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A game plan for managing diabetes

Learning to live with type 1 diabetes can be a challenge. Trying to manage diabetes without a pancreas (which produces insulin and helps regulate our blood sugar levels), some might say, is not even possible.
But, don’t tell that to Moda Health’s Jennica Hayes. Despite these challenges, this mother of three proves you can live a normal life that includes working, going to the gym, and enjoying your favorite foods. And it all starts with a plan.

Over the past decade, the Moda Health Sales Associate has been through a lot – from being diagnosed with diabetes to having her entire pancreas, spleen, gallbladder and parts of her small intestine removed due to complications of genetic pancreatitis. But it’s her positive approach, sense of humor and appreciation for life that makes her seem, well, like everyone else.

“I think about how far I’ve come since the surgery, when I didn’t have enough energy to get out of bed. I could hardly walk and couldn’t eat for weeks,” she said. “I feel like every day I wake up and I’m able to go to work, play with my kids and go to the gym, it keeps me going and keeps me positive. It’s important to put things into perspective.”

For Jennica, having a game plan is critical to managing her diabetes. Facing adversity with a plan is where she finds her strength and resilience.

“When I was about to have my big surgery and I knew I was going to be diabetic, I was like, OK, now I know. What’s the game plan?” she said. “That’s always been my mentality. As long as I know, and can figure out a game plan, that’s huge for me. It’s the not knowing that bothers me.”

Trial and error
Jennica will be the first to admit that managing diabetes is an ongoing education. While she’s managed to get it under control, she continues to learn more about her condition all the time.

“I’ve learned a lot through trial and error,” she said. “For the most part, I feel like I have the management part down, but every once in a while, something will come up.”

There was the time her blood sugar dropped so fast at the grocery store that while she was trying to chug a Coke to raise her blood sugar, she passed out in the aisle. The next thing she knew, she was in the back of an ambulance. Then there was the time she went to bed thinking everything was fine, only to wake up in the middle of the night with a spike in her blood sugar.

“Every once in a while, it will still keep me on my toes,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll have figured out what happened, and other times, I just have to wait to see if it happens again. But for the most part, I have it pretty much taken care of.”

Digital health
In recent years, technology has played a role in helping her manage her diabetes. She uses a couple of digital devices that are constantly monitoring her glucose levels to help prevent any sudden drops or spikes in her blood sugar.

“Technology has been a big factor for me,” she said. “It saves me from rapid drops and lets me know when I have to just sit down. It’s played a huge part in helping me live with this safely.”

Tips for managing diabetes
Through her experiences, Jennica has learned a lot about living with diabetes. She has shared some tips on what has helped her manage her condition.

  • Be patient: Effectively managing diabetes is a learning process. Because everyone is different, you learn a lot through trial and error. Patience can play a key role in understanding what works best for you over time.
  • Find a doctor who listens: Managing diabetes is not always textbook. It’s important to find a doctor who listens to what you are personally going through, and who doesn’t just go by what medical journals say diabetes should look like.
  • Watch what you eat: At the beginning, it’s important to understand what foods can raise your blood sugar. Check ingredients and compare things like what a piece of wheat bread versus to a piece of white bread can do to your blood sugar. She said the amount of sugar in milk was a big eye-opener for her.
  • The impact of stress: We know stress can impact our health in many ways, including raising our blood sugar levels. She says the body often has a fight-or-flight response to stress. When our stress levels are high, our blood sugar levels are constantly up, too.
  • Keep a log: Using a journal to log how much insulin you give yourself is important for avoiding dangerous situations when you are out or even driving. Keep track of what makes your blood sugar go up and what you can tolerate.
  • Carry candy and juice: When away from home, she always has candy in her purse to help raise her blood sugar levels when needed. And when she’s at the gym, if her levels drop, a small juice box works quickly.

For Jennica, finding the balance between insulin and glucagon is what keeps her blood sugar within a normal range; having a plan and appreciating what you have, no matter what the obstacles, helps keep her life in balance.

“For me, it’s a constant balance, sort of like a biology or chemistry project,” she said. “I was never great at these subjects in school, so it’s been interesting learning about them.

“I’m pretty fortunate,” she added. “I look and act like you wouldn’t know I’m missing all of these organs. The way I see it, we learn to appreciate what we have. Everyone has stuff going on if you can see it or not, but it’s how we handle it that counts.”

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