The Diabetic Lemon

Ann Bartlett Health Guide
  • There’s an old saying “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”  For me, that speaks about attitude.  How you chose to see diabetes is up to you!  For the many people around us it’s a scary thing, and for those of us who have to live with it, we want to feel normal.


    I loved Kim Emmons Benjet’s post on Adam Morrison! Her son’s enthusiasm about a “stud” basketball player, who openly talked about his diabetes, hit a cord with me.  In my youth, and town, it was Bobby Clark of the Philadelphia Flyers that everyone adored, admired and respected and part of that came from his openness about having diabetes.  He wasn’t just a great hockey player, he also shared with us his vulnerability and made the statement “this is just part of who I am”.

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    Being vocal about diabetes has not been something I was compelled to do.  I have had no problem telling people I have diabetes, but I never volunteered to educate or share much about it with anyone.  There are celebrities who have diabetes and have given a wonderful service of promoting the issue, like Mary Tyler Moore and Adam Morrison.  And there are some who do not want to be defined by their diabetes.  I easily relate to both sides of the issue. 


    What made me suddenly find my voice?  Two things:


    • A recent nationwide survey found that 80 percent of Americans do not know the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.  Of those surveyed, 70 percent believe type 1 has a cure.  The majority of respondents mentioned proper diet (25%), weight loss (18%), exercise (22%), insulin (16%), or other medication (12%)- as ways to cure type 1 diabetes.


    • For years I had skated on the ease with which I needed to care for myself.  My numbers have been pretty easy to manage and my life has been independent, doing what I wanted.  I suddenly found my voice on the subject after being misdiagnosed for diabetes complications.  After that experience, I wanted comrades I could talk with and get perspective when I felt confused or misunderstood by the healthcare system. 


    In looking for companions, I became a voice to parents because I was originally one of the kids.  To the diabetes professionals, I had a history that many people find interesting and enlightening.   For example, my father brought the first meter over to this country from England, smuggling it in under his jacket, in order to help a kid at Children’s in Philadelphia find better control.  And my father was a founding board member of JDF.  I suddenly started to understand that people needed to hear it from us, and every person’s diabetic story is different.


    Communicating with friends and family allows you to express what it is to be diabetic.  The recent survey speaks clearly about the fact that we need to be more vocal and also task minded about the cause.  Whether type 1 or type 2, we all want a cure and if we don’t speak clearly about what it means to have diabetes and to be waiting for a cure, we have no one to blame but ourselves for lack of a cure!

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    In no way does diabetes define who I am!  But for some parents, spouses and friends, who I am and how I got here is an important peace of mind for them.   Good, caring people can be such misguided missiles of aggravation for me!  That’s when I share an anecdote!  I’ll share my stories about living with diabetes, which offers education for them and tolerance for me.  When you add humor with real facts, people can relax, laugh and ask questions and somehow it lightens the room, while bringing focus to the cause for a cure!


    For example, during the holidays I often have friends react with “How do you deal with desserts?  I couldn’t live without dessert!”  Truth?  I’ve lived with diabetes so long dessert pies just don’t interest me.  My husband and I laugh when he reaches for the ice cream and I reach for a plain nonfat yogurt and fresh fruit. I prefer tart flavors to sweet. He can’t get it, and neither do I… pie, Yuk!  While growing up, my mom made sure that adults around me were well informed about food, but suggested strongly that they not worry as I knew how to take care of myself.  I never really needed specific food choices, as my picks were often exactly what I needed and wanted.  I loved peanuts and fresh fruit.  I didn’t care for cakes and many desserts, and a couple of cookies were about all I could handle and normally that was not such a big deal with my active pace.


    For some of you who may be parents reading this, I’ve got a great anecdote to share!  Learn to eat lemons!!  When I was little, my mom would make a big deal out of eating citrus fruit.  In particular, lemon wedges sitting in a glass of water.  When table conversation wasn’t something I could participate in, mom would grab the lemon wedge and eat the entire thing, skin and all! She would tell me how great it was, “Come on try it, you don’t know what you’re missing!”  Eventually, I learned to eat lemons with the skin, oranges too!  When dessert would come to the table I passed up sweet for my savory piece of citrus!


    For years, I told people my flavor for tart things came from my mom who loved tart and tangy over sweet.  And over the years the “lemon trick” has come in handy!  Want to change the conversation at the table and not offend anyone, eat the lemon! 


    This year, mom was here for the holidays and I pulled out my Meyer's lemon, cut it and offered her a piece…. Mom looked at me like I had a screw loose!  She had forgotten all about the lemons and suddenly I realized she had done that for me! What a shock for both of us!  But my love for Meyer’s lemons remains undiminished!


    So when someone asks you about diabetes, realize you have choices, it doesn’t define who you are and you are providing a necessary education; remember 70 percent think we have a cure… and I’ve never been good at waiting.  How about you?




Published On: April 06, 2007