How Diabetes Saved My Life
Copyright RS MacLeod 2010
Published at Smashwords
Before I begin this book let me first say that it is not meant to be some great intellectual work or
a philosophical treatise that expands the boundaries of human thought. There aren't any deep hidden
meanings or messages that cannot be learned from the thousands of other works on this same subject.
This book is simply meant to give people an idea of the things that I have learned and the adventures I
have had while learning about, coming to terms with and living with an illness that affects millions of
people around the world.
From the first day I learned that I had Diabetes, I have struggled with fear and anger. The
lessons I have learned are far to numerous to list in such a short work. I hope by taking the time to stop
and write down the highlights and low lights of my journey so far, I might be able to help someone else
who is going through the same things I went through just a few years ago. If not, it should at least be a
decent read with some funny parts to it.
Some Basic Information
Okay now I am pretty certain that almost everyone out there has at least a basic understanding
of what Diabetes is and some of the effects it has on the human body, but just in case we will do a
quick refresher course.
Diabetes mellitus, often simply referred to as diabetes, is a group of metabolic diseases in which
a person has high blood sugar, either because the body does not produce enough insulin, or because
cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. This high blood sugar produces the classical
symptoms of polyuria (frequent urination), polydipsia (increased thirst) and polyphagia (increased
There are three main types of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes: results from the body's failure to produce insulin, and presently requires the
person to inject insulin. (Also referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, IDDM for short, and
Type 2 diabetes: results from insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to use insulin
properly, sometimes combined with an absolute insulin deficiency. (Formerly referred to as non-
insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, NIDDM for short, and adult-onset diabetes.)
Gestational diabetes: is when pregnant women, who have never had diabetes before, have a high
blood glucose level during pregnancy. It may precede development of type 2 DM.
All forms of diabetes have been treatable since insulin became available in 1921, and type 2
diabetes may be controlled with medications. Both type 1 and 2 are chronic conditions that usually
cannot be cured. Pancreas transplants have been tried with limited success in type 1 DM; gastric bypass
surgery has been successful in many with morbid obesity and type 2 DM. Gestational diabetes usually
resolves after delivery. Diabetes without proper treatments can cause many complications. Acute
complications include hypoglycemia, diabetic ketoacidosis, or nonketotic hyperosmolar coma. Serious
long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, chronic renal failure, retinal damage. Adequate
treatment of diabetes is thus important, as well as blood pressure control and lifestyle factors such as
smoking cessation and maintaining a healthy body weight.
Globally as of 2010 it is estimated that there are 285 million people diabetes with type 2 making
up about 90% of the cases.[
(Thank you wikipedia.org for this information)
Okay, now that we are all caught up we can get moving.
“I'm sorry, what did you say?”
Imagine the scene. I am sitting in my doctor's office waiting for him to return to tell me what
the heck was wrong with me. I am expecting something like “You've got a bad cold” or “Hmm, this is
probably that (Insert name of virus here) that has been running around. I was expecting to get a
prescription for a week or two of medications then poof all better. Needless to say that I was floored
when he trots back in and says, “Mr. MacLeod, you have full blown Diabetes!” Definitely not the
answer I had been expecting.
Looking back on it, I shouldn't have been the least bit surprised. I was a walking billboard for
Diabetes without ever letting myself realize it. First, I had a family history of Diabetes since my
Mother had contracted it when I was in my early teens. Secondly, I drank at least a 2 liter of Cola a day
and at least two to three cans of energy drinks. I ate like a pig and what I ate contained way to much
sugar. The final nail in my coffin (figuratively please) was the fact that I weighed 356+ pounds. Hell it
was a miracle that I hadn't contracted it decades ago and died some extremely unpleasant death.
I remember driving home after wards not really thinking about much of anything. I do know
that I was desperately not trying to think about the news I had just received. I told myself that I was
completely calm, but deep down inside I was freaking out. I really don't remember much about the rest
of that day except talking to my wife and telling her over and over again that I was “okay.” Being the
extremely intelligent and perceptive woman that she is, she didn't believe a word of it but was
extremely supportive and loving.
