When Dan was diagnosed three years ago with type 2 diabetes, he didn’t need to be educated much about the disease. He was already something of an expert, since both parents and a sister also had type 2. More important, he’d long had an ideal role model of how to live with diabetes—his wife, Sharlyn, who has had type 1 since she was 18 years old. “Following Sharlyn’s excellent lead makes it easier for me to follow my doctor’s suggestions,” says Dan.
While others might have felt as if lightning had struck twice, Dan and Sharlyn, who are both 51, have chosen to look at their dual diagnosis as a blessing of sorts—one that has made their relationship stronger. “We’re using a team approach now to ensure we’re taking good care of each other,” says Dan.
Although they each take a different approach to diabetes management—Sharlyn uses an insulin pump and tracks her blood glucose several times daily with finger sticks, while Dan takes rosiglitazone—both keep a close eye on what they eat. “We eat ‘normal’ main dishes, casseroles, vegetables… anything that doesn’t have a high concentration of sugar or fat,” says Sharlyn. “We don’t fry foods.” And because Sharlyn needs to eat a consistent amount of calories each day to match her insulin, she avoids eating too much of anything. “We don’t keep temptation foods like chocolate or French fries in the house,” she explains. “That way, if we get the urge, we’ll have to get in the car to get them.” They’ve also made a commitment to regular exercise. Sharlyn walks in the mornings, and Dan at his lunch hour—then, after dinner, they take a walk together.
Having diabetes in their lives has had an impact on their two sons, now in their twenties. “I’ve had a few incidents when I’ve had to rely on others—usually Dan or the boys—to take care of me,” Sharlyn recalls. “One Christmas Eve, they had to carry me downstairs in my pajamas and load me in the back of Dan’s car to drive me to the hospital, because my blood sugar was too low to wake me up.”
On the other hand, their kids have grown up with good eating and exercise habits that they might not have acquired had their household not been affected by diabetes. “Our boys will hopefully be able to take good care of themselves, so they can possibly avoid being diagnosed themselves,” says Dan.
Looking back at her 30-plus years of living with diabetes, Sharlyn is philosophical. “No matter what advances in treatment have been made, some days are good, and some days aren’t as good…. I have to pay attention to my treatment 24 hours a day. Sometimes I just want a vacation.” She adds, “As strange as it may sound, I consider myself fortunate to have diabetes. It has forced me to eat well, exercise, and take responsibility for my health. I’ve learned that I’m a fighter. I’ve also learned that my family—especially Dan—will be right beside me every step of the way.”