If you haven't noticed, although I imagine that would be hard given I think I've plastered the news all over my site, I've published a book - The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes.
Today my book is featured in an article titled "A Shot of Joy" on DiabetesMine, an award-winning diabetes blog written by very smart, very informed Amy Tenderich, who's also a type 1 and self-admitted cynic. Here's a tiny snippet:
"After just a few pages, I knew I would read this book cover to cover and cherish it for many evenings to come. What a wonderful little ode to self-acceptance and motivation. Like a skilled quilter, Riva has somehow managed to patch together poetry, self-help, and diabetes advice into an irresistible pattern.
My recommendation? Take a little quiet time, on an off-day. Curl up on your couch, with some of your favorite soothing music, and read this book from A to Z. It won't take you much more than an hour, and if you're not 100% the cynic, you'll find yourself (not cured by any means, but) refreshed and smiling."
When cynics can be won over, it makes me all the prouder. Thank you Amy.
Note - The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes is intended for all ages: seniors, boomers, teens, tweens and in-between. Available at Amazon.
One more note - The book is priced at $19.95 because a significant portion of the purchase price is being donated to diabetes research.
This is something I was going to post over the weekend until Saturday night I exited my friend's car and walking down her block, where a lot of construction was going on, twisted my ankle. I twisted it so badly that an hour later I felt like my foot had been run over by a truck. Since it was Saturday night and I was not at home, my friend went out to a neighborhood drug store to buy pain relievers. I spent the next two days basically with my foot up and being waited on. Alas, all dreams must come to an end, and I returned home last night to fare for myself.
The ankle still needs rest, the pain relievers continue although at a lower dose, and I'm still wondering if my 2-day blood sugar rise was my body's reaction to the stress or the excess unbelievably delicious whole wheat peasant bread I was gorging on all weekend at my friend's house. Guess I'll know soon enough now that I'm back in my bread-less house. Proof positive, 35 years after getting diabetes every day comes with episodes and more questions.
O.K. that out of my system, this is what I wanted to post if there'd been no drama this weekend. I was watching Oprah last week and she had on Dr. Oz, heart surgeon and one of her resident experts. He was talking about quitting smoking. While I don't smoke, I was intrigued to see if Dr. Oz would offer any advice that would be applicable to diabetes. I was not disappointed. Here are a few transferable actions you can take to improve diabetes management.
1) Pick a quit date - that might be the date you will chuck the junk food out of your house or quit eating as much refined carbohydrates like white rice, white potatoes, pasta, white bread. But what's important is to pick a date.
2) Prepare yourself mentally, physically and socially - In other words decide how you're going to handle it when you go out to eat with friends and they're ordering desert and you're in conflict. Know ahead of time you'll just have two bites, for instance. If you're starting an exercise program, what will you do if the weather's bad and that curtails your walk? Have a back up plan.
3) Make 2 lists - Write down all the reasons why you want to improve your management, what will you gain? Then write all the reasons you don't want to improve your management, what do you get to keep? Compare lists. What conclusions do you draw? Write them down and review them when your motivation flags.
Above all, Oz advised to take it one day at a time, one hour at a time. He went on to say, phrases like "Don't Smoke!" just make you think about smoking. Like don't think about a pink elephant. Like "don't eat cake." Instead tell yourself the advantage of not smoking like "Breathe Free." It keeps your mind focused on what you want. So I think phrases like "Don't have that incredible, chocolate cheese-cake covered with lip-smacking raspberry sauce" is probably not helpful. If you replace that with, "I'm going to look fabulous at my friend's wedding next month!"I think there's a much better chance you will.
Lastly, I admired Dr. Oz for an admission he made. He summed up with, "We are a society that's not comfortable being uncomfortable. (Thus the miracle diets, 5 steps to anything, drugs for everything, addictions that momentarily seem to relieve our pain - my thoughts). Yet discomfort is the best way to grow in life. I don't feel great every day, and it's OK. It's life. Some days you just don't, accept it, it's life."
