By: Bob Leonard
About 16 years ago, after some routine blood work, I was told by my doctor that he wanted me to see an endocrinologist because he suspected diabetes. I went to see the endo, and, sure enough, his suspicions were confirmed. I had type 2 diabetes, and I had some serious changes to make.
I walked out of the endo’s office a little slower, head down, not wanting eye contact with anyone, and sat in my car for nearly an hour. What did this mean? I didn’t know very much about diabetes, other than stories I had been told by friends whose grandparents had lost a foot, needed a kidney transplant, or died because of complications from diabetes. “Naïve” is a kind word to describe how much I knew. I saw my diagnosis as a death sentence, and, in a moment of self indulgence, I cried. Why me? I was never overweight, I was not a junk food glutton, and nobody in my family had diabetes. Why me? I cried some more.
A number of years earlier, when my first wife and I divorced, I remember thinking about the choices I had to make. Did I go to a bar, get drunk, and cry into my proverbial beer, or did I turn the car in another direction, go to the gym, get in shape, and start dating again? I contemplated that choice for about 10 minutes before I found myself throwing out what became my last pack of cigarettes. I began “pumping iron” and getting ready for a date. It wasn’t long before I found my true soul mate, the woman to whom I have been married for 18 years.
The diabetes diagnosis was no different. I just had to make some hard choices. I went home and told my wife, through the tears, that I had diabetes. She had just returned to our home in Dallas after flying to Chicago to give her brother a kidney, so her initial response was, “Ouch, this hurts.” Within moments, however, she was getting proactive about my situation.
My wife grew up in an African-American family that deep-fried a lot of food, so it was only natural that we ate foods prepared in the “Fry Daddy.” The “Fry Daddy” was the first thing to go. My wife threw it in the trash and started to research menus that didn’t include frying in gallons of oil. We would fight this thing together. We found recipes that were, amazingly, more delicious than fried or salty foods, and so began our culinary journey.
It wasn’t long before I dropped what little extra weight I had, and my wife found herself having to buy smaller clothing. Within about six months, I had come off all diabetes meds and was feeling terrific. We have never gone back to our old ways. We continue to eat the right things, cooked the right way. I take metformin again, but only because I had a bit of a setback recently when a stressful move caused my numbers to get slightly out of whack. But our proactivity regarding diabetes has simply become our way of life, our comfort zone.
Just the other night, while eating dinner, my wife made me realize that my diabetes has been a blessing for our entire family. We have been eating healthily for so long now that my 17-year-old daughter just can’t eat junk food or drink soda. She doesn’t like candy and prefers to “snack” on fruits and vegetables. For her, it is just the way things are. This was nothing that she had to “learn the hard way.”
I have always wondered how I could possibly develop diabetes with no weight problems and no genetic predisposition, but recently I may have found the answer. I went into military service in 1966 and was sent in 1968 to Vietnam, where I spent nearly two years. While there, I handled huge drums of chemicals that were sprayed over the Vietnamese countryside for defoliation purposes. The chemical contained in the orange drums was dubbed “Agent Orange.” I was recently informed by the Veterans’ Administration that exposure to Agent Orange is known to cause a number of problems, and that type 2 diabetes has been recognized as one of them.
I have no complaints about having diabetes. It has caused me and my family to eat, think, and act with health in mind. I have walked two of my daughters down the aisle. I have two more daughters and two granddaughters, and I plan to be there for them as well.