Think type 1 diabetes is just for kids? Think again.
Because it was thought to only strike children and teens, type 1 was known as juvenile diabetes for a long time. The truth is a growing number of adults are being diagnosed with it in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond.
All week long, we will present stories from adults who were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, describing the emotions and frustrations that came with their experiences. Each person defines success in different ways, but they all celebrate the triumphs that have helped them reach their goal of living well with diabetes.
Name: Melissa Van Nest
Age: 32 (diagnosed at 29)
Location: Boynton Beach, Fla.
I’ve had type 1 diabetes for about three years. It’s a constant struggle and something that you can never get lazy with.
What’s interesting is that my fraternal twin sister, Kristy, was diagnosed at age 17. I always knew there was a risk that I would get it because we were twins, but I just never thought it would happen to me.
I remember my mom and Kristy coming home from a visit with our family doctor, Dr. Gil Gutierrez, the day she was diagnosed. They were both crying hysterically. Our lives were forever changed that day. I saw the struggles she went through, the countless finger sticks, the multiple injections a day, the highs and lows. But again, I never thought it would happen to me.
At age 29, I decided to go to Dr. Gutierrez for routine blood work. It had been a while since I had my cholesterol checked; that was really the only thing I was concerned about. He asked me, “Did you fast, Melissa?” I responded, “Of course, at least 12 hours.” Then, with a somber tone, he told me: “We need to get an A1C from you. Your fasting blood glucose is high.”
I was in shock. I got in my car and cried. Seeing what my sister went through, I was fully aware of the battle I was about to begin. At my follow-up, an A1C of 6.7 percent confirmed I had diabetes. The next question: Was it type 1 or type 2?
I decided to go to the same endocrinologist as my sister, but the next available appointment was in three months. So for three months I checked my blood glucose, avoided all carbs and I hoped it was type 2—at least then I would have the chance to manage it with diet and exercise alone. But in the back of my mind, I knew it wasn’t. I was physically fit, ate well and was a healthy weight.
Finally the endocrinologist, Dr. Anna Frisch, confirmed with the antibody test that I had type 1 diabetes. I remember going home and injecting myself with insulin for the first time. It was scary even though I had seen my sister do it countless times.
My last A1C was 5.6! I continue to work out regularly. I limit carbs and sugar and eat mostly lean meats, vegetables and nuts. I love green tea and I drink lots of water.
Another interesting part of my story is that I’ve been a pharmacist for more than three years. I have seen the damage diabetes can cause after years of uncontrolled blood glucose levels. Retinopathy, kidney disease, peripheral neuropathy, foot amputations . . . once the damage is done, there is no going back.
Having diabetes has helped me connect with a lot of my patients when they pick up their medication or supplies. I like educating people on food choices, what their blood glucose goals are and how to exercise to improve their insulin resistance. I introduced one customer to spaghetti squash, a yummy alternative to pasta—he and his wife love it! There are a lot of people out there with diabetes who need education, and I’m glad I’m there to help. The company I work for, Publix Super Markets, actually gives out metformin for free and has for years.
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, be proactive with your own health. Do not rely on your doctor or anyone else to tell you everything; there is so much to know about this disease. Do your own reading and take control. Join a support group and take a diabetes education class. You are not alone with this disease, and there are so many people out there that will educate you and support you. Don’t ever give up!