phone alarms are great for reminding me when to test my blood sugar,” says the 34-year-old, who’s a family therapist and diabetes health coach in Minneapolis. “I use apps to help me calculate my insulin-to-carb ratio and track my insulin. It makes it a lot easier to do all the diabetes math.”

I wish I had known:
About adhesive options for my CGM.

What’s the best way to keep your device secure? Evan Strat, a 21-year-old computer science student in Atlanta, found that transparent film dressing such as Opsite Flexifix works best. “Unlike regular medical tape, it’s thin and flexible, so if your skin moves, you don’t have to worry about the tape pulling your sensor out,” says Strat, who was diagnosed with type 1 in 2009. “It’s really helpful if you apply it right after insertion, and you can cut smaller pieces if the adhesive starts to come up during your sensor session.”

I wish I had known:
To look at restaurant menus ahead of time.

Maintaining a healthy eating plan when dining out is easier when you plan ahead. First, check the menu on the restaurant’s website. “If you have any questions about the ingredients, then you can contact the restaurant and ask them directly,” says CJ Walker, a 39-year-old community advocate in Richmond, Virginia, who has type 2 diabetes

I wish I had known:
How to make use of my empty test strip containers.

You’ll go through a lot of test strips. There’s not much to be done with them after they’re used up, but hold on to the durable plastic containers they come in. “[I] use empty strip containers to carry disinfectant wipes with me or to discard used strips and lancets,” says Cindy Betz, 63, a retired sales and marketing consultant in Bardstown, Kentucky. They’re also useful for things that have nothing to do with managing her type 2 diabetes, such as creating a makeshift sewing kit or storing coins or fishing hooks.

I wish I had known:
Numbing cream can take the sting out of injections.

Needles can be scary if you’re a kid. “My son would cry and cry when he needed to change his pump, and even worse was changing his CGM,” says Donna Patron, a second grade teacher in Mineola, New York. Her 8-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 in 2015. Whether you’re checking blood glucose, injecting insulin, or inserting a CGM, there are ways to manage the pain that comes with that initial prick. “A numbing cream such as lidocaine, used 20 minutes prior, can be a game changer!”

I wish I had known:
To make time for checkups.

Some people with diabetes are proactive about managing the disease soon after diagnosis, but as life gets in the way, it’s easy to push preventive care to the side. “I started going to an eye doctor once I was diagnosed [with type 1],” says Jen Stepanian, a 35-year-old medical sales specialist in Providence, Rhode Island. “However, as I got older and entered college, I put these appointments on the back burner.” She’s since developed diabetic retinopathy in both eyes, leading to severe vision loss. Prioritizing yearly checkups might have allowed doctors to catch her retinopathy at an earlier stage so she could start treatment sooner.

I wish I had known:
To carry supplies with me at all times.

After Barb Butler’s diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in 2016, she started looking for ways to keep her supplies handy while jogging. “When walking or running, I pull out my [fanny] pack from the ’80s,” says Butler, a 58-year-old retired administrative assistant in Kalamazoo, Michigan. “It’s perfect for holding my phone, glucose tabs, and a juice box.” She also has a bag with an insulated pocket for her insulin. “I use this if I’m going to be outside in general—at a flea market, baseball game,” she says.

I wish I had known:
The smart way to travel with diabetes meds and supplies.

During Jeanine Trezona’s first plane trip with type 1 diabetes, she made a tactical error. “I put my insulin and supplies in my checked baggage,” she says. As luck would have it, the flight got delayed. While all of the other passengers were allowed to leave the plane until departure, Trezona had to stay on board as luggage handlers searched for her bag in the cargo hold. The lesson? “Always bring your insulin, diabetes supplies, and other medicine with you on the plane,” says Trezona, 58, a senior product support analyst in Taylor, Michigan. She uses a Frio reusable cooling case to keep her insulin at the right temperature in transit.

I wish I had known:
How to carry my insulin discreetly.

A self-described recycler, Carol Gee is always looking for new ways to use everyday objects. She was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2009, and taking her insulin one morning, she was struck with a new idea. “A hard eyeglass case is a really safe, private way to carry an insulin pen and needles at work,” says Gee, 69, a writer who lives outside Atlanta. “Now I keep my insulin and extra needles protected in my purse for daily use.”

