by Jeff Bishop
Editor’s Note: Jeff Bishop is an ACB board member, 2nd vice president of ACB Diabetics in Action and chair of the Information Access Committee.
Each of us has a different journey in our story of diabetes, whether we have type 1, type 2 or those that may be pre-diabetic. I wanted to share my story in the hope that it may help others. This story is about my experience and my opinions, and should not be considered professional medical advice. I strongly encourage you to work with your medical team to determine the tools that are best for your circumstances.
Beginning My 20 Years with Diabetes
I always knew in the back of my mind that diabetes was in my future due to the significant family history of the disease. In the summer of 2002, I was preparing to head to the Seeing Eye for my next guide dog. As usual, medical forms and a complete physical were required before going to the school. The doctor was slightly concerned about elevated blood sugar numbers, but they were not high enough to warrant any corrective action at that time. In addition, I had just had blood work done for a life insurance policy, and nothing came back about any medical issues.
I returned home with my new Seeing Eye dog Jacinda, and all was well, until I woke up one night with all of the classic symptoms of diabetes: the horrible thirst, constant needing to use the restroom, and people had also made comments about my appearance while I was working. A quick trip to the doctor found that I had type 2 diabetes. My initial A1C was 10.6; a normal A1C is approximately 5.6 or below to be out of the pre-diabetic range. (Your lab ranges may be slightly different, so it is best to check with your healthcare provider.)
I saw several doctors, including a nephrologist. I received the biggest scare of my life. I was told that if I did not take care of this situation, I would most likely be on dialysis by the age of 50 and probably gone before reaching the age of 60. It was a scary time in my life, and I knew that I had to do something.
Managing My Disease
For 16 years I lived with diabetes by utilizing oral medication, insulin, exercise and just trying to manage the disease. While I kept my A1C at very acceptable levels, my weight was continuing to plague me, and it showed up in my kidney tests and other blood work. I attempted supervised diet plans, and while they took off 20 to 30 pounds, they weren’t taking off enough to impact the progression of my diabetes. My endocrinologist offered me advice along the way, and suggested that I look at surgical approaches to manage my diabetes. I was never the type to jump to surgical solutions quickly, so I tried lots of exercise and other alternatives before seriously considering other options.
Making a Lifestyle Change
At the age of 50 I knew that I was 10 years away from potentially very serious complications if I did not make some drastic changes in my life. For this reason, I began to study all the alternatives in earnest. I chose to receive a gastric bypass in November of 2019, the day before Thanksgiving. Now, after three years, I am off all diabetes medications. I have lost well over 140 pounds, and my A1C has been less than 5.5 for the past three years. My blood work and kidney function have dramatically improved, and I have added significant years to my life. Now, is this option the right one for everyone?
Researching What Is Right for You
Each of us lives with diabetes, and we all have a different journey to take in our lives. I would strongly encourage all of you to consult with your medical team to determine what is the right path for you. I chose a gastric bypass for the following reasons:
- I wanted to achieve significant weight loss.
- I wanted to have a better chance at putting my diabetes in remission.
- I wanted to significantly reduce my chances of heart attacks, strokes, and heart and kidney failure.
According to medical doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, these procedures can have the following outcomes:
- A majority of patients lose 50 to 80% of their excess weight during the 18 to 24 months after surgery.
- Effects on blood sugar are immediate (within days) after surgery. People who have this surgery can reduce or eliminate diabetes medications.
- Roux-en-Y surgery is effective at diabetes control. About 33% of these patients do not need diabetes drugs after surgery. Within two years of surgery, a total of 85% of patients do not require medication. Their diabetes is in remission.
There are, of course, risks in any surgical procedures. This is where having a supportive medical team is critical when making life-changing decisions about your health.
My diabetes has been in remission for almost three years at the time of publishing, and I have lost almost all the weight needed to get to my goal. The last five pounds have been difficult to get off! Is this option right for you? Only you can answer that for yourself. I can only tell you that whatever tools you choose to use to treat your diabetes, make sure to use them and follow the guidance given to you by your medical team. Diabetes is a complex disease, and every situation is unique. I know that I will live much longer due to the choices that I have made for my life.
My best advice to you after describing my journey is to simply “Get up and get moving!” This is the number one thing that you can do to improve your health. No amount of surgery, medication or other treatment options are going to work unless you do what you can to get your body moving! So far this year I have walked over 800 miles, and I don’t even know how many miles I have ridden on my bike or run on my treadmill. I wouldn’t be achieving the outcomes I am unless I utilized all the tools to allow for my success. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice; it takes all of us to achieve great things.
Please join us in the ACB Diabetics in Action affiliate. We are a very supportive group and can help you along your way in improving your health. Let’s all get moving even more, drop those A1C numbers and improve our lives so we can truly continue to make a difference in the world in which we live!