It was a day that changed my life forever. The day my mother shared the results of a blood test I had taken earlier that week. My symptoms? Leg cramps, frequent trips to the restroom, and a sudden loss of weight. The diagnosis — diabetes type I. To me, it could not have been worse news. Or worse timing. How could I go on living with diabetes?
My Story: Living with Diabetes
I was eighteen years old, barely out of high school, and planning a wedding the following spring. I had also grown up watching my oldest sister struggle with this disease. She had been a diabetic since she was four-years-old, so I was fully aware of the challenges. The daily shots with hypodermic needles (no micro-fine disposable syringes back then). The low blood sugar reactions that sent ambulances to our house regularly. The high blood sugar readings that also brought concern and hospital admissions. And so much more.
My biggest concern was breaking the news to my fiancé. What if he did not want to marry someone who would bring along a lifetime of medical bills as her dowry? My fears were eased when my future husband’s reaction to my news was simply, “So?” His “we’ve got this” attitude took a tremendous weight off my shoulders, and it made me feel hopeful. Still, neither one of us knew what the future held.
At first, my doctor treated my diabetes with oral medication. But on that regimen, I could only eat meat and vegetables, so I lost more weight. I was thin as a rail for our wedding, but if we were ever going to have a family, which we both wanted, I was going to have to switch to daily injections of insulin Being a little squeamish to needles, my husband typically gave me my shots.
I found a wonderful new doctor who specialized in diabetes, and with the advancements being made in diabetic care, I soon realized that this diagnosis was not as scary as I originally feared. It could have a serious side, but if I followed the low-sugar diet, and tried to keep stress, infections, and illnesses to a minimum, I could not just live with diabetes, but thrive.
The key to living and thriving with diabetes remains management.
I learned how to follow a…
- low-sugar, healthy diet, (Learn How to Eat a Low Sugar Diet)
- monitor your medications,
- check your blood sugar levels,
- stay hydrated,
- minimize infections,
- follow your doctor’s orders,
- avoid alcohol, and
- keep stress to a minimum.
In fact, it was because of my diabetes that I ended up living the life I always wanted.
Thriving Career Despite Living with Diabetes
I loved writing since I was nine years old, and I continued to write even after my diagnosis. My first magazine article was about the adoption of our first son. His adoption came after a miscarriage and a full-term stillbirth, in which diabetes played a role. We adopted another son, and three-and-a-half months later, I successfully delivered a biological son. I wrote a magazine article about all of it.
I continued to write about life and the challenges it can bring. Diabetes is just one of them. Today, as a 50-year survivor of diabetes and the recipient of the 50-year medal from Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, I can look back on my life and realize that despite what I may have thought a half-century ago when I first learned of my diagnosis, diabetes has not held me back. It has not always been easy, but I have made it. And I have had the time of my life!
Since that very first article, I have written eighty-eight books, became Bob Hope’s first female staff writer, received nominations for an Emmy, Dove, and a WGA Award, and am currently a playwright with productions in five states. No, diabetes did not hold me back.
My newest book, co-written with Linda Hope (Bob Hope’s daughter), Dear Bob… Bob Hope’s Wartime Correspondence with the G. I.s of WW2 (University Press of Mississippi, 2021) was recently featured on CBS Sunday Morning with Jane Pauley.
That is not all. Not only do we have three sons, but we also have a baseball team of grandchildren. I am looking forward to receiving my 75-year medal one day, or even being cured of diabetes altogether. With the advances in the treatment of diabetes, eradicating this condition altogether seems a real possibility.
Others Living with Diabetes
One of my regrets is that my sister did not live long enough to see all the advances in diabetes care and management. I know she would have benefitted from them. She would have been especially thrilled with the improvements in sugar-free desserts.
Even though she is no longer here, my sister remains one of my heroes. As does Mary Tyler Moore and so many others who lived and thrived with diabetes:
- Halle Berry,
- Tom Hanks,
- Sharon Stone,
- George Lucas,
- Johnny Cash,
- Bret Michaels, and
- Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (diagnosed with Type I when she was seven years old).
So do not let a diagnosis of diabetes keep you from doing everything you were created to do. This condition does not have to be a roadblock to your dreams. It can be a springboard. That is exactly what it was in my situation. Writing about my challenges with diabetes and pregnancies launched my career as a writer.
So, to those of us who live with this disease, to those we have lost to it over the years, and to all the researchers, doctors, nurses, and other members of the medical community who have dedicated their lives to finding a cure, I wish you Happy Diabetes Month!
Because even with diabetes, life can be oh so sweet!
Martha Bolton is an Emmy-nominated television writer and the author of 88 books. She was Bob Hope’s first female staff writer, working for Bob in the 1980s and 1990s. She is also an award-winning playwright with musicals currently playing in five states. She has been an insulin-dependent diabetic for 51 years. You can find Martha at https://www.marthabolton.com and her book at https://www.upress.state.ms.us/Books/D/Dear-Bob.
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1 thought on “Living with Diabetes – How to Thrive, Not Just Survive”
Way to go Martha. You are a true example of a champion. Overcoming Diabetes. Thank you for sharing your hope, faith, and tough battles with us. You are an inspiration to us all.