Di­a­betic Di­vas

‘We won’t let our ill­ness get us down’

Friday - - Front Page -

The fig­ures are shock­ing. Nearly one in ev­ery five peo­ple (18.98 per cent) in the UAE has di­a­betes. World­wide, morethan 382 mil­lion peo­ple are liv­ing with the con­di­tion – and this num­ber is pro­jected to rise above 592 mil­lion by 2025.

Di­a­betes and its com­pli­ca­tions are re­spon­si­ble for nearly 200,000 world­wide fa­tal­i­ties ev­ery year. Di­a­betic adults are 50 per cent more likely to die than those with­out the con­di­tion, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent fig­ures from the In­ter­na­tional Di­a­betes Fed­er­a­tion (IDF).

The largest in­crease is in the ‘life­style’ type 2 di­a­betes, which is mainly brought on by a sedan­tary life­style and un­healthy eat­ing habits. Sur­pris­ingly, just 10 min­utes of mod­er­ate to in­tense ac­tiv­ity three or more times a day can help keep the con­di­tion away.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Lolwa Khairai Sul­tan of Life­line Clinic, Jebel Ali, while eth­nic­ity and cul­ture have a ma­jor role to play in ac­quir­ing this con­di­tion, wrong food choices and a seden­tary life­style are ma­jor con­trib­u­tory fac­tors.

As we ob­serve World Di­a­betes Day next week, Shiva Kumar Thekkepat meets three women di­a­bet­ics who refuse to let the dis­ease beat them…

‘I treat di­a­betes like a house guest’

Mena Helmy, 21, a stu­dent, liv­ing in Dubai, was di­ag­nosed as a child

I ’ve had type 1 di­a­betes since I was five years old. It was a huge shock for my par­ents as I was the first one in the fam­ily to be di­ag­nosed. re­mem­ber some of the symp­toms – lost a lot of weight, be­came re­ally skinny and be­gan wet­ting the bed again for the first time in years.

I started drink­ing too much wa­ter, was never hun­gry and didn’t want to eat – all gen­eral symp­toms of type 1. But my par­ents thought I had come down with an in­fec­tion. They took me to the doc­tor for tests and I was di­ag­nosed with di­a­betes. My life changed overnight. My child­hood was ba­si­cally grow­ing up in hos­pi­tals, sur­rounded by doc­tors and nurses.

My par­ents taught me to treat my di­a­betes like an an­noy­ing house guest – if I was nice and re­spected it, it wouldn’t trou­ble me too much. But the minute I was care­less or ne­glect­ful it would come at me with a vengeance.

It was de­press­ing at first. It’s not easy be­ing a child and not un­der­stand­ing why you have to prick your­self for blood four to five times a day. Kids at that age can be vi­cious some­times with their com­ments, but I would crack jokes about it to dis­arm them. I’d say: “So what if I am di­a­betic, it makes me a lot sweeter that you!”

My par­ents han­dled it very well, they let me do what­ever I wanted. I was al­lowed to join the sports team and eat candy. I was also al­lowed to travel. They just told me to see that my di­a­betes was un­der con­trol.

They sup­ported me. Un­til the age of eight, they did all the check­ing for me – after that they ba­si­cally said, “Now you know it, go ahead and take the reins, it’s your life now”. I was teased and bul­lied grow­ing up be­cause of my dis­ease and it trau­ma­tised me. Other kids would say I was an ad­dict when I had my in­jec­tions, and I would cry.

I have a lot of friends who have, sadly, been di­ag­nosed with di­a­betes whether it is type 1 or type 2, and they would all agree the dis­ease has a ma­jor im­pact on you, men­tally as well as phys­i­cally. Hav­ing di­a­betes def­i­nitely af­fects your life­style. You

are al­ways cal­cu­lat­ing calo­ries, telling your­self to be care­ful be­cause you are di­a­betic. There is al­ways that thought in your head that you are not nor­mal.

Ev­ery day as soon as I wake up I check my blood sugar on my glu­come­ter. Even though it is a fin­ger prick, it stings and I’ll never get used to it. Then I have break­fast even though I don’t re­ally like eat­ing in the morn­ing, be­cause I am re­quired to reg­u­late my blood sugar lev­els.

After that I’ll head off to univer­sity. I have to check my sugar lev­els again be­fore and after lunch. It’s the same for din­ner.

I have two types of in­sulin, a lon­gact­ing and a short-act­ing one, and have to in­ject my­self six times a day. I eat ev­ery­thing I want. I don’t be­lieve in di­etary re­stric­tions.

I just make sure that what­ever I eat, I take enough in­sulin to cover it. It’s about know­ing your car­bo­hy­drates, sugar and pro­tein in­take and the long-term ef­fects, and how much in­sulin you need in your sys­tem to cover that.

