Steve McDermott, a husband and avid runner from Minnesota, was to his surprise diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his late 50s several years ago in November 2011. He stands as an example that being active is sometimes not enough to fight off diabetes. That’s why Steve, a pharmacist, worked to drastically change his diet and advocate for a healthier lifestyle after his diagnosis.
Today, we’re excited to welcome Steve here at the ‘Mine to share his story – especially how his T2D diagnosis helped bridge a gap between him and his 22-year-old nephew Tim, who was coincidentally diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a teenager, in the same year as Steve’s diagnosis. The two are bonding over diabetes and even starting a new diabetes blog together!
My nephew and I have a similar diabetes story to share.
For starters, there is more than three decades between us – Tim is my sister’s son and is 22, while I am in my late 50s. Our family grew apart over the years, and I’m proud that we have started to get along more as a direct result of our diabetes diagnoses in 2011.
It was during the same time that year that we both collapsed – Tim got ketoacidosis from newly discovered type 1 diabetes, and I nearly fainted while out on a 10k run. For me, this was a very good indication that sooner or later I should listen to my wife and get that doctor’s appointment I’d been postponing for some years.
I’ve been an avid runner all my life. I wasn’t running away from anything; rather I run toward something – in many cases, it was my freedom. A time to be with myself and take mind of things. There were some things that I could be running away from and that would serve me well to take off my mind. I don’t want to go into specifics, but it is a relatives-related thing – who doesn’t have some of those, I suppose.
That regular doctor’s appointment I thought I was having ended up changing my life with six simple words: “Your sugar is a bit high.”
The doctor said it was not uncommon at all – a lot of type 2 diabetes patients don’t realize they have a high blood glucose at my age. Well, I thought I was healthy as a horse and I too was wrong! Remembering that diagnosis, I’m still thankful that the doctor checked my glucose; had he not told me I have diabetes I would still be running 10k every other day thinking how much good I’m doing to my body but not knowing any better about the damage going on inside.
The worst thing was that from then on, I had to be mindful of and more careful about my blood glucose. I dealt with living a healthier lifestyle and popping some pills from time to time easily, but what I couldn’t quite handle was that I had to avoid prolonged physical activities that would “cause spikes or lows of my BG.”
Running, I thought to myself. That means running. For most people it’s a pretty simple solution – just stop running.
But for me running is not only the moving of legs one in front of the other. For me, running is freedom. Taking deep breaths and thinking of nothing as I move forward towards space, like a paradise lost.
I was quite devastated, and tried desperately to think of something else that I would enjoy that much. But I didn’t find anything. I was in mild depression that November and for most of December.
Our Christmas dinner was a turning point.
My wife and I hosted a dinner for some of the relatives. Troubled relationship there, remember? Anyhow, my nephew was among the guests, with his new insulin pump and silently watching us dish up the portions of potatoes and Christmas cookies. He lived with my sister’s family only few blocks away but we rarely saw each other. I knew he was diagnosed with type 1 a few months ago; it was a completely mind-tearing thought. I could barely cope with having type 2 diabetes because I couldn’t run any more. He was just silent. God knows what kind of thoughts must have been in his mind.
As the jolly old uncle I tried to be, I spoke to Tim a bit – asked him about any girlfriends, his love for playing basketball, and things I thought teenagers were into. It went badly, but eventually we started talking about the diabetes. He was shy at first but I think that knowing I have diabetes as well encouraged him to open up a bit more. Soon we realized that we saw eye to eye, despite him being type 1 and a teenager and me being type 2 and, well, almost a senior.
That was a start.
In the following months he would come to visit all by himself and we talked about diabetes sometimes. I’m especially fascinated about the diabetes meters of any kinds; glucose, ketone, pH meters, you name it. As a pharmacist and a bit of a tech-savvy uncle I was naturally interested in that. But even I couldn’t absorb what my nephew told me about the insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors. It was science fiction to me and I put it down to ‘kids these days and their modern technology.’
I have to say we had established quite a good relationship over the last few years. With our families being so separated, we are kind of the weird ones and almost have to hold secret meetings. During the summer we had a few runs together. Yes, that’s right, I’m running again, despite diabetes. When I learned how to regulate my glucose during runs to prevent spikes or lows, I started training for a marathon.
This is also why Tim and I decided to start a blog. This, and Tim went to college and suggested we should do something together. He suggested having an online blog; it sounded a terrific idea to me as well. But what are we going to write about?
Diabetes, of course.
We aren’t writing anymore, but we started out writing about the Minimed 670G, to share more about using that product. I was interested in writin about things I know best – diabetes meters and running with diabetes. I want to dig into my experiences with type 2, especially how it effects running and how it influenced my life and so on.
Professionally, I work for a big chain pharmacy, so I know a few tricks about how to get a free glucose meter from companies (even some test strips and lancets), as well as insurance practices. I gather these tips will come handy and will knock some bucks of everybody’s diabetes bill.
I have to admit that before my own diagnosis, as a pharmacist, I considered most of the diseases according to a general hierarchy of judgment — for example, I found much more sympathy for someone coming in with a Herceptin prescription (drug against breast cancer) than for someone picking up Lipitor (drug against high cholesterol) or Metformin (type 2 diabetes). With all the patients you see, you might think that someone with high cholesterol or type 2 has it easy.
Well, when I got T2D myself, it struck me what an emotional strain it is to live with diabetes! It’s one thing having cancer, where everybody is very helpful and it can eventually go into remission with surgery and drugs. With type 2, I found that just like myself pre-diagnosis, people are not as understanding; they think it’s a matter of bad lifestyle (despite genetics being a big factor). In fact it is not your fault, it will be with you for the rest of your life, and you constantly have to keep you eye on it — measuring BG, sticking to a healthy diet, etc.
Working for years on end with patients in the pharmacy, it kind of becomes routine, and you do feel a bit emotionally detached to what people are going through. For me now, patients with diabetes in my pharmacy have become much more real. Getting type 2 really struck me again that these are real people with real problems, who do look to me to help (in the pharmacy, as well as what I’m trying to do with the blog). They sometimes don’t know what the complications of diabetes are, how much it costs, and what kind of diet they should follow.
I would say that despite being surrounded by patients, I never felt as one of them — there was always a counter between us. Now I feel that we are all the same and there is no counter to separate us. I have to say it brought more joy to my work in the later years.
As for Tim and I, diabetes brought us closer together. I think this is proof that diabetes doesn’t need to be all bad. If you only knew the differences between our families, you would know that I can’t really connect with Tim. But now we have an ‘excuse’ to talk to each other more, and what is terrific about it, is that both our families are supportive of that. They see us battling diabetes together and this trumps the differences.
Tim started med school in 2016 and, as I’ve said, we stay in touch. We talk about the articles and the news about insulin prices spiking, and here and there we get some quality uncle-nephew time as well.
For instance, I know that he’s seeing this girl and he’s a bit about worried what will happen when she sees his pump — things like that. What makes it special is that he trusts me with this. Not his mom or dad – I am his confidant. I love my role especially because he is such a shy young bright mind. Eventually he’ll get his own circle of true friends, but for now I’m here backing him up 100%. Thank you for that, diabetes.
Thanks for sharing your story, Steve! Interesting to hear how your professional perspective has changed, and how you and your nephew have bonded over D.