By Rhonda E. Alexander for Sun-Times Media
If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you’re one of 26 million Americans living with this disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You’re also in the company of celebrities like Tom Hanks, Paula Deen and Sherri Sheppard, but you don’t have to be a celebrity to take control of your health.
“As we age, we [naturally begin to] lose pancreatic function,” said Thomas Lee, internist at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox.
The pancreas produces insulin that is released into the bloodstream to stabilize the blood sugar. When the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain a constant blood sugar level, type-2 diabetes is often the result.
“If you’re overweight and you eat a lot of carbs, you stress your pancreas a lot more than people who don’t,” said Jennifer Zander, endocrinologist at Palos Community Hospital in Orland Park.
With at least 10 type 2 diabetic patients on her daily schedule, Zander’s help is often enlisted to help regulate insulin levels of type-2 patients who elect to see a specialist or who might have more complex cases.
“For patients with or without diabetes, one of the hardest things to do is change your lifestyle,” Zander shared.
Changing your lifestyle often means taking control of your nutrition, which is when she enlists the assistance of Palos Community Hospital’s diabetic and nutrition counseling team.
“The Game Plan is our introductory class … it teaches you the basics of diabetes,” said Lela Iliopoulos, RD, LDN, CDE, MS at Palos Community Hospital’s nutrition counseling & diabetes program.
The team of five diabetes educators makes sure to hit all the key points to ensure patients get the fundamentals of nutrition, especially as it relates to their disease.
Craig Cavanaugh, 45, of Orland Park, took advantage of the classes offered by the program after he was diagnosed six months ago. With benign symptoms, such as thirst and frequent urination, he had no idea he was exhibiting symptoms of diabetes.
“It was warm out, I was running around … I didn’t think it was abnormal for me to be thirsty,” Cavanaugh said.
He met the challenge to change his life — proving that a diagnosis of type-2 diabetes doesn’t have to be an automatic prognosis of amputations, blindness, heart disease and other catastrophic health conditions associated with the advanced stages a type 2 diagnoses can bring forth.
“It’s amazing what patients can do [to control their diabetes] when they decide to eat right and live a different lifestyle,” said Zander.
Cavanaugh used the information he learned from the diabetes educators and decided to cut out alcohol and sugared drinks. He also started to closely monitor his carb intake.
“We try hard to empower patients with knowledge and the tools they need so they can make changes slowly and do behavior modification,” said Iliopoulos.
With a great support system in his wife of 19 years, his physician and the diabetes educators at Palos, Cavanaugh seems to have a firm grip on what it takes to make the best of his “new life.”
“[During a busy day,] I just need to take five minutes for myself [to eat],” said Cavanaugh.
Now, he makes sure to take time during the day to eat regularly — at least five small meals a day and take his medication.
Cavanaugh has shed 40 pounds and his glucose readings decreased to within a normal range of 110-125 mg/dl — down from initial readings of 400mg/dl. These are encouraging signs — type 2 diabetes is manageable with the right attitude, the right plan of attack and a good support system.
“When you’re first diagnosed, everything comes at you so fast that you’re almost overwhelmed … it’s been a big change, but it’s been a change for the good,” said Cavanaugh.
I’m only 45, I can’t just quit my life. I had to take control of it again …”
Age — 45 occupation — business owner masonry material distributor 6’2, 211-215 from 240
How long have you had type 2 diabetes?
“I was diagnosed 6 months ago.”
Were you having any symptoms prior to your diagnosis?
“I was thirsty a lot, but it didn’t feel abnormal to me.”
How have you taken charge of your health since receiving the diagnosis?
Now he not only watches what he eats, but when. Before the diagnosis, I would drink coffee from 5 a.m. until 2 in the afternoon.
Cavanaugh says by then, he’d be hungry and would grab fast food for lunch. Now, he says he eats five meals a day and he takes the time to take care of himself.
“I watch what I eat. I was a social drinker, now I don’t drink alcohol at all.” 19 years married, no more sugary drinks, Glucose >400 down 110-125, depressed when he was first diagnosed.
Any complications arise since your diagnosis?
What’s been the toughest part of taking charge of your health?
Have you made any drastic changes in your lifestyle since receiving the diagnosis?
The diabetic programs at Palos Community Hospital and Silver Cross Hospital service patients in the South and Southwest Suburbs of Chicago, such as Joliet, Chicago Heights, Orland Park, New Lenox and Will County.
He also took one of the most important steps in taking charge of his disease — putting his health before the other things in life that seem so much more important — until you’ve run out of options.
Go back to writing samples overview