For six seasons, actor Aida Turturro has played the role of Tony Soprano’s sister Janice on the award-winning and critically acclaimed HBO series “The Sopranos.”
Turturro began acting at a young age. In 1989, she appeared in her first film, “True Love,” opposite Annabella Sciorra. Then working as a housecleaner, she landed parts on Broadway and in movies ranging from Frank Oz’s comedy “What About Bob?” (1991) to Woody Allen’s “Manhattan Murder Mystery” (1993).
In 2000, Turturro landed an Emmy nomination for her role as Janice Soprano. One year later, she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Told by her doctor that she needed to watch her diet and take oral medication, the actor did not take her condition seriously until her diabetes worsened significantly in 2003. Since then, Turturro has learned to take care of her health and now works closely with her endocrinologist to properly manage her diabetes. In her case, this means making adjustments to her lifestyle and taking Lantus on a daily basis.
When “The Sopranos” is not in production, Turturro continues to hone her craft by appearing on stage and in independent films.
Diabetes Health recently spoke with Aida Turturro about her experience with diabetes.
When were you diagnosed with diabetes?
Five years ago. I was started on Glucophage. I was in denial and wasn’t exercising and not checking my numbers, and I needed more help. One day, my new doctor said, “Aida, do you know what can happen if you continue to live with these high blood sugars? Do you understand the severity of the risk that you are putting yourself in?” I guess at that point I started to get it.
Do you remember how high your blood glucose got?
When I started and was just taking Glucophage, my A1C was over 10%. Then I started taking Lantus and got a new doctor and actually learned what an A1C was. Do you know how many people are diabetic and don’t know what A1C is? Or they get the results from the doctor and don’t know what they mean, they don’t understand the correlation between a high A1C and complications. People need to go to the doctor and take the A1C test and understand. Living with BGs out of control really puts you at a higher risk. It may not happen in a month or a year, but down the road your body is really going to be affected by it.
Before you were diagnosed, did you sense that something was wrong?
I can’t say I remember feeling that way. When I first got diabetes, over the next few years I saw mood swings. I didn’t really understand it until I got a grip on taking care of myself, and I started taking Lantus and eating right. In hindsight, I look back and say, Oh my God, I was really bad! I was tired and emotional. I was always up and down.
So you got a sense of how poor diabetes control was affecting your moods.
I am a very nice person. I don’t yell, I don’t freak out. But I was freaking out. I just didn’t know about the disease. I didn’t understand it. Some people are better than I was. When they are diagnosed, they go and read everything. They do the research. They start to exercise. They eat right. They go to the doctor. Other people, like me, go with their denial.
What should other newly diagnosed people do that you didn’t do?
It’s so important for people to educate themselves. Help yourself. Read a book. Go on the Internet. Visit a nutritionist. Exercise. Monitor your blood sugar every day. Get your A1C checked every three months. This is something that is not going to just go away. And don’t expect to be perfect every day.
Do you have a family history of diabetes?
My mom had diabetes. My grandfather died from it. My aunt on my mom’s side had it. My grandmother on my father’s side died when I was young from diabetic complications. So, yes, I do have a family history.
What is your exercise regimen like?
I use the elliptical machine. I can’t really go bike riding living in New York City. When I go out to the country, though, I’ll do more biking and walking. The one thing that I’m trying to do more in New York City is to walk more. Instead of taking a cab, I make myself walk. I also do Pilates. I have a trainer with whom I work out once or twice a week on weights. But not heavy weights, just to tone up.
What about your diet?
It’s pretty much carb counting. I test three or four times per day, once before each meal. I test and take insulin with me everywhere.
Which meter do you use?
The OneTouch Ultra.
Is your schedule more difficult when you are shooting an episode of “The Sopranos”?
How many people today have an easy schedule? Let’s be realistic. Who always comes home at 6 o’clock on the dot? One minute you’re traveling, you’re here, you’re there, you’re on a plane. Sometimes I have a simple schedule and I get to be home, and some days I’m working like a dog. It doesn’t really matter. It just means you have to plan. Having diabetes means you have to pay attention. It means you have to figure out your eating schedule. It means you have to eat properly, watch the carbs and exercise.
How do you stay abreast of all the diabetes information and new therapies?
I have a great endo. I check in a lot with her, and we see if the process is working.
What other type of support system do you have?
For a long time, I went to a nutritionist. I have a workout partner. It’s hard and it’s scary to have diabetes, and you do need a support network of some kind. I was at the nail salon one time and this girl walked in, and I knew by looking at her that she had type 2. So we start talking, and she says, “Oh, I take care of my cats, but I don’t take care of myself.” I told her, “You have to do this, or this will happen if you don’t.” And we talked for a long while, and she said, “Thank you so much. Thank you for caring.” Everybody needs some kind of support network.
Is there a silver lining to having diabetes?
I can’t say that I’m happy that I have it. I can only say that having it and being a TV personality gives me the opportunity to help other people save their lives. Maybe that’s why I have it. To help other people. It’s a very hard disease, and I hope they come up with a cure.
Aida Turturro’s film credits include:
- Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead”
- John Turturro’s “Romance and Cigarettes”
- Woody Allen’s “Celebrity” and “Manhattan Murder Mystery”
Other film credits include:
- “Sidewalks of New York”
- “Mickey Blue Eyes”
- “Deep Blue Sea”