I think Dr. Oz's smoking advice makes sense for any behavior change you want to make and his admission that we don't feel on top every day takes the pressure off. Normally I'd be really pissed off that I can't take my daily power walk because of my ankle. But I'll accept that some days are just not as good as others. Moreover, if I feel really sorry for myself by tonight, Ill only have one bite of my beloved gingerbread and put the rest away remembering that I'd rather have another year on the planet than another piece of gingerbread.
A real person checking on you
Here's an interesting service I've just read about in my regular Diabetes In Control newsletter, Diabetes Response Service. This emergency response service has been newly launched in the U.S. and Canada for diabetics. Apparently how it works is the service will give you a daily call and if they can't reach you, they'll call your designated contacts, or call for an ambulance.
An interesting proposition and a possible life-saver for single people, many of whom I know are fearful they may experience low blood sugar in the middle of the night. Of course I'm not sure what happens if you have severe hypoglycemia at 2 A.M. and they call you at 9 A.M. I trust you work that out with them. Of course, maybe an upgrade in service involves sending over someone to sleep with you. But you didn't hear it from me.
While taking my walk around the park this morning I was playing a game in my head. Trying to think what I could come up with that would be useful to better our diabetes management using the letters 'd i a b e t e s'. Well, sometimes I have to look for entertainment hoofing an hour around the same route.
So here's what I came up with. Not poetry, but something to think about. Ask yourself:
D - Do
I - I
A - Aim (for)
B - Better (Management)
E - Expecting
T - Trouble (or)
E - Expecting
S - Success?
What we expect is generally what we create. If you typically expect you're going to fail somehow, you probably do. Just today expect success. See if it makes a difference. I promise I won't know, but you will.
Reading the New York Sunday Times Arts & Leisure section yesterday I read an article titled, "The Rebel Director, Sincere and Hopeful." It’s about Carl Forsman, artistic director of a theatre company that stages only performances that embody hope and humanity. "I've thought for a while now that maybe true theatrical rebellion isn't saying, 'And then a guy raped a 4-year old and shot his mom,” said Forsman, “that's not radical anymore because we're so desensitized. Now I think true rebellion is saying anything optimistic or positive about humanity. Hope is radical."
Wow, my ears tingled. I made an immediate connection between what he said to what I’m trying to do here -- teaching how we can better manage diabetes through positive emotions like joy, courage, confidence, gratefulness, love, hope and pride – rather than the more usual focus on negative emotions – denial, guilt, shame, depression, anger. Wow, maybe the positive landscape I’m trying to paint isn't squishy or naive or infantile, but radical! Gutsy even and hiply progressive! Cool, I'm a radical hipster!
I've wondered these past few weeks getting more aggressive about posting my "thrive" rather than "survive" attitude that you will think I just dropped out of a Kansas cornfield or was born with a silver spoon. Actually neither are true. My Buddhist ‘appreciate everything’ mantra comes from an ordinary middle class upbringing in the Bronx and on Long Island and my extremely shy, formative years when I learned to observe others rather than talk much. Thankfully, those days are long gone, and while they were lonely and painful, I developed a keen eye for observation, a curiosity for what people really feel deep down, and an empathetic understanding for people's hardships and hurts. But wait -- now I can consider myself a "radical hipster." Oh, how long I've waited!
Perhaps I’m catching a new wave where being positive is gutsy in our overly cynical, negative culture. I do so often feel I'm sticking my neck out against the chorus of nay-sayers who prefer to moan and groan.
Mr. Forsman went on to say, "There's no question that the cynical viewpoint is viewed as more sophisticated. There's a real fear, especially among the intelligentsia, of generosity and compassion because they look like the acts of someone who's naïve." God knows I live in the land of which he speaks, New York City, where black is our representative color. Now I'm thinking maybe black here is not just a fashion statement but a statement of mind.
So, I am all tingly and excited as a radical diabetes auteur and I will continue to say, adopt an attitude of gratitude, despite your diabetes or because of it -- because it can give you a second chance at life -- the life you've put aside, let remain a dream or run into the ground without really noticing.
Diabetes is your second chance to get fit and healthy and avoid a far worse fate that may be heading your way. Now maybe it will help you to think of yourself as 'radical' not 'Pollyanna' or 'compliant;' to be brave enough to fly in the face of the general public's and mass media's mass cynicism.
