Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"I don't need to test my sugar, I can feel what it is"

This picture was taken of me and Dad in our kitchen, right around the time I was diagnosed with diabetes. Back in 1981 there were no blood testers for diabetics. If I had to pick the best new development I've seen in diabetes care it might have to be the blood testing device.

So what did you do before you could test your sugar with a finger stick? You peed in a dixie cup, twice a day, and then dunked a piece of testing tape into it, measuring the color green it turned on a chart. You were hoping for yellow, yellow was good, if there was green then you had to get out the dropper and also test against a large white pill (to test for ketones). When I was this age until I was in high school this is what I had to do, twice a day. This process actually measured sugar that was in your urine, that had already gone through the kidneys. Meaning, when the tape turned green, my sugar had already been high for a few hours. This was also before fast acting insulin, and sliding scales, so there wasn't much you could do to effectively treat high levels yourself, you just knew why you didn't feel so good. LOL. Needless to say by the time I was in junior high I had pretty much stopped testing. I thought I could "feel" what my sugar levels were, and I didn't need to test.

This attitude stayed with me till I graduated college. By then meters were widely available, and I had one, but I still didn't test very often, and my sugar levels at the doctor proved that I really couldn't "feel" what my levels were very effectively. When I got out of college I got a new doctor and she kicked my butt. She changed my insulin, she yelled, she changed my number of injections, and she yelled more. :0) But she scared me enough to get me to test my sugar. And the more I tested the more I saw I couldn't really feel what my sugar levels were. And now, after having the disease for 30 years I have even less feeling for what my levels are. Sure I can feel when they are 50 and I can feel when they are 450, which happens more then I'd like to admit, but the difference between 105 and 150? I can't feel that, and I seriously doubt anyone can. So I test.

These days I test about 4 times a day, sometimes more. I have a tester in my kitchen, in my purse, and in my car. I'm thinking of getting another one for my bedroom. All of them are the same meter - One Touch Ultra. Which is, by far, the best meter I have found on the market. It gives readings in 5 seconds, and it's small. I can carry it in my pocket on a run, I can carry it in a backpack hiking, and I can use it anywhere - even afloat in my kayak. It will freeze (in my pocket in New Hampshire at -3 degrees this past winter it actually froze and wouldn't work) but other then that it's very dependable and easy to use.

Of course testing isn't fun. It does make your fingers sore (always prick the sides of your fingers to help with this) and sometimes it's just a hassle, but don't kid yourself, by not testing you are hurting yourself. Both low and high blood sugars are dangerous and can effect your heart. Is it really worth the risk for 5 seconds of your life?

Testing my blood sugar has by far been the best improvement in my diabetes care in my lifetime. I can now keep my levels closer to optimal levels, which has been proven to greatly reduce side effects. If you are of the mindset that you can "feel" what your sugar levels are, I strongly urge you to test anyway, and test often.

It's 5 seconds of your life, it's worth it!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

It's ok to not finish it....

I got an email from my Mom this week that said:

"I made an apple cake today because the picture on the recipe looked so wonderful, but it wasn't that great. I thought of you and thought Jenny would tell me it's not worth it, so I threw it away. Thank you!!!!!"

This was one of the hardest things for me to learn, how to not finish my plate. I was raised to clean my plate, in fact we would always be pushed to finish all the food in the serving dishes "so the sun will shine tomorrow!", one of my Mom's favorite sayings. It wasn't until recently that I figured out you don't have to eat things you don't want, this includes foods that aren't as good tasting as they look, as well as things that just aren't your favorites. And you don't have to eat it all. You don't even have to take the rest home. You can skip things you don't like, and you CAN waste food.

I can go out to eat now and not eat something if it's not that great. I can leave the fries on my plate and skip the chips altogether. I can not eat the bread or the appetizer. I can order something I do enjoy and then only eat some of it. And then pay for it and leave. I don't take doggie bags, and I don't freeze a bunch of unhealthy left overs for later. I keep most unhealthy foods out of my house. This philosophy has helped me become a healthier person.

