It's taken me a little longer than expected to get around to posting this review of Erin Spineto's new book "Islands and Insulin" -- but hey, good things take time, right? It's a different kind of diabetes book from any I've encountered so far; it's a narrative of a huge sailing adventure + the college-age experiences that shaped Erin's life, with a generous helping of diabetes on the side -- rather than the other way around.

So who is Erin? A surfer, sailor and triathlete from San Diego, CA, who's also mom to two girls and science teacher by day. She's extremely active in the diabetes-athletes group Insulindependence. I enjoyed reading about her haunts in Long Beach and Seal Beach, CA, as that's where I hail from too.Islands and Insulin Book

Erin alternates between the story of her sailing adventure and "flashbacks" of her years in high school and college with diabetes — examining the relationships that shaped her life. I found this back-and-forth tactic a bit confusing, especially in the beginning, when I felt like I somehow missed the transition from her thorough preparation for this seabound trip to the moment where she actually sets sail. But once we were off and sailing, and I got into the rhythm of taking breaks to hear stories of her earlier life, I definitely got that "don't-want-to-put-it-down" feeling!

In a bit of a stream of consciousness style, here are some of the things that hit me while reading this book:

Erin knows her stuff about sailing and surfing. I have endless admiration for people who conquer these tough, solo sports — not to mention for a young woman (with diabetes!) to have the courage to tackle a solo sailing trip through the Florida Keys. Bravo, Erin!

What frightened me about her story is that diabetes still managed to grind her down. She has moments of crying alone in her walk-in closet, unexpected trips to the hospital, and even a "melt-down period" while her kids are toddlers where her A1c tops 9%.

She says that things got hard after her first 10 years with diabetes, which frightens the hell out of me as I stand facing my own 10-year dia-versary (on May 21).

"It took years of experience with this disease to realize that it would change every aspect of my life, that it would take massive amounts of thought and energy and that there were going to be times that I did not have complete control over it no matter how much I tried," she writes.

Thankfully, even if her real-life friends in college weren't always the best supporters, Erin has "Nick" and "Betty" to rely on. Nick is the name she's given her Dexcom CGM, and Betty is "the part of my brain that does all of my diabetes calculations for me" in preparation for meals and exercise, Erin explains. "She usually does it without me even noticing. Every now and then when the calculation gets long I will sit and listen in, just to see where she is going with all the data."

Oh Good Lord, where is my Betty?! Every PWD oughta have one!

In the worst of her moments, Erin talks about feeling like every bite of food is killing her slowly. She sees food as the enemy, which is something I thankfully couldn't relate to... Hey, I love a cheeseburger just as much as the next PWD, but I always skip the fries — and the bun, too, since I'm allergic to wheat — so fewer carbs means less immediate effect on my glucose levels, of course. I never worry that my protein-heavy diet is killing me... although it could be! The point is that when Erin laments about us PWDs "marching daily towards death," I thought: aren't all humans doing that?  Look on the bright side: we PWDs don't have a monopoly on physical decline.

erin spinetoWhat I could absolutely relate to is her descriptions of the complex logistics of insulin dependence -- how so much thought and planning and schlepping is required — and how so much can go so wrong so quickly despite your best efforts.

I could also relate to her accounts of personality conflicts and friendships, i.e. how it can take a good chunk of a lifetime to find the people who really "get you." And I actually teared up over her description of how she found a home within the Insulindependence diabetes sports group in San Diego. I know cofounder Peter Nerothin quite well, and his warmth and enthusiasm are indeed contagious. Not to mention Erin's amazing partner Tony — whom I don't know but absolutely would like to after reading this book!

Finally — and this is really just a side-note in a very rich memoir — I loved Erin's description of Diet Soda Addiction in the diabetes community! I am so there... and comforted to realize how many others love their daily overdose of DDP (Diet Doctor Pepper). She explains that there isn't much else we can indulge in that won't spike our sugars or add unwanted calories. For goodness' sake, we need a little flavor in our lives, too, so instead of snacking, many of us guzzle the "free" soda -- chemicals be damned!

As I mentioned at the outset, Islands and Insulin is probably the most entertaining diabetes book I've read to date, because it literally takes you on a voyage — from dark and stormy seas to places where the warm sun shines on sparkling sand. It sure makes you think about finding your own personal best place/ best life with diabetes. It kind of "recharged my batteries," if you will. I'd like to thank Erin for that.

{Published January, 2013; available on Amazon for $14.39}


The DMBooks Giveaway

Interested in winning your own free copy of Islands and Insulin by Erin Spineto? Entering the giveaway is as easy as leaving a comment:

1. Post your comment below and include the codeword "DMBooks" somewhere in the the text to let us know that you'd like to be entered in the giveaway.

2. You have until Friday, May 17, 2013, at 5 p.m. PST to enter. A valid email address is required to win.

3. The winner will be chosen using

4. The winner will be announced on Facebook and Twitter on Monday, May 20, 2013, so make sure you're following us! We'll update this blog post with the winner's name once chosen.  

The contest is open to all. Good luck!

UPDATE: This contest is now closed. Congrats to Karen Grear, who chose as the winner!


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This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.