If I have a heavy carb meal like a pizza that’s go­ing to keep burn­ing in my body for a long time, and if I don’t give it enough in­sulin to cover that then I am go­ing to have a hy­per­gly­caemia (in which an ex­ces­sive amount of glu­cose cir­cu­lates in the blood plasma). Although it shows few symp­toms in the short-term, in the long term it can dam­age the kid­neys and heart.

I take my di­a­betes very se­ri­ously and so do my fam­ily and friends. My clos­est friends have ed­u­cated them­selves on the topic, so that in case of an emer­gency they can ad­min­is­ter the in­sulin to me.

I al­ways dou­ble-check ev­ery­thing. I make sure my in­sulin is al­ways cold (I keep it in a fridge), and that I have ex­tra sup­plies when I travel.

Ev­ery di­a­betic passes through a re­bel­lious phase when you think, “that’s it, I don’t want to do this any more, I am tired and ex­hausted of keep­ing at it.” When you want to give up it’s up to the peo­ple around you to re­mind you that you can’t af­ford to in­dulge your­self, it will come back to bite you.

We don’t yet have di­a­betic ID cards here, but I al­ways carry a pa­per on me that says I am one in case of an emer­gency. I’m not alone in hav­ing di­a­betes and I won’t let it rule me. I’ve learnt to live with it, and see it as part of me now, not an ob­sta­cle.

I do my own thing, I have fun. I’m still me, I just hap­pen to have di­a­betes. It doesn’t de­fine who I am.

‘I’ve got di­a­betes, but di­a­betes has not got me!’

Rosarie Marie Mains, 66, is a home­maker in Abu Dhabi who has suf­fered from type 2 di­a­betes for four years

found out about my di­a­betes by ac­ci­dent about four years back when I went for a surgery to re­move a can­cer­ous tu­mour in my fore­head. I kept com­plain­ing to the doc­tor that my right toe was hurt­ing me, so he said we needed to check for di­a­betes. I didn’t be­lieve him un­til the tests came in pos­i­tive for type 2.

Then fear took over – an un­con­trol­lable ter­ror, be­cause I had heard all the hor­ror sto­ries about am­pu­ta­tions and didn’t want that.

I bought a month’s packet of di­a­betes test­ing strips but they were gone in a week. I was check­ing my sugar lev­els all the time, I was so frightened. Then I sat there and thought: ‘I must calm down and face this thing.’

I ac­cepted the di­ag­no­sis but I didn’t want to do any­thing about it. I had it for life. It was an emo­tional roller coaster.

First, I thought I’d lose my toes. Then I told my­self: ‘I am not go­ing to lose any­thing’. If I couldn’t beat it, I be­came de­ter­mined to at least halt its progress as much as I could. So I had to ed­u­cate my­self.

I went on­line and read up on ev­ery­thing I could. I learnt that pe­riph­eral ar­te­rial dis­ease (PAD) is a con­di­tion in which ar­ter­ies lead­ing to the legs and feet (or in some cases the arms) be­come clogged with fatty de­posits called plaque, re­sult­ing in re­duced or blocked blood flow to th­ese ar­eas. This is what causes the pain, and peo­ple with type 2 di­a­betes are far more likely to de­velop PAD.

I was not go­ing to give in to it, think­ing I was go­ing to lose my arms and legs. I’ve lost my brother to it, but he was di­ag­nosed with type 2 di­a­betes much later than I was. He de­vel­oped gan­grene in his right leg be­cause he re­fused to be­lieve that it could kill him.

That’s a way of push­ing your­self too far. I be­lieve that ev­ery time a di­a­betic binges on car­bo­hy­drates they are push­ing the limit. I refuse to do that.

Now I’m too cau­tious and crit­i­cise what ev­ery­one else eats too.

When I see my hus­band Joe stuff­ing him­self, I have to re­ally stop my­self from nag­ging him.

I follow a very strict diet. I hardly eat car­bo­hy­drates. I’ll eat plenty of veg and then treat my­self now and then. In­stead of hav­ing a bowl of ice cream, I’ll have a tea­spoon. All my por­tions are con­trolled. I check my sugar lev­els once a day.

Ev­ery three months I have a fast­ing blood test to check the glu­cose lev­els. Then they call me from the lab and say, “Con­grat­u­la­tions, you don’t have di­a­betes!” and I laugh!

Ini­tially I went through very deep de­pres­sion and se­vere mood swings un­til I got ev­ery­thing sorted out. I re­alised that the only an­swer was to keep a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude and laugh. Oth­er­wise, it was go­ing to beat me.