I wish I had known:
To keep my long-acting and mealtime insulins separate.

Soon after she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Jami Pszonka, a personal trainer in Arlington, Washington, mistakenly took 15 units of rapid-acting (mealtime) insulin, thinking it was long acting. She realized her mistake immediately. “I ended up staying home from work and eating carbs all day,” says Pszonka, 41. Her advice to people who use insulin pens: Keep each device in a different part of the house to avoid grabbing the wrong one, or use brightly colored tape to mark which is which.

I wish I had known:
To shop around for diabetes supplies.

There are lots of meters, pens, and CGMs on the market. Some may fit your lifestyle—and budget—better than others. “I’ve changed [meters] several times over the years for various reasons,” says Susette Langston, a retired office manager with type 2 diabetes who lives in Rochester, New York. “Different units require different amounts of blood to do the test, [and] anyone would prefer to not be poked any more than necessary.”

I wish I had known:
To wear a medical alert bracelet.

Living with type 2 since 1994, Claudette Madison knows the warning signs of hypoglycemia. But those less familiar with diabetes may not, so she wears a medical alert bracelet in case of an emergency. “You’d be surprised how many lives have been saved just by [wearing] a bracelet,” says Madison, 66, who now makes colorful versions that people look forward to wearing. She gives them to others in her Dallas diabetes community.

I wish I had known:
To open up to friends and family for meal plan assistance.

When Regina Martin, 61, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2005, she wanted to keep it to herself. “I didn’t want others to hassle me about what I was consuming,” says Martin, a writer who lives in Fort Washington, Maryland. When her endocrinologist put her on a food plan, Martin realized that being open about her condition would do more than help her stick to her diet; it would benefit her mental health, too. “By telling my family and friends, I could get the help that I needed,” she says.

I wish I had known:
To find a doctor who works for me.

When Maren Lynch, 42, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2008, she was hoping for a more hands-on approach from her physician. Instead, his standoffish manner meant she didn’t understand her diabetes. She was forced to find a new doctor when she relocated to Vernon Hills, Illinois—and is all the better for it. “[My current doctor] listens, celebrates every victory with me, and helps me find new ways to get on track,” says Lynch, a financial advisor. If you’re unhappy with your physician, reach out to coworkers and friends for recommendations. And don’t be afraid to switch to a new health care provider if the relationship isn’t working.

I wish I had known: 
About potential mood swings.

Even subtle fluctuations in glucose levels can affect you in surprising ways. “Some days you can wake up high—and cranky,” says Ryan Sutherland, a 43-year-old marketing consultant in Chicago. “When lower, I get annoyed easily and can snap back at others.” Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 30 years ago, he has since learned the steps to correct his levels, whether that’s fast-acting carb when he’s low or a quick jog when his glucose is high. If his bad mood persists, he takes a few moments for himself.

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I wish I had known:
How to connect with other people with diabetes.

Social media gets a bad rap, so it’s easy to forget that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have an unparalleled ability to connect people. When Yerachmiel Altman, now 60, was diagnosed with type 1 as a kid, he didn’t know many others with the disease. Luckily, his background in computer engineering has allowed him to reach out to others far beyond his native Sharon, Massachusetts. He was an avid e-mail user in the early 1980s and relies on digital platforms—blogs, Facebook, diabetes-related websites—today. “The value of these is astronomical,” he says. “They can help people figure out how to handle situations with work, school, or family.”

I wish I had known:
About sugar substitutes.

At the time of her type 2 diagnosis in 2014, Becky Blanton had a sugary soda habit. These days, the Palmyra, Virginia, writer adds monk fruit sweetener to her drinks because it has few, if any, carbs. “It’s the best-tasting alternative to sugar,” says Blanton, 64.

I wish I had known:
How to stay active with arthritis.

Exercise is a reliable way to bring your blood glucose down if it’s trending high, but doing so isn’t always easy. Because of her osteoarthritis, Betty Carlyle had limited workout options when she was diagnosed with latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) 15 years ago. A retired administrative assistant in London, Ontario, she enrolled in an exercise class for seniors, where she was introduced to a DVD series full of walking workouts. Now she does the workout at home, in addition to going on walks in her neighborhood.

 

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