After all, it’s the people with guts and vision, who moved by their very personal dreams and hopes, end up changing the world.
I read this article about two weeks ago in the online newsletter, that I receive weekly, DiabetesInControl. It's about the ADA's new guidelines for nutrition. I've reprinted it in its entirety for those of you who want to know the entire text. DiabetesInControl is a free newsletter, you can subscribe here, written largely for diabetes medical professionals containing mostly studies and first findings, but has some interesting news for the layman regarding where research is going and what organizations are doing. What I also enjoy is Dr. Richard Bernstein's monthly live 60 minute tele-conference where he answers patient's questions.
What I found particularly interesting about the ADA's new guidelines is they're beginning to get on the bandwagon with almost everyone else noting that carbohydrates are the food group that need to be controlled regarding raised blood sugar, and they even come pretty close to admitting that they aren't counseling people to follow stricter guidelines because people probably can't do it. You'll get to that part when below John P. Bantle and his ADA colleagues say, "and changes individuals with diabetes are willing and able to make."
Of course I think if your blood sugar or triglycerides or cholesterol isn't where it should be, and you are not one of the people whom the ADA lumps into the above group, then you should probably apply stricter guidelines to yourself than you'll read here. What I do find encouraging, on the other hand, is their statement that, "nutrition counseling should be tailored to the personal needs of the individual." Here, I feel they're looking at the whole person, their particular medical record, support systems and environment.
Article: The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has updated its guidelines regarding medical nutrition therapy (MNT), including the use of low-carbohydrate diets to prevent diabetes, manage existing diabetes, and prevent or slow the rate of development of diabetes complications. The revised position statement, which is published in the January issue of Diabetes Care, updates those from 2002 and 2004, presenting evidence-based data published since 2000 and grading of recommendations according to the level of evidence available, based on the ADA evidence-grading system.
John P. Bantle, and colleagues from the ADA write, "The goal of these recommendations is to make people with diabetes and health care providers aware of beneficial nutrition interventions." "This requires the use of the best available scientific evidence while taking into account treatment goals, strategies to attain such goals, and changes individuals with diabetes are willing and able to make. Achieving nutrition-related goals requires a coordinated team effort that includes the person with diabetes and involves him or her in the decision-making process."
In addition to listing major nutritional recommendations and interventions for diabetes, the updated position statement stresses the importance of monitoring metabolic parameters, including glucose and glycated hemoglobin levels, lipids, blood pressure, body weight, and renal function, during therapy. Such monitoring will help evaluate the need for changes in MNT and thereby optimize outcomes. The authors note that many aspects of MNT require additional research.
Some of the specific recommendations include the following:
Individuals with prediabetes or diabetes should receive individualized MNT, preferably administered by a registered dietitian knowledgeable about the components of diabetes MNT (B).
Nutrition counseling should be tailored to the personal needs of the individual with prediabetes or diabetes and his or her willingness and ability to make changes (E).
Modest weight loss in overweight and obese insulin-resistant individuals has been shown to improve insulin resistance and is therefore recommended for all such individuals who have or are at risk for diabetes (A).
In the short-term (up to 1 year), either low-carbohydrate or low-fat, energy-restricted diets may be effective for weight loss (A).
Patients receiving low-carbohydrate diets should undergo monitoring of lipid profiles, renal function, and protein intake (in patients with nephropathy), and have adjustment of hypoglycemic therapy as needed (E).
Physical activity and behavior modification aid in weight loss and are most helpful in maintaining weight loss (B).
When combined with lifestyle modification, weight loss medications may help achieve a 5% to 10% weight loss and may be considered for overweight and obese individuals with type 2 diabetes (B).
For some patients with type 2 diabetes and a body mass index of 35 kg/m2 or more, bariatric surgery can markedly improve glycemia (B).
Primary prevention for individuals at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes should include structured programs targeting lifestyle changes, with dietary strategies of decreasing energy and dietary fat intakes. Goals should include moderate weight loss (7% body weight), regular physical activity (150 minutes/week) (A), dietary fiber intake of 14 g/1000 kcal, and whole grains comprising half of total grain intake (B).
Intake of low-glycemic index foods that are rich in fiber and other vital nutrients should be encouraged (E), both for the general population and for those with diabetes.