Everyone has a favorite food. Brad's is potato chips and jelly belly's. He also loves bread. My favorites are peanut butter and icing. I can take a pass on most restaurant foods. I don't crave pizza or pasta. I could care a less about burgers and fries. So what I have found to work for me is to eat healthy most of the time, and then splurge occasionally on what I really love. This means for my birthday I didn't go out to dinner. Instead Brad bought me my favorite Price Club white cake with white icing with the giant icing roses, and that was my breakfast lunch and dinner on my birthday. And it was perfect. I ate giant pieces and then we threw the rest away at the end of the day. Every year at Christmas I look forward to my stocking stuffer - one jar of peanut butter. I immediately take out the long iced tea spoon and open the jar. I eat it directly from the jar, and I eat the whole jar typically in one or two days. :0)

It would be better for me if I could learn how to not eat a whole jar of peanut butter or a giant piece of cake. And one day I will. But for now, what has worked for me is to stand my ground on not eating a bunch of unhealthy food that I really don't like. It's still hard for me to buy a cupcake and throw it away if it's no good. But I'm getting better. Each day I figure new things out that work for me, and slowly one day at a time I am finding my way to healthy happiness. Until then I look forward to giant pieces of cake and jars of peanut butter a few times a year, and that keeps me on track eating good and working out most days of the week.

Now, if I could only figure out how to make peanut butter icing........

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Add to your chemo toolbelt: Quinine Water

So everyone knows you loose your hair with chemo. Most people think you throw up a lot, although the drugs they have these days make this not true (I never threw up). One of the bigger side effects that isn't heard a lot, but that is very common is bloating. Serious 5-10 pound bloating.
Dad had a lot of problems with bloating. When I would talk to him he would talk about his ankles and feet being so big he couldn't get shoes on. When I was on chemo this side effect hit me hard. It is literally like you gain 7-10 pounds in 2 days. It hurts your skin. Your skin feels extremely tight and it's hard to bend your joints. It's extremely uncomfortable physically as well as mentally. I hated going out when I was this bloated because I assumed everyone saw the 10 pound gain exactly like I did and assumed I had pigged out on a bunch of food and gained weight. It hurt to move. It felt like my skin would split. The only thing I found that helped, was the only thing Dad also found that helped: quinine water.
Quinine water, if you've never had it, tastes like crap. But if you can manage to gulp down 8-10 oz per day during chemo it will dramatically reduce the amount of bloating you will have to endure. Once I started drinking the quinine water my bloating went down to only being in my lower legs and ankles - which still hurt to walk, but overall was easier to deal with.
Bloating is a serious side effect that most people don't pay attention to. At the end of Dad's struggle his legs got to be so bloated the skin split open. This image is still ingrained in my memory, and it's why I write this blog today. I don't have proof that it will help everyone with every type of bloating, but if you have this issue, try the quinine water.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Breathe Deep

When I was a kid my parents would take us to see the Flying Circus in Bealton, Virginia each year. We'd go Saturday and my Dad would compete in the Model Airplane events and then we'd camp and stay till the show on Sunday. The show ignited my love of flying. It's a show of older bi-planes and a Piper Cub, doing stunts, rolls, fly by's - and the best part - with a guy strapped to the top wing. When I was a kid my goal was to become that man. :0) After the show they gave rides in the planes, and every year I heard "Maybe next year kiddo". So when I graduated high school Dad took me aside and told me his present to me was to take me on that ride at the Flying Circus.
And then life happened. I went to college, I got married, working...life. And I never went. Every few years Dad would bring it up, and I would say "OH yes! I need to do that!" One afternoon a few months before he died Dad and I had a talk about breathing. And how people forget to breathe when they get scared. And he told me this is why alot of people get sick on airplanes and roller coasters, because "they just don't breathe". It's something I had never really thought about, but for some reason it stuck in my head.
A few months later I woke up to a bright warm beautiful Sunday. My house was 30 miles from Bealton. And right then I decided that day was going to be the day. I made Brad go with me to take pictures. We drove out, and I signed up for the aeronautical flight.
What happened next was one of the best experiences of my life. We flew in an open cockpit biplane - which was a thrill in itself. But we did rolls, spins, fly by's upside down loops to the point I didn't know which way was up or down. I was disoriented, confused, and scared. And then Dad's voice came in my head "they just don't breathe" and so I did. I took long deep breaths and I stared at the instrument panel in front of me. In a few minutes I felt fine and went on to land and complete a wonderful experience. As soon as I got out of the plane I called Dad and told him, he was so excited to hear I had done it.
A half a year later when I started my journey with cancer Dad's lesson became even more important to me. I've had just about every test there is. Some hurt, some don't, but the ones that get me are the ones that hurt while you are confined inside a machine. This is where I would hear Dad's voice again telling me to breathe. And each time it worked, and it got me thru. And now I use it every day. When I exercise and I am pushing myself up the hill in a long run, when I am upset and stuck in traffic, when I am scared or anxious, when I am stressed....I stop and just breathe.
Life is hard sometimes, scary sometimes......but you can make it thru.....just breathe.....

