We don’t know how strong we are until being strong is the only choice

While covering the races at Darlington Raceway in September, I interviewed Ryan Reed. Reed drives the No. 16 Lilly Diabetes/American Diabetes Association Ford Mustang for Roush Fenway Racing in the XFINITY Series. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 17-years-old and was told that he would never race again. But Reed knew that wasn’t an option.

He immediately went for a second opinion and found a way to continue his career by using a dashboard-mounted continuous glucose meter to monitor his blood sugar levels while he’s racing. We spoke about the challenges of living with diabetes in such a high-stress environment behind the wheel of a racecar.

“Diabetes affects every aspect of life,” Reed told me. “For me it was learning about diabetes, learning the differences between type 1 and type 2 and also learning the similarities. Even though with type 1 as soon as you get diagnosed, you’re put on insulin, there’s still a lot to be said about diet and exercise. That was one of the biggest things I changed in my life was how active I was. I’m actually getting ready to run a triathlon in a few weeks. That kind of training has made me a so much better athlete and helps me manage my diabetes and has also changed my life.”

American Muscle

As I listened to Reed, I couldn’t help but think back to a few months earlier.

June 6, 2016. The day that everything changed for me, the date that I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

I remember sitting alone in the car afterward, trying to let it all sink in as a few stray tears streamed down my face and I felt a knot in my stomach. To be honest, I wasn’t really surprised. They always do two tests to confirm the diagnosis but a tiny part of me was hoping that the first test had been inaccurate; surely this was some horrible mistake.

My doctor spent a lot of time with me that day making certain that I understood my diagnosis and all that it entailed. It wasn’t until I left that I realized I had questions, so many questions. They sent me home armed with pamphlets, a kit to check my blood sugar, medication and insulin. The pharmacist showed me how to check my blood sugar levels and the pharmacy tech demonstrated how to use the insulin pen.

So, I thought to myself, this is your life now. Every day for the rest of your life, you will be counting carbs, checking your blood sugar and injecting yourself with insulin. I now understood what the term “chronic illness” meant. This, I finally realized, was forever.

To say the first month was frustrating is an understatement. There were many days when I would do everything right only to end up with another high blood sugar level. Then there was the week when I started experiencing blurred vision. That’s when my research into type 2 diabetes shifted into high gear.

The American Diabetes Association has become my go-to source for accurate information and I soon discovered that diabetes can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and more, including eye complications such as glaucoma, cataracts and retinopathy (disorders of the retina caused by diabetes). Although not common, proliferative retinopathy can lead to blindness.

But a brief discussion with my doctor, who told me that in all likelihood it was simply by body adjusting to the medication, calmed the worst of my fears. Thankfully, she was correct.

It was also about this time that I decided to stop focusing on potential problems and concentrate on changing my lifestyle to minimize further health risks.

Reed echoed a similar sentiment during our interview.

The what ifs are scary,” he said, “and you definitely have to take it seriously. But if you focus on how to manage it and how to take care of yourself and if you do a good job of it you shouldn’t have to focus on the negatives.”

I have to admit that it isn’t always easy. My fingertips ache from the constant monitoring of my blood sugar levels and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to injecting insulin into my stomach. But as time passes, it’s becoming more and more routine.

The one thing I didn’t anticipate was all the support I’ve gotten from family, friends and even casual acquaintances. My husband is my rock. I’ve never been a morning person and have always skipped breakfast but he makes sure I eat breakfast every morning because eating regularly is especially important for diabetics. He also has an alarm set so that I won’t forget to take my insulin each night before I go to bed.

My friends, many of whom have their own health concerns, have all taken the time to support me, encourage me and talk me down when the urge for a Snickers bar overtakes me. They will probably never know how much they’ve helped me.

It’s been a little over four months now and I’m doing well. My life has changed in many ways for the better. I’m eating healthier, exercising and losing weight. More importantly, my diabetes is under control.

Diabetes is all about balance, acknowledging its demands while refusing to let it undermine what’s important.

Reed expressed this perfectly, saying, “I think that’s the silver lining in the whole thing. Diabetes is tough. No one wants diabetes. But once you have it if you accept it, make lifestyle changes and listen to your doctors and really take it on headfirst, there are some things that can come from it that are good. It doesn’t have to dictate your life. You can go out there and live a very fulfilling life and do the things that you love to do despite having it.”

My journey with diabetes has just begun but Reed’s positivity inspired me to take control of my life. I encourage anyone who has been recently diagnosed to do the same. Make your health your top priority. Listen to your doctors, make the necessary lifestyle changes, do the research and don’t be afraid to seek support from friends and family.

Diabetes does not have to limit your opportunities in life or rob you of your joy. It’s not about what you have lost but what you can gain through managing your diabetes.

As Reed said, “diabetes is tough.” But you know what? So am I.



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