Data do not support recommending alcohol consumption to individuals at risk for diabetes (B).
Secondary prevention, or controlling diabetes, should include a healthy dietary pattern emphasizing carbohydrate from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat milk (B).
A key strategy for achieving glycemic control is to monitor carbohydrate by counting, exchanges, or experienced-based estimation (A). Use of glycemic index and load may be modestly beneficial vs considering only total carbohydrate (B).
Sucrose-containing foods should be limited but can be substituted for other carbohydrates or covered with insulin or other glucose-lowering medications (A). Glucose alcohols and nonnutritive sweeteners are safe within daily US Food and Drug Administration intake levels (A).
Saturated fat should be limited to less than 7% of total energy (A), and trans fat should be minimized (E). In individuals with diabetes, dietary cholesterol should not exceed 200 mg/day (E).
At least 2 servings of fish per week (except for commercially fried fish) are recommended for n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (B).
Protein should not be used to treat acute or prevent nighttime hypoglycemia (A). High-protein diets are not recommended for weight loss (E).
If adults with diabetes choose to use alcohol, intake should be restricted to 1 drink per day or less for women and 2 drinks per day or less for men (E) and consumed with food (E).
Previous research has suggested that MNT can reduce glycated hemoglobin levels by approximately 1% for patients with type 1 diabetes and 1% to 2% for patients with type 2 diabetes.
The current guidelines do not recommend low-glycemic index or high-protein diets for the routine treatment of patients with diabetes. Moreover, most patients with diabetes should not routinely receive supplements or vitamins.
The ADA has issued practice guidelines for screening, diagnostic, and treatment interventions that are known or believed to improve health outcomes of patients with diabetes. Each recommendation is graded by the ADA as A, B, C, or E to indicate the level of supporting evidence.
Diabetes Care. 2008;31(Suppl 1):S61-S78.
As I expected, this morning's Today Show featured another segment on Richard Cohen's new book, "Strong at the Broken Places." Five people are profiled about living courageously with chronic illness. Today they had 4 of the 5 people on the show and here's basically what they said:
"Our thoughts and our beliefs go into our cells and become us and what we do."
"Saddle up for your life. Life isn't going to be easy, but make the best of it. Sometimes it's an ongoing battle to accept myself, but I'm going to do what I can while I'm here."
"It's hard that people can't tell you're ill." Boy, I know this one.
"What you believe about mental illness may be more destructive than the illness itself. Look at our strength and think of us as strong as other people."
Personally, I find "courage" a really great word for describing the quality we embody living with chronic illness well.
Later in the program there was a segment on Supercharged Changes for Better Health. A series of segments they've been running this week to get us off to a fresh start for the new year. plus size model, Emme, and a therapist were talking about accepting yourself and stop beating yourself up because it's not motivational, and give up the guilt - about weight and body image. They gave these general recommendations which I thought apt for anyone:
1. Leave body-bashing and low self-esteem by the roadside
2. Hang out with friends for soul nourishment
3. Enrich your life with new hobbies, activities and people
4. Don't forget you're a role model, especially for your children
You can easily apply these to living with diabetes. So, I'm sensing a cosmic shift in the public consciousness that a more positive mindset will help one live a healthier, more fulfilling life. I'll raise a glass to that!
I've been watching video profiles this week on The Today Show - interviews with the people featured in Richard Cohen's new book, "Strong at the Broken Places." Cohen, a journalist, who has had MS for over 20 years and two bouts of cancer, wrote this book as a follow-up to his previous, "Blindsided." After the publication of that book the response showed him that the public wanted to hear from people who live bravely with the challenges of illness, and that there are many people in the isolated world of illness who want to share their story. "Strong at the Broken Places," Cohen says came from this desire of the many to share their stories in the hope that the sick, and those who love them, will see that they are not alone.
Diabetes is not represented in the five profiles but there are lessons for all of us to take away from those featured: Denise, a sufferer of ALS, Buzz with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Sarah, a social worker in the poorest areas of Cleveland with Crohn's disease; Ben, a college student with muscular dystrophy; and Larry, whose bipolar disorder is hidden within. The five vary in age and gender, race and economic status, but they share a determinion to live life on their own terms. Intimately involved with these patients' lives, Cohen formed intense relationships with each and shared joy even in heart-breaking situations.
