Florida Keys 2010
For thirteen long years I have contended with Diabetes on my own. Of course I had family and friends to lend their support, a husband who was amazing at helping me deal with the emotional side of Diabetes, and good doctors to give me Diabetes Basic Training and to run their tests, but I never knew a single other person with Diabetes.
You see, Diabetes is a tricky opponent. The goal is to keep the amount of sugar in your blood at a constant level between 80 and 120 mmol/dl. In a healthy person the pancreas works like a thermostat turning insulin production on and off to keep it even keeled, like a heater in your home to keeps it a perfect 72 degrees. It does an incredible job, seldom a moment does it miss.
In my case, I have been entrusted with this never-ending job. And so I balance. I balance everything to keep it steady. I balance my food, my exercise, the insulin I give myself, and my Symlin (an extra medicine given in a shot at meal times). I have to account for stress and all the other “normal” illnesses.
Even things as simple as a scary movie can throw things out of whack. With so many variables to balance, the math becomes difficult and complex. And it’s hard to get any valuable information on the finer points of management from a doctor who has to specialize in so many different diseases. When I came up against a new roadblock in figuring out this equation, I had to use myself as a guinea pig to experiment on to find the best course of action.
After thirteen years, the roadblocks were getting more frequent and more frustrating. It had gotten to a point where I needed some help. Never a joiner by nature, I had decided to pass on the support group and, instead, check out a more anonymous Diabetes Conference. It was there that I first ran into the guys who run Insulindependence.
Now here was a group of people who were doing things. Big things. Like running the Ironman triathlon, climbing mountains in Peru, and surfing in Costa Rica. They had gotten together to play and to swap all the data they had gathered through years of using themselves as guinea pigs.
This was just the help I needed. Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to? If someone else had come up with a good strategy for mastering one of the hundreds of situations that would drive my sugars skyward, I could save myself another long, drawn-out experiment. The best part was these people were into anything you could think of, running, triathlon, surfing, snowboarding, just about anything challenging and active. For me, my passion was, among other things, sailing, and I wasn’t alone there either.
I think I have always dreamed of going to sea. From the moment my grandpa, Captain Jack, let me come aboard when I was eight, I found a place where I could finally feel at home, as if I had been called to the sea. Just the sight of a boat heeling over at the perfect angle, cruising along at a good clip is enough to instantly cause my body to relax in the midst of a stressful day (thus why my classroom is plastered with sailing pictures.) The thought of one day being able to sail away, even if for but a little while, was enough to keep me going through the rough patches in life.
When I got Diabetes, I could feel that dream slipping away. Common thought at the time was that there were things a Diabetic couldn’t do, or maybe shouldn’t do: drive a big-rig, get a pilot’s license or sail a boat alone. People feared that if a Diabetics sugars got out of control and rendered them incapacitated there might be trouble.
But times have changed. The technology we have available to us now-- from insulin pumps that deliver a steady stream of insulin to Continuous Glucose Monitors that measure the amount of sugar in your blood every five minutes—have changed that belief and the attitude that is sweeping the Diabetes community is that, with enough planning and attention to every minor detail, Diabetics can do, and should do, anything.
So to prove my doctors wrong, to prove to myself that I can conquer anything, and to be an example to al the people out there that are still discouraged by others telling them that they can’t, in July 2010, I will complete a 4-day, single-handed sail through the Florida Keys.
With only myself to manage a boat and a disease.
And I ask you to join me. Join me in getting the word out that there are people with Diabetes who are challenging outdated concepts of their boundaries, everyone knows someone with Diabetes. Tell them. Tell them there are others just like them. Others who like to play, who are better controlling their disease through rigorous exercise and who would love to swap their war stories and their strategies for dealing with this complex and sometimes bewildering disease.