I was a college freshman in 1972 when I came home from school on an unexpected winter break. I woke up the next morning with the leg cramps that I’d been experiencing, and ignoring, for months. Rushed to the doctor's office by my mother, we soon discovered my blood sugar was 750. My doctor informed us I was two weeks away from lapsing into a coma. The official diagnosis: type 1 diabetes.
I returned to college, shocked, in denial and loaded with vials of insulin and syringes. A half-size refrigerator moved in like a third roommate. My affair with diabetes began badly, but over the years diabetes has gone from 'uninvited guest' to just a part of who I am. For over the years, in moving from denial to acceptance, I learned how to live with it, and I do that well now.
In many ways diabetes keeps me far healthier than I would be otherwise. It has improved my diet and weight over the years and some would say my daily walking reflects a woman possessed. Also, getting married for the first time at 48, my motivation to hang around for the long haul – and in good shape – surged.
Having enjoyed a successful career, and lived in Tokyo, Sydney and Hong Kong, at almost 50 I was undergoing a career transition, diabetic frozen shoulder surgery, a wedding, and a revelation. Seeing a diabetes educator for the first time, I realized how much I knew and wanted to help others live better with diabetes. While I've won professional distinctions and awards in my former life as a Madison Avenue advertising copywriter, executive change communications consultant, greeting card entrepreneur, (featured in Artist’s Market, 1986), author of The ABC of loving yourself (Random House Australia) and personal growth facilitator, this is the greatest achievement of all, being able to help others who live with diabetes.
In June 2006 I became an A1c Champion® and began traveling across the country educating and inspiring others, as a peer-mentor, to take care of their diabetes. I continue to do this work, and also give my own presentations to both patients and health care providers on debunking diabetes myths and helping patients shift their mind-set to one that's inspired and empowered - from "coping" with diabetes to "flourishing" with diabetes; creating a life that's healthier, happier and more meaningful. As my diabetes educator said to me, "Each one must teach one.” And that's what I'm doing.
Toward that end, I'm developing a diabetes platform which you can read more about by clicking here. Meanwhile, my advice to others with diabetes is to focus on looking, and moving, forward and the vision of your life as you wish it to be. Take small steps and build on your successes. See your diabetes care as a gift to yourself to be healthy, rather than as a burden.
They don’t give medals for all the work diabetes takes, so give yourself the recognition you deserve each day just for doing your best.
Riva is a columnist with the Huffington Post, an advisor to Roche and CanAm Care, Advisory Member of Diabetes Hands Foundation, a mentor with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and a member of the American Association of Diabetes Educators.