Though each individual's illness wreaks havoc in a different way, Cohen shows how their experiences are strikingly similar and offer lessons—on self-determination, on courage in the face of adversity and public ignorance, on keeping hope alive, and on finding strength and peace under the most difficult circumstances. Lessons we can certainly profit from living with diabetes.
The title, "strong at the broken places," Cohen says, means we are stronger than we think. The series is likely to continue through the week on The Today Show since Cohen is married to host, Meredith Viera, and living with chronic illness appears to be coming more into the public eye.
If you come here every now and then you may have noticed something has changed. It's the text above the clown to the left. "Choose thrive over survive living with diabetes."
What I really want to do throughout this year is remind you that while none of us would have asked for diabetes, and it's a semi-regular (O.K. almost constant) pain in the butt, and I myself go from highs to lows both in my blood sugar and my frustration level, I still try to remain focused on my blessings. The good in my life -- and what diabetes gives me. If I were to see diabetes as a limitation, it will limit me. If I were to see diabetes as a pain in the butt, my butt would hurt more. If I see it, however, as a stimulus to creating a bigger, more generous and purposeful life, then it does this for me.
I am doing work I love, helping others with diabetes through my talks, this web site, my new book, The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes (soon for sale on this web site) and articles in Diabeteshealth magazine. I am more fit than ever, look better in my clothes than ever, don't care anymore what anyone thinks of me or the fact that I'm bucking conventional therapy with diabetes (well maybe that comes from being over 50) and am foolishly, happily hopeful that some people benefit from my doing what I'm doing.
Rather than curse my lot in life every day my sight is set on appreciating how strong, courageous and resilient I am to get up and take on diabetes again. Like it does for all of us, it requires living with complications staring over one shoulder while taking the best care of myself to keep them at bay. All the while leaving room for spontaneity, joy, light-heartedness and the craziness of everyday life.
In all the literature about diabetes, no one talks about thriving with diabetes or using pride to manage it. Why not? Why is everything gloom, doom, poor me and isn't this horrible? Sorry, but this is not very motivational. Why are all the emotional associations with diabetes frustration, worry, shame, depression, guilt and anger? Again, lest you read this wrong, I would never line up to get diabetes or be a "diabetes wanna-be" but as they say, "Life happens when you're making other plans" and "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."
Medical models seem to only see the bad news in illness. Doctors are trained in acute care -- to stop ill health, heal it, cure it. But patients of chronic illness have to find the good news, because our condition is not going away. Since the 1970's hippies, self-help and business gurus, spiritualists, and song-writers have told us to look for the silver lining, the gift in a problem, the opportunity in a challenge, the learning in failure. This thinking, however, doesn't seem to have yet crossed over into medicine and disease. But I figure, since every morning I'm going to wake up with diabetes, and there's nothing I can do to cure it, why not find something positive about it? Why not find something in treating it that makes me feel good about myself? I am damn proud of all I do, medically and emotionally to keep myself tracking, even with my other life constantly at my doorstep: the shopping, cooking, keeping the house clean, oy, running to airports and meeting work deadlines.
My message this year is this -- explore, examine and find at least one good thing that's come from having diabetes. Maybe you've gotten your act together about eating better or received praise for your new svelte figure or are in training to run your first marathon. I know many people who were headed for heart attacks that no longer are. I also know many fellow baby boomers slipping away to far more devastating or terminal illnesses, in part because they didn't take care of themselves. I'm not saying there aren't bad days, or bad patches or emotions that make you want to rail against everyone and everything at times, there are. What I am saying is your overall attitude about living with diabetes will impact the experience and your actions, so why not pick the attitude that will benefit you?