I have pets – three dogs – who keep me company on my bad days and help put things in per­spec­tive. I try to keep a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude.

My hands and feet get re­ally hot, boil­ing some­times. That’s one of the side-ef­fects of di­a­betes. Cramps in the legs and feet, too.

There are so many such con­di­tions that can iso­late you be­cause oth­ers can’t un­der­stand your sit­u­a­tion. I call it the in­vis­i­ble ill­ness be­cause no­body can see it.

You can fool your­self that you have beaten it. I had my sugar level down, I was ready to cut my med­i­ca­tion down, so I thought I had beaten it. It had gone! But it never does. You have to be vig­i­lant all the time.

But although I can’t beat di­a­betes, I can beat the fear. It doesn’t scare me any­more. I have my diet and sugar lev­els un­der con­trol. I’ve got di­a­betes, it hasn’t got me.

‘I was in de­nial’

Marie An­tonetta, 38, HR per­son­nel, sin­gle and liv­ing in Dubai, suf­fer­ing from type 2 di­a­betes for three years

I dis­cov­ered that I had di­a­betes around three years ago when I went to a doc­tor be­cause I al­ways felt tired. I was in a state of de­nial – couldn’t be­lieve I had di­a­betes. The idea of tak­ing in­sulin in­jec­tions ev­ery day, be­com­ing de­pen­dent on medicine for my ex­is­tence, was truly fright­en­ing. I just didn’t want to think of that pos­si­bil­ity.

So I kept telling my­self that I just had high sugar, which I could con­trol. If I ac­cepted my con­di­tion I had to take steps to make it bet­ter – I had to stop eat­ing my beloved cho­co­lates. That, I think, is the prin­ci­pal block to­wards ac­cept­ing di­a­betes that most pa­tients face. You try to put it off un­til it is no longer pos­si­ble. It’s only re­cently that I started ac­cept­ing I am di­a­betic and need to take care of my­self.

It re­ally struck home when I had a biopsy for a tu­mour on my chin. I got my wake-up call when I had to go for surgery and the doc­tors told me they couldn’t op­er­ate be­cause of my high blood sugar lev­els. So, I had to main­tain a cer­tain level.

Un­der the su­per­vi­sion of my doc­tor, I ate smaller por­tions for a week and drank a lot of wa­ter and also tried to main­tain a healthy life­style. The axe came down first on sweets, then cof­fee, and fi­nally rice, which used to be my sta­ple diet. Now, my body’s ac­cepted the changes and it’s re­spond­ing – my blood sugar level is nor­mal.

And I achieved my ob­jec­tive. Just two days ago I had the surgery done, and ev­ery­thing turned out fine. The tu­mour was be­nign. I have fi­nally ac­cepted I am di­a­betic.

This con­di­tion means that I must be vig­i­lant all the time. This goes against my usual na­ture, as I tend to be a happy-go-lucky per­son.

The prob­lem with be­ing di­a­betic is that there are no off days, you have to be on top of it twen­ty­four seven. You work out a diet for your­self, work out a cer­tain life­style for your­self, and you just have to stick to it, day in and day out. There’s no hol­i­day from it.

Some­times that it­self is enough to tire you out. I am alone in Dubai; my fam­ily is back in the Philip­pines. So I don’t have any­body to look out for me, to pull me up if I fal­ter, to ad­vise me, to perk me up when I am feel­ing down.

So, I’ve worked out a lit­tle some­thing for my­self. Once in a while I’ll have a cheat day when I will eat a cup of ice cream or candy or some­thing else that I crave. I won’t go beyond that. I don’t want to take in­sulin in­jec­tions to con­trol the di­a­betes; I man­age with my pills, so I have to be strict about my diet. It’s dif­fi­cult to give up sugar and car­bo­hy­drates com­pletely. I take it step by step.

After I dis­cov­ered I had di­a­betes, I was afraid of vis­it­ing the doc­tor, afraid of get­ting more bad news. Now that I’ve ac­cepted my con­di­tion, I’m no longer afraid. My goal is never to in­ject my­self with in­sulin. I am try­ing to en­sure that I never get to that stage.

My doc­tor has ad­vised me to ex­er­cise reg­u­larly. I am try­ing to take the stairs when­ever I can – that’s the ex­tent to which I have pro­gressed. I’ve been at it for the past three months. Now, after my op­er­a­tion, I will take up some ex­er­cise, too.

The real mo­ti­va­tion for me is to see that my di­a­betes con­di­tion does not de­te­ri­o­rate to the ex­tent that would ne­ces­si­tate the am­pu­ta­tion of a body part. That’s partly what got me go­ing on my diet.

Hav­ing faith in one­self and loving and re­spect­ing one­self is also im­por­tant. I have learnt this the hard way.

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