When I was first diagnosed with diabetes many years ago my mother went out and bought books on the subject. We were a family of readers. We even needed a bookcase in the bathroom to hold the overflow of books in the house. Adding writers to the team of nutritionists, doctors, and nurses who were helping us figure out how to deal with this new thing in our lives called diabetes was natural and normal for us. Luckily for me, my mother added two writers who would stay with me and help me successfully manage my type one diabetes for more than 30 years.
There are certainly many helpful and good books available about diabetes, but June Biermann and Barbara Toohey together have written some of the best. As a diabetic writer writing about writers who write about diabetes, you should trust me on this. I recommend any of their nine books about type one and type two diabetes, such as The Diabetics Total Health and Happiness Book, The Diabetic’s Book: All Your Questions Answered. I recommend them not for their technical expertise, although they are proficient and the authors are not shy about consulting experts. I don’t recommend them for their rah-rah attitude about how, yes, you too can lead a normal life with diabetes! The authors, thankfully, don’t indulge in such condescension. I recommend them for their style, their tone, and the inspiration provide about leading your life with diabetes they way they do, with great grace and aplomb, and good humor.
Of the two Biermann is the one who has type one diabetes. Far from being a ghostwriter, Toohey provides valuable and rare insights into what it’s like to be close to someone who is diabetic. In their books Biermann and Toohey destroyed many myths about diabetes. Today we take it for granted that as diabetics we can safely engage in strenuous and intense exercise, such as running marathons and climbing mountains. When they wrote The Diabetes Sports and Exercise Book: How to Play Your Way to Better Health in 1977 they gave advice on how to run ten miles a day, and the occasional marathon, at a time when diabetics were urged to rest and take it easy in order to remain healthy. They wrote The Peripatetic Diabetic in 1969, a time when diabetics were considered such frail creatures they were almost counted among the disabled. In the book they not only gave advice on how to safely travel the world (“peripatetic” meaning to travel from place to place), they even provided information on how to count carbs for alcohol consumption.
Those two books in particular, The Peripatetic Diabetic and The Diabetes Sports and Exercise Book, were among those my mother bought me back when I was first diagnosed. Reading them today I find the logistical advice, such as urine testing and boiling a glass syringe, dated. However, the books are still valuable tools in learning to how to live with diabetes. The Peripatetic Diabetic is still inspirational because it’s written as though it’s neither extraordinary nor exceptional for a diabetic to simply pack his or her bags and set out for any part of the world they want to see. I know a lot of the book’s advice rang in my ears many years later when I spent three weeks in Uganda researching a book.
And a 1995 edition of the Sports and Exercise Book reads like what reviewer Joan Price describes as “an informal, friendly interview, where facts and tips emerge painlessly. You learn the benefits of exercise for diabetes control, how to choose activities and exercise correctly, ways to fit physical activity into your life, how to exercise if you have complications, and sports and exercise for diabetic children and seniors.”
After reading that book as a newly minted diabetic, I realized nothing should, or would, get in the way of me leading the life I wanted to lead. Three years after being diagnosed, and after reading that book, I ran the New York City Marathon. I’ve since run five more marathons and I’m looking forward to tackling a 50-miler soon.