In looking for one good thing that diabetes has given you maybe you've decided you're finally going to dedicate some time to that dream you left along the roadside. Maybe diabetes has helped you realize the value of time and where you'd like more of yours to go. Maybe diabetes has made you more compassionate of other's misfortunes and more thankful yours doesn't involve a permanent wheelchair or loss of brain cells. Maybe you realize how capable you are of meeting life's challenges. Personally, I am happy I no longer want to shoot myself when I catch my reflection unexpectedly in the mirror. While my every day walk controls my calories and blood sugar, it also makes me feel I've accomplished something and kept a promise to myself. Every day that walk is a reminder I take care of my health. I'm also quite proud of myself for keeping my blood sugars so consistently in target range by testing and correcting more. And while someone will moan and boo-hoo about having to do that, I'm so grateful I can do it with today's tools and that I even know the importance of doing it. I didn't 20 years ago. And, worrying whether someone would marry a diabetic, well, I'm so over that!
If you cultivate a grateful heart this year, I promise you your life will change. I also promise you it may not be easy and your progress may not be steady, but it will pay off. Like most things it requires practice. So I'll let you in on the real deal at this very moment: I'm writing this with an awful cold and would really prefer to be lounging in bed. I'm annoyed that I can't go out and take my walk this week or likely next because I have absolutely no energy. I'm waiting every day for my blood sugar to rise because I'm sick and not getting any physical activity and so am reducing my insulin sensitivity - GRUNT! GRUNT! GRUNT! Am I a hypocrite? No, just up against it. As they say, this is a "teachable moment." I am being made aware I have to practice something I preach. So I recall what I read in one of Wayne Dyer's books years ago -- when a negative thought comes to mind say "STOP!" and replace it with a positive thought. Mine right now is I can order 3 new movies from netflix and indulge my laziness. Of course, since I'm now spending lots of time on the couch reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, a positive thought may not happen anytime soon.
But here's my final thought. The prescription I'd give everyone for managing diabetes for the long haul is to get the basics down and then get on with it. Maybe that's what should show up on more physician's script pads. Unfortunately then it would be illegible. Ah, well, so chomp on this: the world is still waiting for you to make your mark, with or without diabetes.
I’ve intended all along to post excerpts from the more than 100 interviews I've conducted with fellow diabetics, their loved ones and specialists. Somehow I didn't get 'round to it -- until now. Since it’s the new year, it seems apt to begin with a woman whose story contains so much sorrow, and yet so much joy, and of course a lesson for us all. Her story reminds me, over and over, that it’s not what happens to us that determines our life, but how we respond to what happens. Cliché as it is, are you looking at your glass as half empty or half full?
The Early Years
Kathryn is 65, she got diabetes at 9 and then TB in her native England at 12 and went into a sanitarium for 18 months. During her sanitarium stay her mother passed away. This is certainly enough to mark any child’s life not to mention she learned of her mother's passing from a minister at the sanitarium whom she’d never met. After her mother’s death, Kathryn remained at the sanitarium another nine months. Twice she slipped into a diabetic coma for days, in part because the doctors didn't use IVs to revive diabetics from comas. Instead, they force fed them chocolate waiting for their sugar to rise. The day we talk she laughs as she tells me about waking up with chocolate wrappers all around her!
Having missed so much schooling, when Kathryn got out of the sanitarium she went straight to work, and then at 19 left Britain to live with an Aunt in Canada. Not long after, Kathryn met and married her husband who was a loving partner and extremely supportive of her diabetes. After enduring a heart attack and cataract surgery, he urged her to get a meter, which she initially fought, feeling she was poking herself enough with her daily injections. But when she could come up with no good excuses not to have one, she gave in. Today Kathryn lives alone, having lost her partner, but she has learned a lot in the past decade about caring for herself: she tests her blood sugar 4-5 times a day, has learned how to eat properly, counts carbs and is a svelte 126 pounds. But, for so many diabetics who got their illness long before today’s management tools and strategies, Kathryn is also a double amputee. A double amputee who dances, drives and laughs a lot.
The first leg she told me giggling was taken off five years ago. “The doorbell rang nine o’clock at night while I was on the sofa lying down," said Kathryn. "I got up and opened the door, it was a pizza delivery, of course it wasn’t for me and crossing to the door I stepped on a staple.” Because of Kathryn’s neuropathy she didn’t feel anything, a wound developed that turned into gangrene, incredible pain and the leg came off.
