Finding strength through struggle
How a life-changing diagnosis led down an embraceable path
by Liz Vos,
Emily Simon is a bit in awe at how her life has changed over the past several years. Looking back, she says that time and knowledge have helped her embrace the positive side of a life-altering disease.
Seven years ago, Emily, who lives in rural Albany with her husband Brian and their children Charlie (6) and Elizabeth (nearly 3), was diagnosed with late-onset type 1 diabetes.
Initially, she was in shock. With no family history of the disease and the assumption that she was in good health, she was blindsided by the cause of her sudden blurred vision and unquenchable thirst.
“I was 29 years old and about 20 weeks pregnant with Charlie when I started noticing the changes, but I wondered if it was just part of the pregnancy,” Emily recalled. “When I mentioned it during a checkup, my nurse suggested a blood sugar test.”
It was an unexpected result; her blood glucose number was 450 (normal is between 80 and 120). A second test yielded the same result.
“They knew it was not gestational diabetes because that wouldn’t have gone above 200,” she explained. “They diagnosed me that day with type 1 diabetes.”
Emily recalls listening with disbelief as she was told the disease was something she would have for the rest of her life.
“The day was filled with a lot of education and I was really overwhelmed and devastated,” she recalled. “There were a lot of tears. I didn’t think I was strong enough to handle what was to come.”
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, which is why it was once referred to as juvenile diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, only five percent of people with diabetes have this form of the disease.
In type 1, the body does not produce insulin, so early on, Emily needed to learn how to test her blood glucose levels and how to self-inject insulin.
She also learned about how her diet would need to change.
“I thought I had been eating healthy already, but I was wrong,” she said.
Part of her education initially was centered on eating sugar free foods; but still, Emily says, she was being guided toward a lot of processed foods.
“After about a year I was still having a hard time with my glucose levels, I started to do more research and realized that wasn’t good for me either,” she said.
Emily was determined to manage her disease through diet, but with the knowledge she had at first, she didn’t feel healthy and her blood sugar levels were jumping up and down.
“I was taking a lot of insulin to try controlling [the disease]. I really wanted to manage it through food,” she said.
Her determination stood strong and Emily took her health into her own hands, researching and asking questions. She began to see that processed foods were a big culprit in her lagging health.
She recalls now how many processed foods she was incorporating into her meals without really thinking about it. Over time though, she cut it out.
“I was slowly replacing things in the cupboard or getting them out of the cupboard and not replacing them,” Emily said of the transition. “Now, I don’t even notice that I am missing those things. This is just my lifestyle, I don’t even think of myself as having a disease anymore.”
Aside from a shift away from processed foods and developing a love for cooking from scratch, Emily has also gotten used to the daily injections and pricks to her finger as she checks her glucose levels.
At first, she used needles throughout the day to inject insulin. After she became pregnant with Elizabeth, she transitioned to a pump method. The pump is connected to a port near her abdomen and delivers insulin that way. The pump is worn day and night and works in conjunction with a sensor that tracks blood sugar levels.
“I still have to prick my finger twice a day to check my levels, but that is down from the seven or so times I used to have to do it,” she explained. “The pump automatically injects insulin instead of me having to inject myself up to six times a day.”
In order for the pump to work accurately, Emily needs to input how much insulin she will need for a meal. This means that she needs to know how many carbohydrates are in everything she eats.
“I have to know that this apple has 20 grams of carbs,” she explained, plucking an apple from a dish on the counter. “People often think that with diabetes it’s all about sugar, but it’s really carbs that are the problem.”
Emily must use her own blood sugar readings, taken in the morning and at night, to decide whether to give herself more or less insulin.
“If my blood sugar is high, then I know I need to give myself more insulin,” she said.
While the sensor and the pump are both items she needs to wear all the time and she needs to change them throughout the week, she has come to terms with the inconvenience.
“If it helps me maintain my blood sugar, then it is worth it,” she said. “This was once a daunting thing that I did not want to embrace, but that has changed.”
Emily now looks at diabetes from a new perspective. Rather than considering all the negatives, she embraces the positive change she was forced to made and realizes that in a lot of ways, the diagnoses was a gift.
“My diabetes has forced me to take care of my body in ways I never did before,” she said. “I now know what it truly means to be ‘healthy’ and to make health a priority.”
Emily says the transition into watching what she puts in her body has a lot to do with her diabetes, but also, it has a lot to do with the treasure of health.
“We live once – why not live your best life?” she asked.
Emily now focuses on eating a lot of vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, lean meats like chicken and turkey, fish, nuts, oatmeal, sweet potatoes and hard-boiled eggs.
“Having food prepped ahead of time and having a plan is a key to eating healthy. It is easier to make a good choice when it is right in front of you,” she said.
Through further research, Emily also learned that although her diet improved, she was missing vital nutrients. Her focus to meet her body’s needs led her down another exciting path that has now become her career.
She began exploring nutrient supplementation through a health and wellness company. Emily found such success in her own health that she partnered with the company for a full time career helping others with their health and fitness goals.
“It has changed my life in so many ways,” she said of the partnership. “The reason I do what I do every day is because I have a passion to see others achieve the amazing, extraordinary health that we are designed to have.”
Through her diagnosis and the many challenges it has put her through, Emily has now embraced the lessons she learned and the path she is on. She now guides over 200 people on their own journey to health and wellness.
“We are all a work in progress on an ever-evolving journey,” Emily said. “I am thankful for my struggle because without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.”