Thursday, April 15, 2010

True or False: Running effects both the physical and emotional state of the body....

This month I have started tutoring high school freshman at my local school. Typically I am helping with physic's and math, but this past week a young girl asked me to help her with some health class homework. Her class was studying exercise and it's effect on the body. When we got to the above question I asked her what she thought, and without hesitation she said "False!" and moved on to the next question. And I just had to stop her and disagree, she was so surprised to hear how exercise can release stress, motivate you, clear your mind, and make you happier and more positive.
When I started chemo I had been running about 2 times a week for approximately 3 miles. And to be honest I hated it. It was hard, and boring. But this all changed with chemo. Chemo leaves you in a state of tired that no amount of sleep brings you out of. You are walking around like the living dead. Along with that for the 3 days around your treatment you are completely hopped up on steroids that you cannot sit still, let alone rest. So, to cope, I started running. Running quickly became my vise. When I got outside, I could feel the blood pumping thru my veins. In my head I could feel the chemo moving thru my blood, killing the cancer. When I sweat, I smelled of chemo. All of this made me angry, and so I ran thru the anger. The anger pushed me farther, and faster. I was angry that I had cancer. I was angry that I had lost my Dad. I was angry that my Mom had cancer. I was angry at the people who kept telling me I looked great with no hair. I was angry at the people who tried to help me, and angry at the people who didn't seem to be helping. Yet if you were close to me during this time you probably never saw me very angry. Running fixed it. Running made it better. Running made me feel alive. I was so Happy to see a sunrise, hear a bird sing, see a flower bloom. Happy to have the chance to live another day, to fight another fight, and happy to be alive. Sadly, the answer to her question was False. But she left that day with a new perspective on how running can effect your emotional well being. Anyone who runs already knows this. Running still makes it better. Two years later I am still running, and I still run to see the beautiful sunrise to make me feel grateful to live another day, happy to be alive.

I run because I can. I am still alive.

These pictures were taken in December 2007, during chemo for a Reindeer Run I did with Brad.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The ticker is ticking....differently

So quick update on the drug trial. Yesterday I had my next set of EKG and Echocardiogram. The Echo was fine, but apparently my EKG came back with new developments. From what I understand the EKG measures the electronic pulses that the heart sends out, and mine has changed some so that the end of the heart beat has a different little kick in it. So this means another EKG to make sure it wasn't the machine, or me scratching my leg during the testing. :0) In general they think everything is fine.
Today at the appointment they took more blood to measure my liver function (a known side effect of the drug) as well as gave me a full physical. So far I haven't seen any side effects.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wear a hat, put sunscreen on, protect your skin!

This weekend would have been Dad's birthday. And as the day's warm up and I see so many people outside, I think it's a good time for a friendly reminder that melanoma cancer is real, you are at risk for it, and it can kill you.
Dad grew up in an age before there was sunscreen. He loved to be outdoors, whether in a convertible, flying a model airplane, fishing, golfing, or just working on one of his projects - he was an outdoors kind of man. His first battle with melanoma was in 1996 when it was discovered on his ear. He had most of his ear taken off in surgery and underwent radiation therapy. The cancer then seemed to disappear for 9 years, but then returned as metastatic melanoma in his liver. This cancer took his life only a few years after it was discovered. I still miss him every day, especially this week.
Although I cannot bring my Dad back, I can help spread the word about melanoma cancer, and how you can try to avoid it. These tips are from the American Cancer Society:
1. Avoid exposure to the midday sun (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) whenever possible. When your shadow is shorter than you are, remember to protect yourself from the sun.
2.If you must be outside, wear long sleeves, long pants, and a hat with a wide brim.
3. Protect yourself from UV radiation that can penetrate light clothing, windshields, and windows.
4. Help protect your skin by using a lotion, cream, or gel that contains sunscreen. The higher the SPF, the more sunburn protection is provided.
5. Wear sunglasses. Sunglasses can protect both the eyes and the skin around the eyes.

