Getting to Know You: S. Epatha Merkerson

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We all know there are lots of other people out there with diabetes, but who are those people? How do they deal with their diabetes? What challenges have they faced, and how? Diabetes Self-Management talks with one of the millions of Americans with diabetes to uncover both the common threads of living with diabetes and also what sets S. Epatha Merkerson apart.

Theatre, film, and television actor S. Epatha Merkerson is best known for her long-standing role as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on “Law & Order.” Merkerson is now inspiring others with her work as the spokesperson for America’s Diabetes Challenge: Get to Your Goals, an educational program from Merck that encourages people with Type 2 diabetes to know their numbers and work with their doctors to set and attain their own personal A1C goals.

DSM: What were your first thoughts when you were diagnosed?

SEM: I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes eleven years ago. I had my blood sugar tested at a health fair event, and I was advised to see my doctor. It was a real wake-up call for me. Despite having a family history, I was completely unaware I had diabetes. However, after my diagnosis, I got serious about my health and worked with my doctor to learn my A1C and set an A1C goal that was right for me, so I could get my blood sugar under control.

DSM: What helped you take charge of your diabetes?

SEM: Type 2 diabetes runs in my family, so I know firsthand how it changes your life. One of my brothers also has the condition, and my father and grandmother died from complications of diabetes. I’ve seen the consequences of not knowing your A1C number and not making a commitment to get to your A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol goals. Many people don’t realize that when your blood sugar isn’t under control, it can lead to serious complications such as blindness, amputation, heart disease, and stroke. That’s why I decided to be proactive and work closely with my doctor to create a diabetes management plan, including diet, exercise, and medication, that could help me reach my blood sugar goals.

DSM: How do you deal with the down days?

SEM: I remind myself that diabetes is a manageable disease and try not to get discouraged if I’m not always meeting my goals, because achieving blood sugar control can be challenging. I try to stay proactive in my treatment and keep in mind that diabetes is a progressive disease and that sometimes changes are necessary. Over the years, my doctor has had to change my treatment plan to help me reach my goals. I tell people that your doctor may have to do that too, and that’s OK — don’t be discouraged, and know that you are not alone.

DSM: What do you hope your project with Merck will accomplish?

SEM: I’m excited to be teaming up with Merck on the America’s Diabetes Challenge program to help other people with the condition learn about proper blood sugar management. I hope that the program’s mission and my personal story will inspire them to achieve their own blood sugar goals. The American Diabetes Association recommends that many people with diabetes have an A1C of 7% or lower to help reduce the risk of serious health problems. A higher or lower A1C may be more appropriate for certain individuals, but nearly half of people with diabetes currently have an A1C greater than 7%. By urging patients to join me in pledging to learn their A1C and work with their doctor to set an A1C goal that is right for them, I hope we can change this statistic. People can visit or join our Facebook community — — to take the pledge and accept the challenge!

SEM: If there’s a single key to managing your diabetes, what is it?

DSM: What I’ve learned is that A1C is a very important number that allows your doctor to see how well you are managing your diabetes. I think the most important thing to do is work with your doctor to set your A1C goal and create a treatment plan that is right for you to help you get to your blood sugar goals. Everyone is different, so your goal and treatment plan may be different from mine or the next person’s, and it may need to be adjusted over time, and that is OK.

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