Living With Diabetes: Super Bowl Edition

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Living With Diabetes: Super Bowl Edition

I’m a huge Denver Broncos fan, awaiting Sunday’s Super Bowl with equal parts excitement, fear, terror, and dread. I’ve been a fan of this team since I could walk (maybe even before then). I grew up idolizing John Elway, and some of my fondest (and most stressful) memories are of me and my dad pacing in our living room as we watched yet another last minute comeback by number 7. It was all exciting, and the team enjoyed great success year after year…until the Super Bowl, that is. Oh, the Super Bowl — three times in the late 80s and early 90s Denver teams won the AFC and went to the Super Bowl, only to be destroyed in the Big Game. First it was a 39-20 loss to the Giants, then a 42-10 loss to Washington, and finally the ultimate debacle, a 55-10 demolition at the hands of Joe Montana’s 49ers (still the most lopsided score in Super Bowl history). All the joy of the triumphant season crumbled as our team was outplayed and overmatched in the Big Game. Now, to be fair, the AFC teams lost the Super Bowl an astounding 13 STRAIGHT YEARS, from 1984 through 1996! So it’s not like any other team from the AFC was winning, either. Still, we didn’t just lose — we were destroyed!

But this is the Denver Broncos, and we’ve always had a penchant for the last-minute comeback. And so, wouldn’t you know it, in 1997 the Denver Broncos became the team to finally end the NFC’s 13-year winning streak with our first Super Bowl win. And we followed it up with another win in 1998, giving Elway back-to-back championships before he rode off into the orange (and blue) sunset. Those were great teams, with some great, great players — Elway, running back Terrell Davis, tight end Shannon Sharpe, safety Steve Atwater, receivers Eddie McCaffrey and Rod Smith, and others. It was a dominant team that could have threatened to become the ONLY three-peat world champions had Elway not retired and Terrell Davis not been injured the following season.

If only the story could have ended there. But it didn’t. Nope, in 2013, Denver returned to the Super Bowl, this time with Peyton Manning at the helm, to face the Seattle Seahawks. Denver fans were excited for the game, confident that our demons had been exorcised in the late 90s and now we could just enjoy it without lapsing into fear and dread. Boy, were we wrong! We lost, 43-8! The 35-point margin of victory for the Seahawks was tied with a few other historic blowout losses for the third most in the game’s history! And now, here we are again, getting ready for our eighth trip to the Super Bowl, hoping to avoid a record sixth Super Bowl loss. Let the pacing begin!

The official team of diabetes
Sorry for the long backstory, but I needed to paint the picture. Rooting for the Broncos is no easy thing. It’s a team that delights in the highs and the lows, and seems to insist on never settling anywhere in the middle. We’re either suffering historic losses, or miraculous wins. We’re the team to suffer the worst defeat in Super Bowl history, but also the team to finally triumph after the longest winning streak for either side in 1997, winning a game the other team was favored to win by 12 POINTS! And so I say this: If diabetes had an official football team, it would be the Denver Broncos!

So in honor of that, let’s dig down and see what we can learn from the official team of diabetes.

Lesson #1: No quitting
Every single one of us has had moments where we just want to throw in the towel. We’ve all had times when our numbers were crazy, nothing was working right, our bodies weren’t responding the way they should, and we felt hopeless. Diabetes can inflict a feeling not just of irritation or despair, but hopelessness that assumes there’s no way the future can be any better. Just like that horrible feeling after the third Super Bowl blowout, when the fan base really did lose hope. There was a consensus that it would be better to just never return to the game — it was too painful, and it seemed clear that universe would simply never let us win. But the team didn’t give up. And in 1997 they did return, and overcame tremendous odds (as I mentioned above, they were 12-point underdogs going into the game!) to finally achieve that goal. Somehow they understood that hopelessness simply wasn’t an option. And it’s not an option for us, either. Sometimes diabetes kicks us while we’re down, but we can’t let it take away our commitment for the future. In all seriousness, I find myself thinking of that Denver team sometimes when I’m in a state of hopelessness, and it has been the spark that pushed me forward and brought me out of the funk.

Lesson #2: You win some, you lose some, and you’re not alone
Diabetes control is never 100% perfect. It is always a hit-and-miss proposition, and we’re always walking the tightrope. Sometimes we’re feeling sick and our numbers go tumbling. Sometimes we’re stressed out and they respond in kind. Sometimes our body is acting up for reasons we don’t even know. And when that happens, we need to work with it calmly, and keep a larger perspective — we need to understand that the nature of this thing includes a few streaks of unpredictability, and all we can really do is manage it moment-to-moment to the best of our ability. We can’t do anything more than that. Like a true team, we play our part and let the rest go. We do our best, we monitor to the best of our abilities, and beyond that we simply have to let go. And we trust our team — we trust our endocrinologist, our dietitian, our podiatrist, our wives, husbands, family, and friends. It’s our disease, but care for it is the result of multiple people taking on multiple roles. We’re the quarterback, but we’re not alone.

Lesson #3: It’s NOT black and white
Ask anyone who loves the Denver Broncos about the late 80s. We’ll tell you it was a time of extremes, great playoff wins, horrible Super Bowl losses, dramatic, come-from-behind wins in the regular season…. But the truth is that even for that group of players, most of the games were average. Most of the games followed a traditional script, and never came down to a miracle. Most of the losses were just regular losses. Most of the wins were just regular wins. But we remember the drama — we remember the highs and the lows, and we frame the whole time period with them. This is true for diabetes, as well. In the midst of a run of bad numbers, things can be very black and white. We can start to frame our overall health in terms dictated by the dramatic highs and lows of our lives. But the truth is that often the reality is more down the middle than we might think, particularly in times of stress. Our “bad-number-streaks” don’t last as long as they FEEL, our control is not “lost” when it slips a little bit.

Lesson #4: It’s all in the attitude
The Denver Broncos suffered horrible losses in those first Super Bowl trips, but they didn’t let that define them. I know, I know — this is a little cheesy. But it’s true! Year after year, they came back, regrouped, and made another run at it. Contrary to all of the evidence, all of the odds, and all of their history, they kept coming back again and again. And they didn’t give up. The year they finally won it? They entered the playoffs as a wild-card team (for those unfamiliar, the wild-card teams are the lowest seed teams in the playoffs)! They were only the second team to EVER enter the playoffs as the wild card and go on to win the Super Bowl at the time (it has happened again since then). They were 12-point underdogs, playing against the defending-champion Green Bay Packers, one of the best teams of the decade. The fan base was a nervous wreck, but the team had an attitude of pure commitment and determination unlike anything I’ve seen before or since. Every one of them, to a man, went into that game with a swagger that showed the world just how little weight they gave to previous losses. And that’s exactly how we need to face diabetes. We’re stuck with a chronic disease; we’re stuck with everything that comes with it. But our attitude is a result of how we choose to carry ourselves, not our circumstances, what happened last year, or what other people think.

So, go forth and live proud, my fellow Diabetians! History can’t hold us down, high numbers are no match for us! We’re tough! We’re ingenious! We’re resilient! It doesn’t matter what’s in our past; we own our future! And GOOOOOO BRONCOS!!

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