Listening to the murmurs outside my examining room, I waited impatiently for the
doctor’s voice. Inwardly, I fumed. Surely I hadn’t needed to return for a renewal
antibiotic prescription. Fall was a busy time in our household of teens, as well as in
my job as a high school teacher. A urinary tract infection didn’t need this “drama”; I’d
had this before and usually needed two prescriptions of medication before it cleared
up. Thoughts of the unfinished dinner and stack of ungraded papers frustrated me as I
fidgeted with my eye on the clock.
I’d thumbed through three magazines and graded a set of vocabulary tests before the
doorknob rattled and my doctor peered around the door. “Mrs. Enox?” he said. “I want
to visit with you about your blood test results.”
It wasn’t the tone of his voice or his smile that alerted me. Rather, his eyes drew mine
and I unconsciously held my breath. “Is it cancer?” I whispered.
“No,” he quickly reassured me, taking a seat. “It’s type 2 diabetes.”
I wasn’t reassured. “What? How can that be?” A myriad of rumor and fears flashed
through my mind—shots, blindness, amputation, death, and worst of all, no more
Over the next few minutes, my doctor explained that he would prescribe oral medication
and he would schedule me for diabetic education classes. “Do you know much about
diabetes?” he asked.
“No.” When I looked into his eyes, he read the horrors I was viewing.
“The good news is that this is a disease which can be controlled,” he hurriedly continued.
“We’re lucky to have found it now.”
The rest of his words poured over me, unheard. Lucky! Good news! I drove home
tearfully, talking aloud to God. How could this be? The only one I knew who had been
diabetic in my family was my grandmother, and she had only contracted the disease very
late in her life. I was only in my 40s. I’d always tried to eat healthy foods, although I did
like an occasional bar of chocolate. I had never smoked tobacco or drunk alcohol. What
had I done wrong?
By the next week, when I began diabetic classes, I’d moved from tears to anger. Classes
were scheduled so that I would be missing Advanced Placement Senior English, which
neither the students nor I could afford. When I arrived at the classroom in the hospital,
I immediately noticed that I was the youngest person there. This only heightened my
outrage. Denial also set in. Maybe the doctor had made a mistake. I didn’t eat sweets
all the time, and I didn’t have a genetic propensity for this disease. This must be a huge
FROM FICTION TO FACTS
When the diabetic educator arrived, I realized how misguided I had been about this
FACT 1: About one third of the 18 million Americans with type 2 diabetes do not have
any symptoms at the beginning of the disease and are unaware that they have it. Around
9.7 million are women.
As she listed the symptoms, I recognized a couple: frequent urinary tract infections and
one I would have never considered, that I had given birth to a baby over 9 lbs. None
of my babies had been small and had increased in size with each birth. Nathan, my
last, had weighed 9 lb 3oz. Finally, my frequent fatigue had not just been related to my
demanding job and managing a house with three children.
FACT 2: Although people are more susceptible to this disease after 50, anyone over the
age of 18 can contract the disease.
The risk of type 2 diabetes increases with age, but a sedentary lifestyle, overweight, and
ethnicity contribute to earlier onset. For example, African Americans, Hispanic/Latino,
Native Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islanders have a 2 to 4 times higher risk for type
2 diabetes. Lifestyle proved my downfall. With work and family, I had not committed
myself to any sort of regular exercise program, and my husband and I had become
spectators for the children’s activities instead of participating in activities we’d once
FACT 3: 80% of people who contract type 2 diabetes are overweight, but it is not the
sole cause or risk factor.
Although I often joke that I was “born a size 10”, the nurses who weighed me at the
classes found I did not fit the “overweight” formula. Now, when I hear this disease
discussed on television or among people, weight is blamed for its onset. Seldom do
I hear stress and its management as a factor. However, that is the determination for
a major cause of mine. Stress is a major cause of so many diseases, and I had not
learned ways to diffuse it. I mouthed my dependence on God, but I had never given
him complete control of my life. Instead, I’d continued to not only demand too much of
myself, and this unalleviated stress had adverse effects—one of them diabetes.
FACT 4: People who change their lifestyle often are healthier than others around them.
Besides the obvious change of diet, diabetics must become pro-active about their own
health. “I recognize you,” my doctor had told me. “You’re one of those mamas who
sacrifice to make the children’s lives perfect. And when you can’t, you blame yourself.”
He was right, but I had considered it an asset, not a liability. After all, my own mother
had done the same thing. Now, I must find time—time for exercising, time for reading
labels in the grocery store and learning to prepare foods differently. I must attune
myself to my own body, noticing changes. I must now check my blood sugar often, take
medication, and go for blood work every 3 months. I needed to have a yearly check-
up with an ophthalmologist, check my feet on a weekly basis and have check-ups with a
podiatrist. Long stretches between meals brought low blood sugar, making me feel faint
and tired. My life as an overworked, stressed chocoholic had ended if I wanted to live.