The next few days I tried to adjust to the enormity of it all. My mind kept dancing over all the
“horrors” of diabetes. I imagined going blind, having something amputated or spending the rest of
what I saw as a very short and miserable life hooked up to a dialysis machine. I had dreams of “waking
up” and it all having been a horrible nightmare brought on by one to many doughnuts and Energy
As defeatist and whiny as it sounds now, a part of me really believed that my life was over. I
went through the classic steps of coming to terms with something. I denied it was happening for a few
days assuring myself that it had all been one big mistake. I blamed everyone from my Mother to the
makers of all the drinks that I had been pumping down my throat for 40 years. I got really pissed off at
the world and everything in it. In short, I was a real jerk. To this day, I have no idea how my wife put
up with all of my crap, but she did.
I think it was about three weeks in that I kind of had an epiphany. A fact that had been staring
me in the face the whole time finally got around to slugging me on the back of the head so that I could
remember it. Well, two facts really.
The first one was my mother's diabetes. Momma never really dealt well with having Diabetes.
She didn't monitor her blood sugar levels properly and she never took her insulin the way she was
It wasn't until maybe a decade after she contracted Diabetes that she actually managed to start
taking care of herself the way she should. Despite all of her earlier neglect, my Mother managed to
live to a very ripe old age with decent health up until the final few years. So if my Mother could live
that long without properly managing her Diabetes than I should be able to live much longer and much
healthier if I took care of my self.
The second fact was my wife's maternal Grandmother who I still affectionately refer to as
“Grandma” to this day years after she finally passed away. Grandma was a Diabetic. Grandma went to
Dialysis every week for the entire time I knew her and had been going to Dialysis long before I had
ever met her. She was often weak, tired and very cold. She always moved a little slower than everyone
else and occasionally paused to rest. Anyone who looked at her would probably describe her as “frail.”
Despite being tired and weak, Grandma was and still is the rock on which her family leaned and
depended on. Even though she was often freezing to death even bundled up in warm robes and
blankets, she was always willing to help any member of her family that needed it. Her “frail” nature
hid a will of steel and a spiritual strength that anyone would envy and she did all of this while suffering
far more from my fears and complaints than I was from Diabetes.
So with these two amazing examples to draw inspiration from, I finally realized what a jerk I
was being and grew up. I made the decision that I was going to do everything in my power to keep
myself healthy because I had way to much life left to live and way to many people that I would miss if
I was gone. Hell I had far to much fun to have before I finally shuffled off the proverbial coil.
That decision was the start of a roughly three year journey where I have tried to live up to the
courage and dedication of the people who inspired me. I won't lie to you and tell you that it has been
easy and that I haven't stumbled along the way. I won't tell you that I haven't cursed God, Medicine
and the world for what has happened to me.
I will tell you that everything I have been through has left me a stronger and wiser person. I
have learned so much about my condition and how the word perceives it. I have learned so many
things about myself that it amazes me to this day. The next few chapters will kind of give you a feeling
of all the different things that have changed in my life. I hope that you will find them informative and
“Alas poor pasta, I knew it well...maybe too well.”
Well the first thing most people think of when they think of Diabetes is all the wonderful foods
and deserts that suddenly become a no-no. Sugars and Carbs lurk around every corner waiting to boost
your blood sugar levels through the roof. Here are some examples of what I mean.
The average sugar content for a 20 oz soda is about 65 grams. Pasta only has an average of .8 g
of sugar but can weigh in at a whopping 44+ g of Carbs which is broken down into sugars after
digesting. A cup of good old fashioned wholesome milk has about 16 g of sugar. We won't even get
into chocolate, cakes, cookies and doughnuts since that is too depressing.
So after I got the news, I imagined a tasteless, no fun world for the rest of my life. Since I am a
major lover of great food, this image was not a happy one. I was convinced that I would never enjoy
another plate of Spaghetti and Meatballs for as long as I lived and I just knew that I had seen my last
slice of butter pecan cake. Luckily for me, I was wrong.
When I was a kid, Diet Anything sucked. Sodas were bitter with a foul aftertaste. Any sugar
free snacks that you might find were dry and tasteless. The Sugar-free Path was a path of hunger and
sorrow. These days, there are a vast variety of sugar-free products out there that taste as good as the
regular kinds. Sugar- sodas like Coke Zero and Pepsi Maxx can be enjoyed without the fear of massive
spikes to your blood sugar levels. Most energy drink producers now have sugar-free versions of their
drinks that let you get your buzz on without worrying. My personal favorite is Red Bull Sugar-free
although a less expensive drink called Red Thunder from the local Aldi comes in close second.
