Everything I Knew About Diabetes, I Learned From My Grandmother

My name is Jan and I have Type 2 diabetes. Sounds like something you’d say in front of a 12-step group, huh?


Since I got the news on January 2, 1986, I’ve known I have diabetes. I just haven’t always known about diabetes. Perhaps it’s a good thing the other genes I inherited are good, or I’d be in deep trouble, because my control in the early years was nonexistent, and it isn’t always perfect now.

My doctor laughed at me when I first told him I had diabetes. But I knew. I’d been drinking the river dry and spending way too much time in the bathroom. I knew the signs because the owner of a college hangout I frequented back in the day had told me that’s how he knew he had diabetes.

After my fasting level came back at 311 mg/dl, Doc wasn’t laughing any more. He also wasn’t very helpful, simply handing me a piece of paper with a diet on it and the only diabetes education I would have for nine years: “Here. Follow this. Don’t eat any sugar.”

Not a problem. I knew all about diabetes, because my grandmother had diabetes. You just don’t eat any sugar. Granny would crush a saccharine tablet over her big bowl of cornflakes in the morning, she drank Tab, and her only dessert was a big hunk of angel food cake.

I followed the diet on the paper the doctor gave me for maybe two weeks. It seemed to be missing a few things. Like matzoh. What was I supposed to eat during Passover? I called the New York office of the American Diabetes Association to ask. They referred me back to the office in my state. My state is known more for inventing Wonder Bread than for having a large Jewish population. In other words, they were no help at all.

Still not a problem. Granny survived and I would, too. I just wouldn’t eat any sugar. (Except, of course, for angel food cake.) Besides, I had Type 2 diabetes. That wasn’t the real diabetes. Real diabetes was when you had to take shots.

But I progressed to pills. Then to insulin. And I learned what an endocrinologist was and made an appointment. (After, of course, my friend who told me about endocrinologists promised they wouldn’t give me one of those dreaded pieces of paper with a diet on it. Can you guess that coming to terms with food is my biggest problem?)

It had been nine years since I was diagnosed. My last HbA1c result had been 17.4 percent.

It was on my first visit to the endocrinologist—and the dietitian and the diabetes educator—that I began to learn. Things had changed since Granny’s days. The lightbulb came on over my head when Amy, my first dietitian, said, “All carbohydrates convert to sugar.” And, as promised, she did not give me a paper with a diet written on it. She asked me when I normally ate, what I ate, what my favorite foods were. She actually worked out a meal plan with me. One where I could eat anything as long as the carbohydrate count was right. Bread or matzoh. Angel food cake or pumpkin cake. It didn’t matter. What a concept!

And then there was Sonja, the diabetes educator. She was a retired Air Force major who’d worked with Corp. Klinger wanna-bes in Vietnam. (Remember Corp. Klinger from MASH? The soldier who was always trying to get a psychiatric discharge?) This was a woman who took no guff! Just the kind I needed. She let me know in no uncertain terms that, no matter what your regimen is—diet, orals, or insulin—Type 2 is “real” diabetes. The foods you eat, the medicines and/or insulin you take, and the exercise you get are only tools to help keep the “diabeastie” under control. (I must tell you more about Sonja sometime.)

Finally, I was being seen by people who knew about diabetes. Finally, I was learning. I cried with happiness all the way home. I couldn’t wait to go back for my follow-up two weeks later.

I’m still learning. I’m still questioning. I’m still exploring. I don’t like having diabetes, but I’m glad I know a lot more about how to deal with it.

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  • juju

    Good story. Yes, we can do and eat a lot more – yours was an inspiration!

  • Linda

    When the doctor decided it was time I went on insulin I was shocked. I didn’t remember any one in the family who had ever used a needle. All of the literature I read indicated lost limbs and possible early demise. But my mother sat me down and explained that all 4 of her mothers sisters had insulin dependent diabetes. It was kept ‘hush-hush’ back then. I remembered that one of those sisters lived to be 104. The youngest was 99 when she passed. They kept all their limbs to the end and were active. I always thought of them as ‘picky’ eaters who had the annoying habit of walking after every meal. Suddenly I realized that diabetes is not necessarily a death sentence if it is well managed! I hope I’m still walking after my picky meals at 104.

