Karen, 49, didn't realise the seriousness of Type 2 when she was diagnosed at 39. As a result, her weight continued to spiral and even small cuts took a long time to heal. But then a diabetes nurse gave her a strict talking to, putting her on the path to health and fitness, and Karen is now in remission.
Type 2 diabetes
“I was completely committed from day one. It soon became that I couldn’t not exercise."
Karen’s journey with diabetes
- Diagnosed aged 39.
- Gradually prescribed four metformin tablets and one cholesterol tablet per day.
- In denial. She was unhealthy and overweight.
- The death of her sister-in-law as a result of diabetes complications inspired her to take action.
- Karen changed the way she thought about health and fitness, and is now in remission.
I didn’t really understand it and didn’t know what diabetes was all about. The doctor did some blood tests and told me I had Type 2 diabetes. I didn’t think much of it, hence why I never did anything about it straight away. I just let it get worse and worse. I didn’t really understand the implications.
My husband and I went on a day course on nutrition, which gave us more of an insight, but again I didn’t understand how severe diabetes could be. I thought if I Iost some weight I’d be fine, and it wouldn’t really affect me. But unfortunately, I never lost the weight.
Two days after I ran the marathon (9 years after being diagnosed) I got told my diabetes was in remission. I’d been off medication for a year, but they hadn’t actually officially put on my medical record that I was in remission. It was quite an emotional day. It was like having a medal put over my shoulders all over again.
I didn’t realise how little energy I’d had while my sugars were out of control. When my health was at its worse I definitely was not healing properly. I used to get colds and flu and all those daft little things regularly throughout the year. But I haven’t been sick in three and a half years. If I get a cut now, it’s gone in a couple of days, not two weeks later like before.
My skin’s improved too, but that’s down to a healthy diet. I definitely had lots of low moods when my diabetes was out of control. I very rarely get those now. In fact, in my husband’s words: I had my old spark back that I had when he first met me. I hadn’t even realised that spark had gone, it had faded slowly.
Friends and family
My sister-in-law, Judith Gravier passed away after her leg was amputated as a result of her Type 1 diabetes. She was 52 when she died but wasn’t diagnosed until her mid-20s. I’d known her 28 years and had been living with my own diabetes for around six years when she passed away. I know she didn’t take care of herself and didn’t have the best lifestyle. It was pretty extreme for her to have the amputation and it was very scary for everyone. At that point, I did think I really need to take control of my diabetes. In fact, a few months before Judith’s operation, I had started to increase my activity levels and doing a bit more walking.
My husband, Garry, didn’t nag me. He just said: “Think about what’s going on with my sister – you can control yours.” He never put any pressure on me, but he always encouraged me. He never complains if I’m not home because I’m at the gym.
For me, Judith’s death was a big kick. I was already at the point where I would get a sore or a cut or a blister and it would take so long to heal. Those are the signs. Between that and a few months later a diabetes nurse speaking to me in the tone that she did explaining that I would lose my sight, was at risk of amputation and could have a heart attack. It all came together to finally kick my butt into action.
A friend told me about a scheme they have locally in Selby called ‘Move it Lose it’. I signed up and got free use of the local leisure centre for three months and the local Slimming World group.
Thoughts of my family, including my sons Matthew, 28 and Gavin, 24, kept me going. I thought how proud my family would be and how proud I’d be of myself. When the training was tough, I would remind myself of how disappointed I would be in myself and that I didn’t want to let people down, especially if I was doing a sponsored run for charity.
Before I was diagnosed I had a few situations at work where I almost passed out. I would go a very strange shade of grey and get horrible shakes. At times I thought I would faint, but I never actually did. After it happened two or three times, I thought ‘this isn’t right’ and I went to see a doctor. I was actually at university at the time getting my teaching degree to become a teaching lecturer. I thought it was a bit of stress, and the doctor would tell me I needed to lose weight as I was a size 18/20 at the time. The diagnosis was a shock.
Diet, nutrition and exercise
I had a complete overhaul of my diet. I used to live on cereal and toast with lashings of butter for breakfast. Strangely enough, I have a cooked breakfast but it’s poached eggs and avocado on rye bread. Now I’ll snack on hummus and carrot sticks rather than a pack of crisps. Before everything was processed food, but now it’s all cooked fresh by me. I don’t buy lasagne that you can cook in the microwave, I’ll make it from fresh – that way I’ve got control of what goes in my mouth. And it’s much tastier!
I run three times a week, as well as doing a metabolic exercise class and yoga. I usually try to get to the gym once or twice a week to do some resistance training, too.
“I feel in better shape than I was when I was younger. I feel strong and I’m happier in my own skin.”
I never struggled to exercise or eat healthily. If I do miss a run because it’s raining, I don’t beat myself up about it. And if I do eat a piece of cake I don’t mind, because you can’t be good all the time. But it will only be a day off. If I have two days off of exercise, I do go a bit stir-crazy - I think I’m addicted to the exercise.
My first challenge to myself when I started running was to just do a 5k. And I did that within a couple of months. A few months later I challenged myself to do a 10k and once I’d achieved that I thought ‘what’s next?’
Then I did a half marathon and in 2017, when I was watching the London marathon, I thought ‘I could do that’ and I put my name down on the ballot. I don’t think I really understood what was coming. It took me 6 hours and 12 minutes, but I don’t care I got over the finish line.