If you think I’ve been setting you up to cry over Kathryn and her unhappy life, you're wrong. She’s about the most cheerful person I've ever spoken with. “The surgery,” she continued, “was scheduled for my sixtieth birthday. I went in and had my leg off and the first thing I said when I came ‘round was, I’ve got no more pain. I healed in five weeks, which they all found amazing and I was fitted for a prosthetic below the knee. I call it ‘the full Monty.’ We’ve all had quite a few laughs over this. Six months later," Kathryn said, "I lost my other leg. I tripped over my wheelchair while trying to stand up and my foot got caught under the wheel and damaged my toe. The gangrene set in fast and the leg came off fast. I was in hospital within three days and off it came. So now they all know me down there at the hospital. and now I’ve got two prosthetics, Monty and Mathew.” Again, she tells me with a wink.
“I drive, I dance, life is what you make it. This year I'm going to England for two and a half months. I’m going on a Mediterranean cruise, I’m going down the Nile and to see the pyramids and to Turkey and Greece. I’m quite excited about the whole thing," Kathryn informed me.
“To me, losing my legs was a blessing. The pain they gave me stopped, and I could do things. Imagine, I don’t have to wear diabetic shoes anymore! I don’t have to have pedicures. I don’t need to shave my legs! There are so many positives!" But when she said this, I truly had to laugh out loud. "Recently my friends and I went to a dinner theatre and I was sitting at the table and my leg was killing me and I said I have to take my leg off so I did, under the table. It was dark, no one could see, so I took it off. At the end of the play I put my leg back on and got up and I realized I’d caught the tablecloth in my leg and it was skidding off the table coming toward me as I walked away. What a hoot!
“Now I talk to other people at the hospital who are going to have their legs off and I really enjoy doing that. I am so happy to help. Every year I talk to the graduating class of the University of Alberta. Mostly people wonder how I manage it all, and my attitude. They think it’s unreal that I dance and drive. But I just can’t sit home and feel sorry for myself. I was at the theatre last night and I’m going to the symphony on Saturday. I like to get out and meet people. I also have a habit, I’m afraid. I go around singing a lot. When I’m at the hospital people find me coming round the corner legs off singing away.
“My attitude comes up a lot,” Kathryn said, as I too was amazed listening to her. “I think my positive spirit comes partly from my mum because she went through an awful lot, yet I’d never seen her cry. I’ve come through a lot in my life, I really have with the TB, losing my mum, all sorts of things and yet I’ve always been positive. I had a career working with children which I loved. I couldn’t have children which was a bit of a disappointment, but I have two adopted children and now I’ve got wonderful grandchildren. I have a fantastic circle of friends, they’re all very, very good to me. They all help me out.
“I don’t say I don’t have down days, I do. I don’t think you’d be normal if you didn’t but basically I’m an upbeat person. I’m quite happy with life and I’m doing well. I see the future as bright. I’m not too sure what else can happen but I’m going to enjoy the time while I’ve got it."
Well, I don’t know if attitude and optimism are nature or nurture or a bit of both, but I do know how we interpret what happens in our lives and how we judge where we are in our lives, determines the quality of our lives and the satisfaction and happiness we feel. Even though Kathryn has no legs it certainly hasn't slowed her down and that's due to a decision she made along the way - life will not stop me as long as I can still get up.
“Just do what you want to do," Kathryn ended our talk with. "And don’t let diabetes stop you. Don’t let it take control of you or rule or ruin your life. You’ve still got things to do with your life." Then she told me something that surprised me, "You know I’ve never really talked to anyone about all this but you. I don’t talk about this a lot." But it didn't shock me when she followed up with, "You know, all the time I was in the hospital they wanted me to go to a support group but I wouldn't. I don’t want to feel sorry for myself or hear myself say, “When I had my surgery…blah, blah, blah.”
The day I interviewed Kathryn I was feeling physically awful. I’d had a bad cold and sore throat for two weeks and it wasn’t improving. My sinuses were hurting, my ears were hurting, every night I had difficulty falling asleep because the very mild neuropathy I have in one calf was acting up and my tinnitus was roaring. Need I say after listening to Kathryn that day I was made aware, once again, just how lucky I am. So for the new year let's all try to 'count our blessings' more often. I’m sure Kathryn’s tying on her dance shoes just about now.