  • butter181

    well i am proof that diabeties is not to be messed with. at age 30 my doc. told me i had diabeties and put me on insulin right then. he gave me the paper stuff to read and a yellow strip to pee on and match the green on the label. i did that for awile but soon went back to doing the things i did before. i had always worked hard at anything i did (i never learned to read very good) and thouth that i could just work harder and it would be ok. well iam 53 now blind bad heart and bad nerapathe in all limbs
    don’t mess with it!! it will win if left to its owne

  • Andy Jordan

    I have been classed as a Type II since 2000 and have been under the care of an aggressive clinic in Nashville, TN.

    My age is 70 and I am 19 years with By-Pass (4) surgery. My numbers are very good, able to stay within range of 65 to 150 using Metaformin, Prandin, Zetia, Crestor, Lisinopril, etc.

    In November of 2005, I went cold turkey and quit all drugs, just to see what the effect would be on my numbers. Went back on drugs and it took 6 months to get back within my range.

    Recently I have heard about “Diamaxol” can you shed any light on this so-called natural product. I have read some articles on how FDA has reacted, thanks.

  • sher

    I have type 2
    and have been on the BYETTA pen shot.
    for two weeks now .
    Where would I go to chat with oters on the same?

  • robinlee

    yes i would like to hear some comments on diamoxol also ..i have heard so much good about it ..i would like to know more about it im scared to death to take medicine that will make u go too low .i amtype 2 diabetic .i take metmorfin.exercise and watch what i eat

  • Tara Dairman, Web Editor

    Diamaxol is a supplement, and unlike pharmaceutical drugs, supplements are not required to undergo FDA approval to demonstrate safety or effectiveness. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the supplement contains what it claims to contain or will have any effect on diabetes control. As always, consult your diabetes care professional before trying any new drug or supplement, including this product.

  • Hardy Atem

    I have ordered five bottles of Diamaxol throgh their website and although it has been five weeks since I did so, I still do not have the product and despite several inquries I have made by email, I have got no response. Please tell me what can I do?

  • tammy

    I have had type 1 diabetes since I was nine. Now 33 years later, I’m still ok, but know I could be in better control if I would exercise more, drink less and eat better but we all know this.
    My question to other Type 1 or type 2, did you have any major injury, surgery or falls with in a year before being diagnosed? This is my own little inquiry after going to my chiropractor and he doing an x-ray and seeing something on my spine that was different than a “normal” person, he asked if I was diabetic? hmmm
    I had fallen off my bike and broke my jaw at the age of 8. I just wondered if this totally realigned my spine and made me susceptible to this disease.
    If you are closed-minded or follow our western medicine ideas only, then you may not comprehend this idea.
    I would love to hear some thoughts on this thought…

  • Beem1227

    I just found this forum and read the comments and questions on Diamaxol. I have known several people who have used Diamaxol and a very similar but much less expensive alternative called Blood sugar formula. My niece is a type-1 and is just going to try the Blood Sugar Formula to see if it will help even out some numbers. I’ve heard people have had good results but it varies. Don’t drop your other meds and monitor levels carefully. BTW, I’ve heard Diamaxol is having production problems. I’ve heard of a number of people who’ve ordered and it takes a very long time to get hte product. Here’s a link to compare the two products http://www.vitabase.com/supplements/information/diamaxol_compare.aspx

  • randydeedon

    I have discovered that upon testing my suagar level at 800 am my sugar level was 193. I then proceeded to sit down, relax, and began to achieve a quiet state of mind and started to consciously tell my body “GET TO WORK MAKING THE INSULIN YUO KNOW YOU HAVE TO MAKE AND GET THE SUGAR LEVEL INTO BALANCE NOW !!”. “DO YOUR JOB!!. After using my imagination to feel the sugar levels in my blood starting to balance and become more smooth, I checked the sugar again and it had dropped in 40 minutes to 102. Has anyone else tried things of this nature with results? [email protected]

  • FredHarmon

    Any news on the Diamaxol and how it worked? Or the Vitabase products?

  • Maylene

    The vitabase product somewhat scares me. It’s like buying generic toothpaste and finding out it’s laced with Melamine. I’m looking on Diamaxol’s website (it’s at http://www.micronutra.com/diamaxol) and they seemed very concerned with GMP (Which, for those who don’t know, are Good Manufacturing Practices. You always wanna look for those when buying supplements. It means they’re not making stuff in the basement of their house.)

    However, I’m not finding anything like that on Vitabase’s stuff. Which means there could be a reason it’s a lot cheaper.

    But the ingredients in either product are good. Cinnamon, chromium, zinc, stuff like that – everybody knows that those ingredients are good for your blood sugar.

    Couldn’t hurt to try.

    Just keep in mind that no supplement is a cure.