Sugar-free snacks have also come a long way. When my mother was diagnosed, any sugar-free
items that existed were usually banished to some dark corner of the grocery store where no self
respecting shopper would look. Most stores these days have entire sections of aisles dedicated to
sugar-free products and many sugar-free items have wormed their way into the normal food sections.
Walk down any “snack” aisle and you will find sugar-free cookies, crackers and even doughnuts. Walk
down any candy aisle and you will see sugar-free Life Savers, Chocolates and other sweets. Heck you
can ever get sugar-free or no sugar added ice cream to enjoy after dinner.
(As a note here, please remember that even sugar-free versions of most snacks still contain carbs
which can cause spikes in your blood sugar levels so always enjoy in moderation.)
The key to enjoying things like pasta, rice, biscuits etc is always moderation. Doctors
recommend no more than 30 g of carbs per meal and 15 g of carbs for snacks with a total carbs for the
day not to exceed 100-130 g of carbs. (exact amount is dependent on the person, their activity levels
and their overall health.) Working within this simple guideline, you can enjoy small amounts of carb
rich dishes. I munch on these dishes occasionally and still maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
As I have worked through what I can and cannot eat, I have discovered some amazing
alternatives to “normal” foods. I love milk but as mentioned above, milk contains a sizable dose of
sugar in each delicious glass. Thanks to my wife, we discovered Unsweetened Almond Milk which
contains Zero sugar and only two grams of carbs per glass. The vanilla flavored almond milk tastes
really great and goes well with any type of cereal.
Sugar substitutes have come a long way from Saccharine products from my teen years. There
are several brands out there that mimic the sweetness of sugar without the dangers. My personal
favorite is the Stevia sweeteners which, to me, taste just as good as real sugar and work really well in
most recipes. There are even sugar-free versions of confectioners and brown sugar out there to help in
Of course, one of the pleasant side effects of eliminating as much sugar as you can from your
life is that your caloric intake can drop significantly as you eliminate all of the “empty” calories
ingested from sugared sodas, snacks and foods. I am not saying that going “sugar-free” is easy or that
you ever stop missing the buzz from drinking a regular soda or popping down a regular energy drink.
It never really goes away, but it does get easier with time.
Remember, when it comes to food always enjoy all foods and drinks in moderation. Watch your
carb intake and monitor your sugar levels all the time.
“But I don't want to exercise, Mommy!”
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, when I received the news I weighed in at over 356
pounds. I say over because I weighed so much that we couldn't find a scale that could accurately weigh
me for a long time. The 356 was the number I got from a doctor about three years ago. Looking back
on that number after having lost 135 pounds, I find it mind boggling that I ever weighed that much. At
that time I weighed over TWICE as much as what my “optimum weight” should have been.
Like most chronically overweight people, I was convinced back then that I wasn't too
overweight and that I was perfectly healthy. I ate like three pigs in a pie eating contest and hardly ever
exercised. I never watched my calories and lived off of Red Bulls and Coca-cola. Most days I would
drink two 12oz Red Bulls and a 2 liter of Soda during the course of a single day.
Any sort of exercise left me winded. Heck, walking from the car to the grocery store left me
gasping for air. Yard work was always a case of “cut grass for ten minutes, take 20 minute break.”
Standing for any length of time resulted in very painful and swollen feet and ankles. Basically I was
messed up and in denial.
Bam! Along comes Diabetes! Suddenly weight loss wasn't some mythical thing that I will get
around to eventually. Exercise isn't something to be shunned like the plague. I was forced to lose
weight and exercise or literally suffer the consequences. With consequences including blindness,
amputation, kidney failure and impotence, the decision was really easy. Implementation was a mite
When I was a teenager, I was a very active kid. I played high school football, baseball and some
basketball. I ate a lot but I burned tons of calories every single day. Like most people, once I got out
of High School and started college, I wasn't nearly so active and since I didn't change my eating habits
I started gaining weight. By the time I was 30, I was morbidly obese and far into denial about it.
So there I was in my mid-40s faced with the idea of regular exercise. For over a decade the
closest thing to real exercise I had done was change my mind about what I was having for dinner and
now I had to find the will and energy to do the real thing. I was not a happy camper, but it had to be
I started out simply. Every day, usually with my wife for company, I would walk around the
block. This probably sounds like no big effort, but to me it was like running a marathon. By the time
we had crawled back to the house, I was exhausted and sore. My heart was beating so hard and so fast
my chest felt like it was going to explode. After each trip, I was pretty much of the mindset that maybe
dying wasn't so bad after all.
