In today’s interview we are talking with Dr. Pamela Reilly, who has Type 1 diabetes. Despite what many people believe about living with Type 1, Pamela has thrived and has been successful throughout her life. She believes it’s always best to keep a positive attitude, no matter what is thrown your way.
First off, what type of diabetes do you have? We have readers with all types, so it’s important to talk about this first.
I have Type 1 Diabetes.
How were you made aware that you had diabetes? Please share your diagnosis story with our readers.
I was diagnosed at the age of 2, in 1967. I had been lethargic for several months and had constant ear infections. I was potty trained by the age of 13 months because I was urinating so frequently, but folks weren’t as aware of the signs of diabetes back then as they are now. I became extremely ill and was almost in a coma when I was rushed to a hospital. Even though I was so young, I have very vivid memories of the experience in the ER, the time spent in the hospital, and the time following my release.
We’re all curious, even if we live the life, everyone is different, what is a typical day like for you?
My day isn’t that different from someone’s who doesn’t have diabetes. I get up, check my sugar, adjust as needed, get dressed, each a protein-rich breakfast, hit the gym, and then head to my office. I check my sugars about every 2 hours, adjusting or eating as needed. I work 8-12 hour days with no problems. I usually eat in my office and order in, or take a lunch. I often go out for lunch with friends. I also try to get some exercise in during lunch. In the evening, we either hang out at home and enjoy a great dinner, or we visit a local event or have dinner with friends. My life does NOT revolve around having diabetes. Diabetes is a teeny tiny part of my very rich and abundant life. I control it. It doesn’t control me. I ride a motorcycle (as the rider, never a passenger); travel frequently and easily, both domestically and internationally; and lead a rich, vibrant life that is filled with fun. Diabetes has never stopped me from doing anything, and it never will.
Describe the one scariest moment since your diagnosis.
This question bothers me, to be quite honest. When I was diagnosed, almost 50 years ago, patients with diabetes weren’t taught to live in a constant state of fear. Today, fear is taught from the moment of diagnosis and is reinforced at every doctor appointment. It’s a sad situation. In almost 50 years with T1D, I haven’t had any scary moments. My husband had one episode where he was extremely scared because he couldn’t get my sugar up and get me to a point where I was coherent, but half a shot of glucagon took care of that. One episode like that in almost 50 years isn’t a big deal. I haven’t been hospitalized for diabetes in over 34 years.
Living with a chronic illness can be overwhelming, how do you cope with the constant battle of trying to maintain a proper balance with your blood sugars?
This question also bothers me. A lot. It’s not a “constant battle.” It’s not a battle at all. I’m sick to death of people being made to feel like diabetes is a disease that is overwhelming and which will consume their life. It doesn’t need to be. I have a target sugar level of 90. If my sugar is above or below that, I adjust as needed. It’s not a “battle,” it’s simply a very logical way to live. My last A1C was 5.6, so if it is a battle, I’m definitely winning. It’s just a way of life, not a “battle.” I find this question offensive, assumptive, and demeaning, to be honest.
Don’t get me wrong. I get it. I understand why people get frustrated. One advantage I have is that I was never told to expect “normal” sugars, nor was I told that having abnormal sugars would result in death. Although I do everything I can to control my sugars and maintain “normal” glucose levels, if I have a high or low sugar, I don’t get upset, I simply adjust as needed. I used to get angry and upset about lows and highs. I gradually came to realize that if I let my sugars upset me, I’d never have a moment of peace and would constantly be upset. I decided to stop getting upset and just deal with it. It made a huge difference in my ability to enjoy life.
If you could give one tip to someone newly diagnosed what would it be?
Don’t believe the negative words you’ll hear. Don’t believe that the rest of your life is over and must be lived in fear. Don’t allow diabetes to become your identity. You HAVE control. NOTHING can hold you back. You CAN succeed and live abundantly. Many of us are, simply because we chose to. Don’t lose hope. Yes, things will be different, but they don’t have to be bad.
What is the most challenging aspect to you, in living with diabetes?
Fighting the negative and defeatist attitudes that plague so many medical professionals. (I’m one who doesn’t share that perspective.) Worse than that is trying to create hope in so many diabetics who have lost hope and believe life with diabetes is hard, is a constant battle, and that they’re doomed. It’s not, unless you believe it is and let it rule your life. You have a choice.
What was your reaction when you found out you had diabetes?
As a 2-year old, I remember being very confused, and somewhat angry. That anger carried over until I faced it and worked through it in my early 20s. Had I not done so, it would have destroyed my ability to live joyfully and victoriously.
Have you ever tried to hide your diabetes from others?
Never. Why would I? It’s never been something that caused problems or made it difficult to do any of the jobs I’ve had, so I can’t imagine why I would hide it. I’ve worked as a waitress, restaurant manager, retail employee, trainer, manager of a corporate division, doctor and more. Having diabetes has never interfered with any job. While I didn’t hide the fact I had diabetes, I also didn’t focus on it. I actually very rarely mentioned it, because there was no reason to. A friend of mine often says the diabetics she meets are like vegans – it’s all they talk about, and you know within 30 seconds of meeting them that they have diabetes. (I mean no disrespect to vegans. Promise.)
