When she was pregnant with her first and only child in 1996, Laura developed gestational diabetes. With the help of a special diet prescribed by her doctor, her diabetes went away after her daughter was born. But almost four years to the day after she had her daughter, Laura’s diabetes returned. With a healthy diet, good lifestyle habits, and Metformin, she was able to keep her blood sugar under control. She didn’t need to take insulin regularly. Everything seemed to be fine.
But life sometimes gets in the way.
Shortly after Laura was diagnosed, her husband got sick. And he was sick for a very long time. For nearly 10 years, while he was in and out of cancer treatment centers, she ate in hospital cafeterias and stopped for fast food between appointments. At the time she didn’t care; she had to take care of him and her daughter first. “Mom” took a back seat.
“You see, when your husband is sick, you find you eat quickly and grab food as you can,” Laura says. “You don’t want to be away from him if he needs you.”
Three years ago—after battling his fifth round of cancer—Laura’s husband died.
Because of the intense stress and the chaos of her life during her husband’s illness, she gained weight, her blood pressure rose, and her glucose levels spiked. Laura’s physician assistant (PA), Heather—who has monitored Laura’s glucose every 3 months since she was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 2000—informed Laura that she would need to start taking insulin regularly.
She sought support from her family, and also from her co-workers at Harvard Vanguard’s Burlington location, her PA Heather, and her nurse Marlene. Marlene was the one who taught her how to inject insulin when it was first prescribed. And Heather was always there to listen to what was going on with her and her life.
“She’s not just doing the routine blood work. She really listens,” Laura explains. “Like, if I’m feeling especially tired, Heather makes sure we check for other things. She takes her time, she listens, she cares, she follows through, and she follows up.”
Heather and Marlene gave her lots of support, and they gave her guidance about what lifestyle changes she could make to get off insulin. And then, something clicked. Laura realized she had some control over her health, and wanted to seize the opportunity. Not only did she want to be off of insulin, but the realization that she was now a single parent was the strongest motivator.
“A daughter needs a parent. She needs her mom,” Laura says.
So two years ago, in 2012, Laura joined Weight Watchers. She had tried the program twice before but this time was different. She learned it wasn’t just what she ate but the amount she ate and even how she ate that made the difference. She’s lost more than 60 lbs. in the last 2 years.
She’s been able to keep the 60 pounds off and may not try to lose more weight; she’s happy and proud of her achievement. While Laura is still diabetic and will always have to take Metformin, she has her diabetes under control; she no longer has to take insulin or blood pressure medication.
She’s not “huffing and puffing” going up the stairs anymore; she has more energy. She knows that she’s healthy, and that’s a big deal.
“Looking and feeling better is great, but knowing that I’m healthier and the peace that comes from knowing that is incredible,” she explains.
Laura’s daughter just graduated from high school and is going to UMass–Amherst in the fall. Life is still a bit complicated, with all the activities that come with graduating from high school and then moving into college, but once her daughter’s gone, she thinks she’ll be able to sit back and ask, “Now, what does Laura want to do?”
“It will be nice to be able to answer that without qualification, maybe a bit selfishly for a change.”
Laura is 53 and lives in Billerica.