After the first couple of weeks, I added weight training to my routine. Many years before, in a
fit of optimism, I had purchased a Nautilus Weight System. After the first few weeks of “Hey cool I
have my own weight system” it pretty much remained unused. I began to work very basic routines on
the lowest weight setting possible.
The entire time I am suffering through this phase, I was convinced that it would never get better.
Sometimes, when no one was looking, I was literally in tears over the impossibility of losing weight
and getting back in shape. I lost count of how many times I gave up convinced it was hopeless. Only
the fear of what would happen and the fear of losing my family kept me coming back again and again.
I almost didn't notice when everything started getting easier. I started walking further and faster
with less and less effort. My workouts got more intense and the weight levels kept rising. I added
jogging and bicycle riding to the list of exercises I did and calisthenics before my weight routines.
The funny thing is I don't think I had realized how far I had come until I suddenly realized that I
was no longer looking for the absolute closest parking space because it was to much effort to walk
across the parking lot. That was when I realized that I had crossed over a threshold.
Now I am proud to say that I have lost 100+ pounds. Instead of straining to walk one block, I
often walk 3-5 miles everyday. Instead of almost passing out walking across a parking lot, I often jog a
mile or so during my walks. Instead of the dreaded enemy that it was when all of this first began,
exercise has become a way to relax and feel good about myself. I only have 53 more pounds to lose
before I reach my “optimum weight” and I am completely convinced that I can make it.
“You gotta have faith, Baby!”
I grew up in the home of one of the most religious women who ever lived. Momma went to
church on Sundays and Wednesdays rain or shine. She believed in God and Jesus his son and dutifully
followed the teachings of the Bible. Needless to say, her kids were dragged along with her whether
they wanted to or not. By the time I was old enough to say no to her bi-weekly trips, I was pretty
much tired of the whole “God” thing.
Don't get me wrong. I never made the jump to full fledged Atheist. By the time I started
college I was probably solidly into the Agnostic fold. I danced around various religions including
Mormonism and, believe it or not, Druidism. I was half convinced that there was something larger than
me (Pun intended) out there, I just wasn't sure what is was and how it related to me. By the time I had
finished college I was back to attending church off and on again, but still not sure what I believed and
where it would take me.
Douglas MacArthur is attributed to saying that “There are no Atheists in foxholes” which meant
to me that when your life is on the line and you are faced with your own mortality, all of the questions
about where you came from and if God is real go right out the window. When you are scared to death,
you need something to believe in.
When I was diagnosed, I asked all the usual questions. “Why me?” “What did I do to deserve
this?” “Why would God do this to me?” Of course the answer to all the first two questions is
“Because you were fat and lazy” and the third answer was “God didn't do this to me, I did it to myself.”
Once I got past the angry bits and the depressed bits, I found that my faith was growing. Every
new obstacle that came up forced me to draw upon the strength of will inside of me and I could sense
some force restoring that will power as quickly as I used it up. No matter what difficulty I faced, I felt
a gentle hand helping me move forward.
Now my brother in everything but blood, Ben Baker is a much wiser man than me and has a
stronger force of faith than I ever will. He preaches in church, ministers to people behind bars and
gives more to his community than any dozen men. I will never be able to match his absolute level of
faith, but I will always try. Diabetes has given me a chance to return to God only to find that he never
left my side.
Faith has gotten me through some very scary times since my diagnosis and will continue to get
me through all the difficult times ahead. In the end, I am reminded of a line for the amazing Firefly
movie, Serenity where a dying man tells a lost soul, “It doesn't matter what you believe in, just so long
as you believe.” Have faith and believe and you will make it through.
Now I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. What I have done and what I am doing works
for me, but it might not work for you. If you are diabetic, always remember to talk to your doctor and
follow his instructions to the letter. Don't listen to the fad makers on the web or the “health gurus” on
TV. Your doctor went to school and trained for a very long time so he or she probably knows that they
If you are a diabetic or just someone who wants to do the best they can to lose weight and
improve their health always remember to eat right, live right and love as strong and as long as you can.
Good luck to all of you and God Bless.