Remember to check your skin monthly for moles or changes in your skin. Do not delay seeing a doctor. Check yourself and check your loved ones.
It could save a life!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My sugar is low I need a snickers!

I used to work with a lady, who did not have diabetes, that would yell out a few times a month that her sugar was super low and she HAD to have a snickers bar. LOL. When your sugar is low, your body tells you to eat. And eat. And eat. It's a defense mechanism, and before blood testing home kits probably saved many lives. But now we know differently.
There are two hard and fast rules. It takes 15 grams of glucose and 15 mins to treat hypoglycemia. That's it. Fast acting glucose in the form of tablets or gels works best and fastest. Anything containing fat (snickers bar) can take up to an hour to digest, and simply does not work as well. Sorry, but true.
Here is my tip for treating low blood sugar.

Sit down. Chew 15 grams of glucose tablets. Set a timer for 15 mins. Sit still.

After 15 mins, if you can, test your blood sugar level, if it's still below 60, repeat the above.
If it's several hours before your next meal, or if you are exercising it's a good idea to have a small snack containing carbs and protein. Just don't overdue.
Glucose tablets are available at most grocery stores and pharmacies. Watermelon flavor is the best. :0) Keep them with you at all times. If you decided to take a different form of glucose with you, remember not to take anything that can freeze or melt.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Jenny what's 7 plus 12?"

Low blood sugar is something that plagues everyone with diabetes. And as your sugar is under better control, you experience lows more often.
My first memory of a low was third grade, we were taking SLA tests and we were delayed going to lunch. I was sweaty and felt really hungry and like it was hard to concentrate. My teacher, nervous, sent over my friend Melissa to ask me what was wrong. When I told her I didn't know I just didn't feel good the entire class was immediately dismissed to lunch.
In middle school my soccer coach promised a slurpee to anyone that could break open the ball by kicking it hard, I knew I wasn't allowed a slurpee so I decided then and there I wouldn't tell him I was a diabetic, so if I was ever able to kick the ball hard enough I could get a slurpee too like all the "normal" kids.
In high school my principal also had type 1 diabetes. So for every fire drill he made me sit with the school nurse who had extra food in case I had a low.
These are just a few of the stories I remember as a kid. Imagine sleep overs and birthday parties with no cake. No gatoraide at soccer games. All of this made me just want to be like the other kids, and so I stopped telling people I had diabetes thinking this would make me "normal" too.
When I went to college I ended up rooming with that same friend Melissa from third grade. She already knew, so there was no hiding my diabetes from her. And in the 4 years where my parents were not living with me, she kept me in line, and kept an eye on me. She even enforced a group healthy dinner each night. During college this was unheard of. :0) We are still picked on about this, but in many ways this little thing probably has kept many diabetic side effects missing from my life.
After college I moved to the city, got a new doctor who change up everything and was very strict. Under her care I got my diabetes under serious control, my numbers were dropping! But along with that came more lows. Still not talking about my diabetes, this lead to many issues with lunchtime meetings running over, low blood sugar at work, and even with friends.
I was 25 years old the first time it got so low I passed out. I was at a dinner theater and they had to call 911. Here's the thing, when my sugar is low I can still function. And once it gets below about 45 I can function but I can no longer realize it's low to tell you I need help. I remember waiting for our table to be called to go up to the buffet. I remember knowing my sugar was low but not saying anything to anyone because I didn't want to upset anyone or upset the outing. So how did they know? I came back from the buffet with a dinner plate full of mustard. I don't remember anything at this point, but they tell me I was still able to talk and walk around.

So I started reading up on it, and I started studying it more, and this is where math came in. From what I understand at dangerously low blood sugar levels I can still function at anything I do typically. Walk, talk, smile, hold a plate, etc. What I cannot do is something that takes more brain function, like math. So now when I am acting different my friends all know to ask me a math question. If I can't answer it correctly then they make me eat some glucose tablets. So simple, yet also very effective.
Not telling people your sugar is low, or that you have diabetes is dangerous to both yourself and others. I have learned the hard way to speak up, speak out, and keep myself safe. You have to ask for help. Asking to eat first at a dinner theater is not as embarassing as being hooked up to an IV passed out in the middle of a dinner theater......