Name: Mark Lee, age 53
Location: Greensburg, Penn.
I was 48 years old in the fall of 2008 and I weighed 200 pounds. Now, that may not sound like a lot, but understand I’m not a big person—and I certainly didn’t have a lot of muscles. So even though I never thought of myself as “obese,” I certainly was. No matter how much I tried to deny it.
When I first heard the words “you have type 2 diabetes,” I thought it was the end of the world. I had no family history and knew nothing about the disease at the time I was diagnosed, so this really came as a shock to me. But I look back now and understand it was just the beginning of a better life. As weird as this may sound, I consider my diagnosis a blessing because it has allowed me to do something I never thought possible: play hockey.
One thing you need to know about me is I’ve always had a passion for hockey. The year I was diagnosed, I had season tickets to the Washington Capitals and my seats were located in the last row of the upper level. They were so high up, you needed good vision to see the players, not to mention the puck.
Interestingly, I was at one of those games when I realized something was wrong with my health. My vision started becoming more and more blurry; I actually had to borrow my wife’s glasses to watch. At first I just dismissed it as “old age,” but it was happening so quickly that I decided to get it checked out.
The doctor did what I thought was a routine blood check and it totally caught me off-guard when he told me my blood glucose level was 276 mg/dl (normal is less than 140 mg/dl two hours after eating). To make matters worse, my A1C came back at 7.6 percent (normal is less than 5.7).
As soon as my doctor told me I had type 2 diabetes, my mind went blank. Really? Why me? The first thing the doctor did was put me on metformin. Then he said something to me I’ll never forget: “Change your lifestyle.” I knew what that meant! Stop eating the foods I love (at least, cut back considerably) and start exercising!
It took me about a month to accept my diagnosis, but once I did I called my doctor and asked if it was possible to ever get off the medication. He responded, “Some do, but most don’t.” Well, that “some do” part gave me hope and got me motivated. I told my doctor, “I’m going to be in that category.” I knew getting off diabetes medication would involve watching my diet, exercising and learning how my body reacted to different foods. I checked my blood glucose levels before and after each meal and I even kept a log until I learned how foods affected my body.
Next, I decided to see a nutritionist. She taught me about the “good” and “bad” foods. Most of my favorites—like pizza, fried foods and steaks—just happened to be on the “bad” list. But I can tell you firsthand, I don’t miss a lot of them now and I have a new appreciation for the foods on the “good” list, like berries, apples, oranges and other fruits and vegetables. Today I still eat some of those “bad” foods, but I do it in moderation.
The final step was getting into shape. The idea of exercising terrified me at first, but it eventually became routine. After getting my doctor’s approval, I started working out five days a week on the elliptical machine at our office gym. Only then did my dream of playing hockey become a reality.
It all started when I introduced my daughter’s fiancé, Shawn, to the game of hockey. But he took it one step further and joined an adult league team. My wife and I would go watch his games and I remember telling her, “I can do that!” I already knew how to skate and, due to my new-and-improved lifestyle, I knew endurance wouldn’t be a concern. I began by going to “stick time” and then I decided to join a team myself. In fact, this motivated me to start my own adult league team, which I’m now the owner and captain of.
Now at the age of 53, I’m 45 pounds lighter than when I was diagnosed. I am in the best shape of my life and I play hockey weekly. In fact, I’m the oldest player in the entire league! I have great teammates and have made new friends who are all so supportive, and that means a lot to me.
Now I certainly did not go “cold turkey” getting off the metformin. I worked closely with my physician and did it gradually. Initially, I cut back my dose and continued my new diet and workout plan. I had my A1C checked every three months and every time it came back normal, I would cut back a little more.
Finally, at the nine-month mark, I was ready to try out my new lifestyle without any medicine at all. Once again, three months later I checked my A1C, and once again it came back normal. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to hear that! So, you see, it did take work, but I reached my goal and my A1C has been normal ever since.
I can tell you, if it wasn’t for being diagnosed with diabetes, there’s no way I would be on the ice today. So even though it scared me at first, I realize this wake-up call ended up being a blessing in disguise.
It’s natural to feel scared when you’re first diagnosed with diabetes, but try to embrace this challenge and your new life ahead. I did, and now I play the sport I love.
Do you know YOUR risk for type 2 diabetes? March 25 is American Diabetes Association Alert Day