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Mastering Insulin, Making Real Change

One woman’s story of finding the courage to use insulin

When Ann Gann was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1992, she was confident her diet and exercise program and oral medications were adequately managing her condition. “For the next 10 years, life was great,” says Ann, who is now 61 and a retired high school teacher from Clinton, TN. “My doctor patted me on the back and said I was doing well.” By 2004, however, Ann’s blood sugar levels began to creep up.

“For the first time in my life, I saw a number well over 200 on my meter,” says Ann. Additionally, her A1c test was above 7%. Oral medications weren’t helping. “On the day my blood sugar hit 391, I said we have to do something,” recalls Ann. It was time to start insulin treatment, her doctor said.

Getting over the fear

While Ann knew it was the right decision, she was still fearful. “My heart was beating so fast because, like everybody else, I thought taking insulin means you have failed, you didn’t do a good job of managing diabetes, and it meant you were near the end.” Plus, she was nervous about giving herself injections.

But she soon learned that being on insulin was exactly what she needed to jump-start her health. Ann started taking one injection a day of long-acting insulin. To her surprise, giving herself injections was easy. “I had grown up thinking only nurses or doctors could give you shots,” she says. “But a lab technician who had diabetes talked it over with me. Eventually, I moved beyond the hurdle of ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I can do this.’ ”

Making changes

A week after starting the insulin, Ann received the ultimate reward: Her blood sugar levels had dropped to close to normal. This led her to make other important changes. “Once I got beyond the fear, I became more focused on my diabetes care,” says Ann, who began checking her blood sugar levels more frequently. Having accurate blood sugar numbers in turn made her more aware of the foods she ate and motivated her to exercise regularly.

As type 2 diabetes progresses over time, the pancreas produces less insulin even when you are doing everything right to control your blood sugar levels. “Many people with type 2 diabetes will probably need some form of insulin replacement after eight to 10 years,” says Luigi Meneghini, MD, MBA, director of the Eleanor and Joseph Kosow Diabetes Treatment Center at the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami.

Looking back, Ann realizes she could have benefited even more by starting insulin three to five years earlier. “I now know that if you start insulin earlier there is good chance some of your beta cells [beta cells make insulin] can be preserved, which means you will take less insulin. Also, I would have been a better manager of my health.”

A team effort

Ann has built a strong partnership with her endocrinologist over the years. “I have an agenda that I hand to my doctor at every appointment that has all the questions I want to ask. I bring copies of my blood work and anything pertinent, such as my blood sugar and food logs,” she says.

Today, Ann’s blood sugar levels are better controlled and her A1c is near the normal range. “I don’t want to say that it is not a big deal, but to my relief, taking insulin has turned out to be a blessing.”

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