What was hardest for you and your family — emotionally? Or financially?
Insulin cost around $1.47 a vial, glass syringes were just a few dollars, and needles were around 50 cents each when I was diagnosed. My mother says they didn’t deal with insurance for many years, so they paid for everything out of pocket. She said financial strain was rare, but that if it was they just cut back in other areas. (Oh how times have changed!)
I believe the strain was worse on my parents than it was on me. The emotional challenges I faced came later, mostly because of unresolved anger. Between the ages of 2-4, I would throw fits and hide every time my parents had to give me a shot. Back then, I only received 1 injection per day. I hate to think what my A1C was back then. The end result was that my father often had to sit on me in order for my mother to be able to give me my shot. I think they may have cried almost as much as I did. I luckily came to accept the shots with time. It also helped that needles consistently became thinner and sharper with time. Modern day diabetics have no idea what it was like to use needles 50 years ago.
How often do you have to test your glucose levels?
I don’t “have” to check them at all. I choose to check them 6-10 times per day. If I have a day where things are little less predictable than usual, I test more frequently, but that doesn’t happen very often.
What insulins have you had throughout your diabetic career?
Beef Regular U-40; Pork Lente; Pork U-40 Regular; Pork U-100 Regular and Lente; Humalog; Lantus; Levemir
How well do you think you manage your diabetes?
I don’t think, I know. I am under excellent control and have been for many years. My control was a mess during my teen years and early 20s. I’m thankful to have virtually no complications in spite of that. I maintain A1Cs around 5.5-5.7. I’ve maintained A1Cs in that range for many years. I was “fired” by multiple endocrinologists as a result, each of whom labeled me “non-compliant.” I laugh about that now. I was blessed to have wonderful GPs through the years who supported me and respected the fact that I knew how to control diabetes in my body better than they did.
Do you think you can guess your blood sugar levels?
I can come within 10 units of my current blood sugar using various assessments, but I would never rely on those assessment techniques to gauge my insulin dose or need for food.
What do you eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner? When?
I eat an incredibly varied diet. It’s easier to explain it than to provide a meal-by-meal description. I eat 100% organic food when at home, but eat out frequently. I eat around 4-5 servings of low-glycemic carbohydrates per day. (The science which insists low carbohydrate eating styles are damaging for diabetics is extremely outdated and has been disproven multiple times. The ADA supports a low glycemic eating style, but refuses to make it a standard and assumes most people with diabetes won’t adhere to it. They’re wrong, most endocrinologists and diabetes educators refuse to encourage their patients to adopt a low-glycemic eating style as a result. All of the diabetics I know who maintain A1Cs below 6.0 follow a low glycemic eating style.)
I usually start the day with a veggie juice and some form of protein. I don’t follow a strict schedule for eating, as my daily schedule varies quite a bit. My sugars don’t fluctuate enough to make a strict schedule a necessity. In the midst of that, I don’t skip meals. I have a wide variety of different things for lunch, but tend to focus on veggies, protein and one serving of fruit or carbs. Dinners are also widely varied. Anything goes! If we have pasta, I stick to high-fiber gluten-free and use a healthy portion size. We eat a lot of dinners that consist of an organic meat and organic veggies. I eat a low-glycemic carb with dinner only if my sugar is below 120.
If I have a low sugar, I eat 15 grams of carbs for every 30 units I’m low, combined with 7 grams of protein. (Using the grams just helps explain the specific amounts I eat. I don’t obsess over it. By now, I know which servings of which foods equal 15 grams of carbs. I eat such simple foods that it’s easy to estimate how much is 15 g.) I never rely on candy or soft drinks to raise my sugars. I sometimes use glucose tabs, but prefer to use whole foods.
I usually have a snack before bed, which also consists of 15 g of carbs and 7-14 g of protein.
Let’s conclude on a positive note. I know it can be difficult to find the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you thought really hard, what is one positive thing that diabetes has brought to your life?
Could these questions get any more negative? Dear general public– please wise up. Diabetes is not what you think it is. I hope my answers prove to you that we are living abundantly doing anything we darn well please and not allowing diabetes to control us, define us, or defeat us in any way. If we are indeed fighting a “battle,” it’s against ignorant attitudes such as the ones expressed in these questions.
I give thanks for diabetes every single day. It has allowed me to help thousands of people improve their health, lower their A1Cs and live a life of victory. It has made me healthier in that I’m careful about what I eat and what I put into my body. It also motivated me to exercise and stay in top physical condition. Having T1 diabetes has exposed me to so many people who are now close friends. It also enabled me to educate hundreds of medical professionals about the truth about diabetes control. I LOVE busting the myths and showing how much of standard protocols for care are actually based on outdated and disproven science. In addition to all of that, my family is closer as a result of me having diabetes. Having diabetes for almost 50 years has blessed and benefited me in many, many ways.