2021 — it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Six weeks before my ICU stay, I was on cloud nine. My company, LMS General Contractors, was surviving the pandemic. Engineering News-Record had recognized me as a Top 25 Newsmaker and a Top 20 Under 40 Young Professional. I’d filmed 20 hours of construction educational courses with M.T. Copeland and had secretly shot an episode of season 2’s The Weakest Link. Life was grand!
It was a Monday. I was home from Los Angeles, drained, fighting brain fog, and night cramps. I stepped out of the shower, prepping for yet another Zoom call, and hopped on the scale — it read 100 pounds. I gasped and looked in the mirror; my skin was sagging, and my rib cage protruded through my chest. My hair fell out as I brushed it.
I clicked on Google and typed in my symptoms: brain fog, excessive thirst, unexplained weight loss, sugar cravings, and night cramps. Diabetes popped on the screen. It didn’t make sense; I didn’t “lead” a diabetic lifestyle. I ate organic, refrained from processed foods, and didn’t eat beef or pork. I naively committed to ditching Twizzlers and scheduled an appointment at the CVS Clinic.
By Friday, I dragged myself to my last speaking event. Then, my husband and I headed to my appointment. The nurse administered an A1C test to gauge my blood glucose levels. She held the results, and her face was troubled. She said, “You need to go to the emergency room right now.” She explained that a normal A1C level ranged from 80 to 100, and my A1C level read 468; it was dangerous.
From there, everything was a blur. It felt like a bad dream. My pancreas stopped working, and all tests led to Type 1 Diabetes, an autoimmune disease that, when untreated, can easily result in death. The untreated symptoms were my body’s cry for help. I was in the ICU with diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA. It amazed the doctors that I was alive, traveling, and working.
In the weeks following my diagnosis, I was angry and confused. My body betrayed me. Why me? I shopped at Whole Foods, went to the doctor regularly, and exercised. I was healthy. Yet, I now had a disease that didn’t run in my family. Very few people understood it, and I was insanely afraid of needles. I was not prepared to alter my life overnight.
I was ashamed and guilt-ridden, as if being diagnosed with this incurable disease was my fault. I thought if I’d spent more time listening to the whispers than checking boxes, I could have stopped it. For two months, I kept showing up for others when my body was begging me to show up for myself. As leaders, we love to tout that we work hard for our employees and families, but it comes with a cost. What good was I sick, or worse, dead?
As a woman in construction, you never want to appear weak. People want results, and trust that you’ll get the projects done. Starting as a young Black female demolition and abatement contractor, I was no stranger to overcoming obstacles, but this was one different. When your body forces your mind to surrender, the ego shrivels. Filling my schedule with fluff and meetings was over. Most days, I can make it to the jobsite or office, and on days I can’t, I don’t.
The dreadful weeks are now dreadful days, here and there.
Type 1 Diabetes is a lifestyle of repeated glucose monitoring, bolus, and basal injections 4-5 times a day and forcing yourself to eat in the middle of the night. It’s a costly disease even with insurance coverage, diabetes supplies, food, insulin, doctor appointments, and continuous glucose monitors that cost hundreds of dollars each month. Undoubtedly, it’s unaffordable for some people.
Life with Type 1 Diabetes hasn’t been all bad; my health is optimal, considering, and I’m alive.
Life changes when we’re forced to stop and displace all the noise. Each day, I learn more about how the disease impacts my body. Today, I prioritize my mental and physical health, and clearly align with my goals and who I truly desire to be. I take frequent breaks, get ample Vitamin D, and even convinced my husband to adopt a cat, Mason.
I tell others: don’t get so busy working and do the things that they forget to live a healthy life. Ignoring your health is selfish and a disservice to everyone in your life. Health is truly the real wealth.
Type 1 Diabetes is an incurable autoimmune disease and is caused when the pancreas stops producing insulin. As of today, the causes of the disease are unclear, and it can be acquired at any age. According to JDRF, 1.45 million Americans live with Type 1 Diabetes and 64,000 people are diagnosed each year.
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