The Hidden Gift of a Diabetes Diagnosis

Michelle Gaylord has lived more than 30 years with type 2 diabetes, but the diagnosis is one that she now sees a bit like a gift.

The resident of Batavia, New York, was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during her second pregnancy 37 years ago, but didn’t recover from it after the birth of her son. But even as her diabetes diagnosis impacted her life-her next four pregnancies grew progressively harder on both her and the children that resulted-it gave the longtime clinical nurse more knowledge and a sense of understanding when dealing with her diabetic patients.

Gaylord has worked as a diabetes educator for the past 20 years. She has found that her own experiences with diabetes-including an aunt who experienced dementia after long-term low blood sugar-have made her more aware of symptoms her patients might have and better able to handle them.

“Most diabetes educators have a vested interest, either because they have diabetes or someone they love has diabetes,” Gaylord says. “It gives you a little more drive to help, to open your eyes to look for symptoms.”

It has also encouraged her to live a healthy life, especially when faced with a family history of diabetes that includes three of four grandparents, her parents, aunts and uncles, and all of her siblings except one.

An Obstacle, Not a Defeat

Armed with more knowledge than most people with diabetes, Gaylord refused to allow her disease to prevent her from fulfilling her dreams.

“It didn’t hold me back from being a mother or from going to school,” she says. Instead she used her own experiences to encourage her patients to be more open, which especially helped when she was working on her master’s thesis. Gaylord focused her thesis on diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a problem she herself has suffered from for years.

By sharing her own story of painful neuropathy in her hands and feet, she was able to get her subjects to open up more than they might have otherwise, and her project was a very well received success.

As for Gaylord, her neuropathy meant that for a time she spent several sleepless nights a week, first trying to put her feet up in bed, then being forced to move to a chair soon after. Instead of sleeping, she found herself pounding her feet on the floor in a desperate bid to alleviate the pain from nerves that felt on fire.

She tried a variety of different drug options, but pain medication caused incessant itching and did nothing to relieve the pain. Other drugs sparked first a near-fatal allergic reaction with one, then temporary kidney failure with another.

“You get to the point where you wonder if it’s worth living,” says Gaylord, who is quick to point out that although she never had any intention of taking her own life, there were times her despair was almost overwhelming.

Put off by the $10,000 price tag when anodyne light therapy became her only remaining option, she tried Metanx, a dietary food supplement, and now her bouts of sleeplessness are down from several times a week to only once a month or so, results for which she’s extremely grateful.

“It was making me miserable,” says Gaylord. “I was thinking my husband Paul would never put up with this, being with someone who was miserable and in pain.”

Using her experiences as her guide, Gaylord has worked with military veterans for decades, and leads a diabetes awareness program designed to help prevent pre-diabetes from escalating. That program has been more than 75 percent successful, a number that leaves Gaylord feeling extremely satisfied.

“I’m so appreciative of what they’ve done, I want to give them the best, so I’m really happy about that,” she says. 

Gaylord is glad to see so many of her patients making lifestyle adjustments to combat the disease, since she herself was diagnosed at a time when even doctors didn’t take diabetes so seriously.

“They would say ‘Oh, you have a little diabetes,’ and never really pushed people to keep blood sugar levels in control,” she says, adding that now people realize “you really have to take diabetes seriously.”

Daily Life With Diabetes

Gaylord is insulin dependent-she takes six shots a day-and counts her carb intake at every meal.

She and Paul walk almost every night, and their diet features lots of fresh vegetables, often spiced with Italian seasonings in a nod to Gaylord’s grandmother.

With an A1c that ranges between 5.1 and 6.1, she’s working hard to control her symptoms, ensuring a long, healthy life and inspiring the same for her children.

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