My earliest memory of diabetes is from my maternal grandmother. I was really young when my grandmother died, but I always knew that she had diabetes. She was insulin dependent, but miraculously, none of her eight children had diabetes. Oddly enough, some of her grandchildren developed diabetes, so it skipped a generation.
It was always in the back of my mind that diabetes had been in my family’s history. I also knew that my weight gain could potentially put me at risk. I think I was really impacted when my cousin died from diabetes complications about a year after I was diagnosed. That really convinced me along with other family members to start working on losing weight.
It became a reality when I was diagnosed in 2008. I started experiencing frequent urination, which is a common symptom for diabetes. I had two doctors’ appointments that day. It turned out that my sugar levels were well in the 400s.
Before I was diagnosed, I was not used to being on a schedule. I like to say I am chaotic by nature. So it was really hard to get used to being on an “eating schedule.” This was the hardest part of taking care of myself. If I am working late at the State House, instead of having the pizza the group gets, I usually plan ahead with cooking healthy food to bring in. I will get an alternative option. I have learned to take care of myself first and, as a caregiver for my mother, I have embraced cooking healthier food for the both of us. The holidays are hard because I make all the sweets, but I just taste a sliver of what I make. I learned to try out a few recipes recommended for people with diabetes.
As the Diabetes Prevention Program Coordinator for Change Your Lifestyle. Change Your Life., I’ve noticed people don’t seem to be concerned with having prediabetes. It also does not help that the medical community does not stress the importance of prevention once a person is diagnosed with prediabetes. I would tell anyone who has been told that they have prediabetes, or who may be at risk of type 2 diabetes, to enroll in the National Diabetes Prevention Program in their city and learn to eat differently and increase their physical activity. I have watched people in my classes really embrace this program and have seen them make healthy lifestyle changes. I’d also stress the importance of having breakfast and keeping healthy snacks around. I’m also reading labels before purchasing certain foods. Really if you have an opportunity to delay or stop diabetes by attending a program like Change Your Lifestyle. Change Your Life., just do it! I’m trying to live the program I’m teaching! With me talking more about Change Your Lifestyle. Change Your Life, I have become the actual “message” because my friends and family are noticing that I am eating differently and moving more.
Vanessa Summers is a native of Indianapolis, a state legislator, the first Black female Democratic Caucus Chair in Indiana and a woman living with diabetes.