Wednesday, June 30, 2021

My Diabetes Journey and how insulin therapy has helped me


Diabetes Mellitus is a lifelong condition that causes a person's blood sugar level to become too high.

“You have diabetes.” Those three words continued to ring right into my ears from the time I got my blood work up to the time I went to see an endocrinologist. I know it wasn’t that bad, it wasn’t cancer but it felt like it was. I’ve got no one else to blame but myself—my poor eating habits, my being a lazy couch potato for years and my being an emotional eater. Yes, all these years, I’ve taken my health for granted.

I have type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a lifelong chronic condition that affects the body’s ability to use energy. For non-diabetics, the sugar and carbohydrates in the food we consume are transformed into glucose which the cells absorb in the bloodstream with the help of the hormone called insulin. But for diabetics like me, it’s a different story. Since we don’t produce or do not have enough insulin in the body, we can’t absorb glucose, which in turn creates a build-up in the blood and often leads to more serious illnesses or complications.

It was in 2015 that I first learned I had diabetes mellitus. Prior to that, I wasn’t aware I was diabetic. In fact, I accidentally found out about my health right after my right eye bled and I started seeing “floaters.” It turned out I already had diabetic retinopathy. I had my damaged eye undergo two laser treatments/pan-retinal photocoagulation treatment. Unfortunately, the retina on my right eye has been severely damaged and is already irreversible.

My endocrinologist says diabetes may lead to a whole lot of complications. But he insisted that although it is not treatable, it is a manageable health condition. For him, it’s just a matter of healthy living along with a huge change of lifestyle. I know it sounds simple but it is actually difficult to do.

At first, I was given maintenance medications like Glimepiride and Metformin. Through these years, I regularly took these medicines. But eventually, my physician said it was time to shift to insulin therapy since he didn’t see much progress from the way we were managing my diabetes. To be perfectly honest about it, my initial reaction was a NO. I absolutely abhor injections and needles. At first, I was reluctant to inject insulin because I feared pain or needles. 

Insulin injections may seem scary at first but they're always worth a try.

For diabetics, it is equally important to keep our blood sugar in a healthy range because it is significant to our overall well-being. Doing such can also help lower our risk for complications, such as blindness, kidney failure, amputations, heart attack or stroke.

In my case since I was hesitant to go for the insulin therapy, I openly discussed my concerns and fear to my physician. Believe me, I was surprised to find out that some of my fears were due to false beliefs. Insulin treatment will probably allay your fears. I’m thankful that my endocrinologist really took time to explain to me that my body doesn’t use insulin effectively and my pancreas isn’t able to compensate with enough insulin production. As a result, I needed to use insulin therapy to prevent my blood sugar from getting too high. Insulin is a type of hormone produced by your pancreas. It helps your body store and use carbohydrates found in food.

Eventually, all your fears regarding injections will go away by getting used to it.

Insulin is an effective way to achieve good blood-sugar control which can prevent or delay certain diabetes complications over the long term. So if your diabetologist or endocrinologist tells you to take insulin therapy to help manage your blood sugar levels effectively, you should start treatment as quickly as possible. Not following your doctors’ orders may lead to significant health issues, including high blood sugar or hyperglycemia.

My doctor patiently explained to me that most diabetics would really start taking oral medication for management of diabetes and eventually progress to insulin therapy. He also discussed with me the pros and cons of taking insulin therapy including different injection steps, as well as the treatment and prevention of hypoglycemia [low blood sugar], which can occur in anyone on insulin. Low blood sugar can be considered a medical emergency but it can be usually treated fast and effectively when you eat a high-sugar food or glucose tablets.

Insulin injections can be administered using any of the following: a syringe, an insulin pen, or an insulin pump. You may use any of these devices and inject them into the fat layer below your skin. It may be in the fat of your abdomen, buttocks, thighs, or upper arms.

Of course, self-injection is really intimidating. But you’ll get to it soon and you’d be surprised you’ll be confident and ultimately comfortable in giving yourself injections. In my case, I started using a syringe with a short thin needle. Eventually, someone gave me an insulin pen. I was given an Insulin Glargine U300, second-generation insulin from Sanofi. This prefilled insulin pen was more convenient to use, not to mention less painful. I try not to inject on the same spot each time. I avoid injecting on muscles and veins. 

It helped that my family has also played a major role in managing my diabetes. My mom used to help me each time I had some difficulty in giving myself the shots that I needed. My nephew also lends his hand, he’s the one who reminds me to take my shots on schedule. My husband Jason makes sure I have everything that I need and reminds me of my doctor visits. All of my family members took on their respective roles to help me with my condition and give me their full support throughout my insulin therapy.

So yes, all my fears about insulin injections and insulin therapy are now gone. I realized the importance of having the right timing. I’ve seen my diabetes further improved by means of insulin therapy along with oral medications. It’s been 4 years since the last time my right eye bled. The last time I went to my retina specialist, Doc Carlo even said had he not known my health history, he would’ve thought my eyes were normal. That only meant, I’m able to somehow stabilize my blood sugar. Thanks to my 2nd generation insulin pen. 

The author and her husband Jason help her in managing her diabetes.

I am grateful for innovative insulin. While I understand that living a healthy lifestyle is the key to the prevention of diabetes mellitus, it is equally important to address our condition with the proper treatment. And this is the very reason why I’m writing my story and sharing it with you now—please take good care of your health by having a healthy diet and regular exercise. I know it sounds so cliché, but this is the price I had to go through in order for me to learn the value of good health. I wouldn’t want anyone to experience their eyes bleed in order for them to learn they have diabetes mellitus. Fortunately for you who’s reading this who still don’t have diabetes, you can still change your ways and eat healthier.

Life became more real to me than ever. Life is short and we can lose it in a flick of a finger. Please learn from my experience, I don’t want someone learning by having to go through what I went through. Your life is too valuable to even risk it and take it for granted. There have been way too many diabetes mellitus patients in the Philippines and even across the world. No one deserves to be just another statistic. Don’t be as naïve as I was.

And for those diabetics like me, don’t lose hope. Over the years, I have learned to embrace the fact that even if I am diabetic, I can still enjoy life on my own terms. It’s been 100 years since the discovery of insulin which is very beneficial for people with the same health condition as mine. Thank God for the discovery of insulin, for the support of our families and care from healthcare companies like Sanofi, and for the innovation on diabetes healthcare. 

For more information on diabetes and insulin, watch this video:

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