A diabetes family history

Change is not easy but, like bad habits, it can become a way of life

My mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 53. Unfortunately, she passed away from diabetes complications at 65. Of course this was because she did not take care of her blood sugars. Her A1C hovered around 10. It was so frustrating trying to help her. I remember traveling the full emotional scale as her caretaker, desperately trying to show her how to experience normal blood sugars.

I began as a supportive daughter and found my way to screaming monologues and asking her if she wanted to go blind from diabetes. Her rollercoaster blood sugar numbers had me in tears. It really did not bother her as much as it did me. It wasn’t until she was legally blind form her diabetes and recovering from vascular surgery in the hospital that she said, “If I knew this was going to happen, I would have taken better care of my diabetes.” This was my moment of surrender.

Diabetes Health Statistics:

It is estimated that 25 million people have diabetes while 80 million people have pre-diabetes. — Diabetes Health magazine

My mother modeled her health habits after her mother. My grandmother Helen managed her diabetes by eating well. She also had a candy bar every day and hid the wrappers under her mattress. After finding the empty candy bar wrappers, we were never really sure how many candy bars she had consumed. It could have been a lot more. We had a sneaking suspicion she would clear things out from the trash cans before we arrived for our visit. She lived through her late 70s. My mother thought she would live as long as her mother. After all, she managed her diabetes as her mother did. Common sense told her she should at least live as long as my grandmother. My great grandmother Francesca also had diabetes. She passed away one night shortly after making her last batch of home-made donuts. She went to lie down after consuming a few freshly made donuts, never to wake up again.

Sugar was of great comfort to the women in my family. Good times and bad times called for desserts. It was the elixir for discomfort and pain. Life’s challenges usually brought a buffet of desserts. My mother loved buying trays of donuts and eating ice cream. Ironically, she also made sure we had a balanced meal, which consisted of protein, salad and vegetables at dinner. Her stressful days as a single parent took her away from the kitchen’s well-balanced meals and sat us all down at her favorite restaurant — Fenton’s Creamery — a solution for most of her internal conflict. A crab sandwich followed by an ice cream sundae shifted her mood immediately.

Whatever my mother was feeling, it all got washed away after her last bite of ice cream.

I have not been to Fenton’s Creamery restaurant since my mother’s passing on Feb 13, 2000. This was a special day in our family because my mother always sent me a Valentine’s card as long as she could see. It inspired my Valentine day’s article about forgiving and forgetting: diabeteshealth.com/read/2014/02/14/8144/a-day-to-forgive-as-well-as-not-forget.

Diabetes has given me a tremendous amount of compassion for people managing type 2 diabetes. My mother, grandmothers (this includes my paternal side) and great grandmother all knew what they were supposed to do and couldn’t do it. Why? Because it meant giving up their solution to challenging moments. None of them had access to the information we have today. They could have found a whole new community to help them create healthy change.

Publicly shamed and reprimanded by her physician for being non-compliant, my mother viewed her diabetes diagnosis as her fault, a lack of discipline. She also came from a time where counseling was for the insane. Women did not exercise. Support groups were few and the Internet was not what it is today. Most importantly, she miscalculated the impact of the role her mother and grandmother had in shaping her health. They were not the best models.

At this point, you are probably wondering if I have followed in my families’ mythology. To some extent, yes. I do love sugar. At the same time, I am keenly aware of my disposition for a type 2 diagnosis. If anything, the women in my life have modeled what not to do. Ignoring my weight and exercise only increases my probability of a diabetes diagnosis. Every year, I take my battery of tests. The one result I view first is my fasting glucose. My fasting glucose as of February 2014 is 83. Unlike my family members, I am accountable to the diabeteshealth.com community.

The comments there keep me intimately involved in diabetes. The inspiring, compassionate, stubborn and opinionated comments delight me. It reflects the diversity we share when it comes to our health. I don’t always agree with all the opinions. Especially the well-disciplined people who make it look so easy. At the same time, I use them as role models for me and for others — reminders that we always have a choice. What we choose and reinforce becomes more ingrained. Change isn’t always easy but it can become a way of life, just like bad habits.

To all the mothers out there, the good and the challenged, never underestimate the impact you have on your children.

Editor-publisher Al-Samarrie was not only born into a family with diabetes, but also married into one. She was propelled at a young age into “caretaker mode,” and with her knowledge of the scarcity of resources, support, and understanding for people with diabetes, co-founded Diabetes Interview, which later became Diabetes Health magazine.

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