Notes to My Sister

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Type 2 diabetes is the original DIY disease.

No matter how much coaching or support you receive, whether you balance carbs and/or calories, eat locally or at your local McDonald’s, it’s really up to each individual to balance or not balance every day in favor of the scale and the glucometer.

I was thinking about this because my sister, who just turned fifty, has recently been diagnosed with type 2, and she’s at the start of everything, struggling with diet, weight and sugar issues. When I listen to her talk about how hard everything is,  I’m swept back to when I was first diagnosed with gestational diabetes 26 years ago, and I remember the frightening and overwhelming enormity of diabetes.  Strips and glucose monitors, blood sugar logs,  the fear of pricking my finger, and most of all, the stunning anxiety of thinking that your bad habits might hurt your unborn child. The terror of those days, along with the need to keep the information that I had gestational diabetes away from my own parents and in-laws (I was worried that they might worry), had me crouching in restrooms taking secret sugar readings, heading to the swimming pool for grueling two hour sessions, and in general, quietly losing my mind until the new baby — healthy and normal weight, thank God  — was born.

When my sister tells me about her diabetes, I want to offer advice, to help her without appearing to be a know it all. I take a deep breath and remember that it is a DIY project, that everyone’s body is slightly different, and that she’s going to have to discover, slowly, how her body reacts to carbs, how much testing she can stand, and how she plans to take off a few pounds. But after my own experiences, I don’t want to say nothing. So what is it that I want to tell her?

I want to tell her to take it slow, to not cut everything out of her diet all at once lest she bitterly throw in the towel. I want to tell her that despite the recommendations of my many nutritionists, I’ve found that eating far fewer carbs than the experts have suggested keeps my sugars on track. I’d tell her an hour of exercise a day seems to keep the endocronologist away. And that stress is her worst enemy. I’d tell her to carry lifesavers or glucose tabs everywhere she goes, and that much of diabetes care is trial and error — you see what works and then you go from there. That it gets easier, but never easy.

And that while it is a DIY project, she always has me.

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