FACT 5: Educating yourself is important for managing your disease.
When the diabetic educator presented the fact that diabetes is the fifth deadliest disease in
the United States and is incurable, my reaction was, “No way! She’s just exaggerating to
scare us.” So I decided to check it out. I soon discovered that I knew so little.
Since diet and exercise are so important, a whole new world opens up—good and bad
cholesterol, fat-free vs. sugar-free, different types of carbohydrates, protein /carbohydrate
balance, and portions. Sweets are not the only problem, and proportions become a
But most of all, I needed to read about the medications which I had been given. Short
term and long term side effects of different medications are important. Some type 2
diabetics can manage their disease with diet and exercise in the beginning; however,
changes in treatment and new medications are important to the future. It is important to
understand the complications that diabetes can cause—blindness, kidney disease, heart
disease, and nerve damage. Even though some of the facts frightened me, I needed the
FROM DENIAL TO ACCEPTANCE
Depression settled over me after my diabetic classes ended. I followed the directions I’d
been given, and my blood sugar improved. But my attitude did not improve. Celebrating
holidays and special events became a nightmare. Never before had I realized how much
we celebrate with food—forbidden food. Sitting at showers, teas, or church receptions,
I drank coffee and watched people eating brownies, cake, and cookies. Only one
restaurant in our town served sugar-free dessert—a gelatin dessert. Fast food was off my
diet now. I felt conspicuous in groups and avoided socializing. My journal filled with
“woe”. I found prayer difficult and felt hypocritical when teaching my Sunday School
class. In spite of my family’s efforts to make life better, I wallowed in self-pity.
I’m not proud of those months, but I can understand now that I was grieving. Living with
this chronic disease is a series of highs and lows—high when the blood sugar test is good,
low when, in spite of all your good intentions and hard work, the blood sugar rises. On
my last birthday, a friend had sent a card that asked, “Is there life after 40?” On my next
birthday, during my early morning walk, I thought of life before diabetes—life without
daily medications, sore fingers from blood checks, constant watch over every mouthful.
It was my first birthday without chocolate cake with chocolate icing. For the first time,
I cried. “Is there life after chocolate?” I pleaded. Then, I prayed. For in that instant I
acknowledged the fear, anger, confusion, and desperation I’d felt.
The answer to my question came quickly. That evening, the children surprised me by
making dinner, including a chocolate cake. “I practiced with this recipe Mama,” Monica,
my oldest, told me. “It’s as close as I can make it to the real thing.” Everything about
that evening proclaimed one message—love. The message in one of the cards thanked
me for “loving us enough to take care of yourself”.
As a devoted mother and wife, of course I loved them and would do anything for them.
But somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that I also needed to love myself. I needed
to care for myself as diligently as I took care of them.
My type 2 diabetes diagnosis served as a wake-up call. Had I known more about this
disease, maybe I could have prevented—or postponed—it. Now, I needed to pass that
information on to my children so they would hopefully not repeat my own actions. Better
than that, I must change my own lifestyle for my health and as a healthier model for
them. With my blood sugar under control, I had more energy for early morning walks, an
exercise group, trekking through wildlife refuges, and gardening.
My walks provided time for reflection. Later, I poured those thoughts into my journal,
prayer, and Bible study. Turning to the Psalms had always been a source of comfort
and inspiration for me. Now, I reread familiar chapters with new understanding. “My
heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death assail me.” (Psalms 55:4) Somewhere
in those morning hours, I finally acknowledged that God had never left me. Anguish
and terror were unnecessary emotions. “I cry out in distress, and He hears my voice.”
(Psalms 55:17) Those walks started the healing within and without.
Today, diabetes is as much a part of me as the tiny scar on my elbow. I recently
remarked to my daughters that I care for this disease “lovingly”. With new medications
being developed daily, as well as restaurants now offering more sugar-free desserts, the
life I had first envisioned for myself has vanished. So has my fear and anger.
My healing was complete Christmas when I once more baked our family’s traditional
desserts—sugar-free. “Finally!” my son exclaimed, popping a piece of fudge in his
mouth. “I was dying of sugar deprivation.” I exchanged knowing smiles with his sisters.
Ask me now: Is there life after chocolate? Yes! And it is sweeter than ever.
Below is information which you may wish to consider in sidebars:
#1 Symptoms for type 2 diabetes
* excessive thirst
*unexplained weight loss
*dry, itchy skin
*high blood pressure
*frequent or recurring infection
*slow healing of cuts and bruises
#2 Causes/Risks of type 2 Diabetes
*ethnicity: African American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian American,
Pacific Islander, or Hispanic American Latino
*having a baby weighing over 9 lbs at birth or gestational diabetes
*poor cholesterol profile
*inactivity (exercising less than 3 times a week)
*age (18.4 % of Americans over 65 have type 2 diabetes)
1. New International Version of the Bible, 1984 edition.
First published in Today’s Christian Woman