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  • Writer's pictureErin Spineto

My Secret Identity

I drive carpool. I spend Sundays in the grocery store and folding laundry. I spend most mornings teaching seventh graders science. On the surface I am your average, everyday wife and mom. But behind the scenes, it is a very different story. I sometimes feel like I have a secret identity.

I have never seen myself as just a suburb-living, average-job-holding, kid-raising woman. I am an adventurer. In 2011, it was solo sailing 100 miles down the Florida Keys because doctors told me I could not sail alone with diabetes. In 2014, it was the 12.5-mile Swim Around Key West because I had grown tired of triathlons and I really suck at running and cycling anyways. In 2015, it will be a 100-mile stand up paddle adventure down the Intracoastal Waterway in North Carolina. And each year after that it will be whatever adventure catches my fancy at the time.

It is the best way I have found to deal with diabetes. When I was diagnosed, the doctors told me that if I didn’t take good care of myself, I would end up with a host of complications, none of which sounded pleasant. But the problem was that they wouldn’t catch up with me for forty years. The threat of a more difficult life forty years from now is hardly the motivator I need. It is easy to put off changing a pump site or testing my blood sugar when the consequences won’t be felt for decades.

When I have an adventure on the books, however, the consequences are immediate. If I let my care slide, I will not have the energy to complete my training. If I don’t analyze blood sugar trends to try to maximize my insulin regimen, I will never be able to figure out the safest way to adventure with diabetes. And what is worse, I will let my team down. And these consequences force me to do the absolute best job I can to take care of myself.

When an adventure is staring me in the face, I am consistent in working out. I won’t miss a workout just because I don’t feel like it, or because some small thing comes up. I will move Heaven and Earth to get on the water and paddle. And it shows in my blood sugars. The exercise makes everything so much easier.

Forcing myself to get out of my comfort zone has made me reevaluate every aspect of my care. I have to get creative to make diabetes work with my different adventures. In training for the Swim Around Key West, I had to be in the water for several hours at a time. That can make testing my blood sugar a bit difficult, especially when touching a support boat will get me disqualified. So I found a way to put my Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor in a waterproof pack that I strapped to my waist. I could feel it vibrate if I was out of range and I could check it anytime I wanted without having to draw blood in the middle of the ocean. (Sorry, sharkies!)

And I had to figure out a way to deal with insulin levels. My pump was not waterproof. I had to take it off to swim which left a huge gap in my insulin. I was fine during my swims, but, for seven hours after a swim, my blood sugars would skyrocket and refuse to come down, no matter how much insulin I gave myself.

It was in talking with my diabetic teammates that I came up with a solution. I began taking 75% of my basal insulin as a long-acting Levemir insulin shot. That way I would have some insulin on board as I swam, but it still gave me 25% basal to play with if I needed to reduce my insulin needs. For the extra 25% basal and all boluses, I use my pump. It is the perfect system for what I am doing right now, and I would never had found it unless I had taken on that adventure with a team of diabetics.

Adventuring with other diabetics not only increases our knowledge base, it encourages us to push harder so we don’t let our teammates down. And it helps lighten the load of a chronic condition. We can laugh together and share our struggles. It is in adventuring together that we are best able to take care of ourselves despite this disease.

So now I fill my days running the Sea Peptide Salties, a team of people with diabetes who come together to train and adventure together. I hope to show other people that adventuring with fellow diabetics is the way to go. And then maybe together we can “beat the diabetes doldrums through adventure, camaraderie, and laughter.”

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