A Reason to Ride:
Life with Type 2 Diabetes
Five years ago Juan Santiago started feeling thirsty all the time and couldn’t stop drinking water, needing many trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night. On top of this he was suffering from fatigue — he would feel tired all day, something very unusual for him. When Juan started tasting a strange, almost medicinal taste in his mouth, he scheduled an appointment with his doctor.
He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (T2D), the most common form of diabetes. “In the beginning, it was so frustrating for me,” Juan recalls. “I felt like no matter what I ate, my blood sugar levels were always high. I had to make a lot of adjustments to my diet and overall lifestyle.”
Diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Insulin is a hormone that causes cells to take up glucose from the blood. In T2D, the body stops responding to insulin, leaving glucose in the blood instead of being absorbed by cells.
“I love rice and bread and it was so very difficult for me to substitute those,” Juan explains. But that’s exactly what he did. Whole wheat bread and brown rice became a regular part of his new low fat, whole grain diet. “I even had to learn how to cook differently, cutting out butter and heavy creams in favor of low-fat cooking spray and chicken broth.”
Over time, having too much glucose in the blood can cause eye, kidney, and nerve damage. Diabetes can also cause heart disease, stroke and even lead to amputation.
As Juan continued to educate himself on how to manage his T2D, he realized there was no way around daily exercise to keep his sugar levels in check. Working out did not come naturally to him but he started biking and joined the Tour de Cure in October of 2012. The Tour de Cure is a series of cycling events held throughout the year and in over 40 states across the US — funds raised support the efforts of the American Diabetes Association (ADA), including research and patient advocacy. In 2014, more than 60,000 people participated in at least one of the Tour de Cure’s 86 events, raising over $29 million.
“When I joined the Tour, I found a whole lot more than cycling buddies,” Juan recalls. “They assigned me to a diabetes educator, who called me every week for a month to check on my progress. I also received weekly emails from Weight Watchers for diabetes. I learned so much from the ADA.” Since 2012, Juan has participated in three Orlando Tour events alongside his friends proudly known as “Red Riders” — these are people riding in the Tour de Cure who themselves have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. They wear red jerseys in honor of the official color of the ADA.
Even after living with his diagnosis for a while, Juan learned the hard way that he needs to carefully monitor his blood sugar levels. He has had several episodes where he suddenly becomes irritable or angry . “Both times it happened after long bicycle rides, when I worked out very hard and didn’t have the right products to balance me out. I quickly checked my glucose levels and sure enough — the sugar was way too high.” He’s also had instances while riding where his sugar levels dropped too low and he felt dizzy and weak. Now Juan has found snack brands with the right amount of sugar that he can take along with him when he rides.
Juan also takes two doses of Metformin every day, the most commonly prescribed antidiabetic drug and one of the few that can be taken orally.
Nonetheless, Juan will always have to carefully monitor his blood sugar, which he does with his glucose meters. “I keep one in my bag and one in the house, just in case.”
So what does Juan want others to know about T2D? “T2D is really hard on our bodies and organs, so when we seem extra picky about how much sugar is in our meal or we are counting whole grains to the milligram, it’s because these seemingly small things can have a disastrous effect on us.” He knows that he needs to follow his routine to stay on track and is thankful for the support of friends, his family and of course … the Red Riders.
About the Author:
Jane Heisey is a content specialist who writes and develops creative content for digital agencies and corporate clients.
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