Tamara Norris and Cyndie Flores are insulin pump users who started their own business selling pump accesories. In talking with DIABETES HEALTH, Tamara and Cyndie discuss their first experiences using the insulin pump, and their decision to go into business.
DIABETES HEALTH: Tell us what happened when you found out you had diabetes.
Tamara: I was diagnosed 5 months after my seventeenth birthday. My mom took me to the doctor because I could hardly move, breathing was very difficult, and I was thirsty. I had never really heard of diabetes, but figured it was similar to cancer or leukemia. I just thought I would be dying soon.
Cyndie: I was diagnosed with diabetes two weeks before my sixteenth birthday. After returning from a two week visit with my grandmother, my mother took me to the doctor because I was very sick and had lost 30 lbs. When the doctor told me that I had diabetes, the seriousness of the disease didn’t click until I looked at my mothers face and she was crying. Then I figured it was probably fatal. It was the most frightening time of my life.
Diabetes Health: What led up to your decision to go on the pump?
Tamara: I always thought the pump was implanted in your body and you had to have a real bad case of diabetes, or take 3 to 5 shots a day to even get one. That is until I met a girl with a pump. She seemed normal and excited about life. She wasn’t sick, in fact she looked pretty good and had a lot of energy. I wanted to have energy too!
Cyndie: I always tried very hard to keep my diabetes in control. When my doctor said that using an insulin pump could make living with diabetes easier, I started giving it some serious thought. He recommended that I attend a pump support group to find out for myself the pros and cons of insulin pump therapy. I went to the support group convinced the pump wasn’t for me. After meeting and talking with people at the group and seeing everyone’s enthusiasm for the pump, I was totally convinced the pump was for me!
Diabetes Health: Was it difficult adjusting to the pump?
Tamara: My doctor put me in the hospital for two days just to monitor my blood sugars and set my basal rates (meaning my hourly insulin requirement). After my very first meal, I knew I would keep it forever! My blood sugars were more level – no ups and downs. Since the pump only uses regular insulin, you get a certain amount each hour just like a regular pancreas. In fact, I feel like the pump is my pancreas, the only difference is I wear mine on the outside!
Cyndie: Unlike Tamara, I started on the insulin pump as an outpatient. My nurse educator walked me through the process step by step. And although I stayed in constant phone contact with her for some time, it did not affect my normal work schedule. I adjusted to it even better than I had expected. And like Tamara, I too feel that the pump is my pancreas.
Diabetes Health: What made it a success for you?
Tamara & Cyndie: Definitely meeting other diabetics on pumps! They helped us adjust to the changes by confirming that we are not alone in our experiences. We recommend that everyone with diabetes find a good support group. Your local hospital or ADA office should be able to point you in the right direction.
Diabetes Health: How did you get interested in designing and carrying products for insulin pumps?
Tamara & Cyndie: We decided to get more involved when we knew the pump was the greatest thing that ever happened to us, and we would never go back to shots! We decided to figure out ways to make wearing the pump more comfortable and practical. Then, it seemed natural to attend support groups and share our ideas with other people with diabetes. We had such a positive response that we started making them for everybody to use.
Diabetes Health: What motivates you?
Tamara & Cyndie: We think that the pump is like a cure for diabetes. If we can make people feel comfortable wearing the pump and keep them wearing it, it will improve the quality of their lives. Our goal is for people with diabetes to be fully informed about all the resources and products available on the market. We no longer have to give up, there are alternatives for diabetics.
Diabetes Health: What do you do for a living?
Tamara: Besides being a full time “Crusader for Diabetes,” I manufacture a product for male dogs called “Designer Doggie Diapers.” It is for small male dogs who lift their legs everywhere and you can’t stop them. The Doggie Diaper will stop them from ruining your carpet, furniture, and your life. It’s also great when visiting friends. You can stop wondering where your dog is and what he’s doing. Every time he lifts his leg it goes into a pad and not on the floor!
Cyndie: I have been a Dental Office Manager for thirteen years. I have always loved working with people. This is why I spend so much of my recreational time volunteering to help other diabetics realize that diabetes doesn’t have to be a negative experience. I find the more time I put into my volunteer work the easier it is for me to deal with my own disease.
Diabetes Health: Why haven’t more people tried using insulin pumps?
Tamara &amnp; Cyndie: First of all, you have to hear about it. If your doctor doesn’t know anything about it, you won’t either. Second, most people think it requires major surgery to have a pump. They don’t know you wear it externally. Third, people think you have to be taking more than 2 or 3 shots a day or have a “bad case” of diabetes (if there is such a thing) to justify it. The pump not only controls your diabetes, but it will give you freedom as well. You can’t imagine how many times we’ve heard, “but I don’t mind taking shots.” We guarantee you, once you go on a pump you will never go back to shots!
Diabetes Health: What message would you like to leave with our readers?
Diabetes doesn’t have to be bad. For us it takes having friends that are diabetic to keep us motivated. We love meeting diabetics who are lost and guiding them in the right direction. We love to help them go from feeling tired and having no energy, to feeling great for the first time in their life! When people ask us what we do for a living, we usually say we’re “Diabetic Crusaders!”
They always wonder how we can have so much fun being diabetic. Our response is: Thanks to the insulin pump we love life! We think every diabetic should find out as much as they can about the complications of the disease and do what ever they can to avoid them. No diabetic is perfect, and sure, we all fall off the wagon once in a while. But the important thing is to get back on that wagon and keep going forward! Please people, you don’t have to go blind, lose your feet, have kidney failure, or God forbid, die! There are great things happening in diabetes today. Be informed! Join your local ADA and subscribe to publications that will keep you informed with up-to-date information, such as DIABETES HEALTH. Also, be sure to wear your Medic-Alert Bracelet, it could save your life!