Community Table: Women’s Health and Living Empowered with Diabetes
Community Table is presented by the JDRF-Beyond Type 1 Alliance and made possible with support from Abbott Diabetes Care, Dexcom, Lilly, MannKind, Medtronic, Omnipod, Roche Diabetes Care and Tandem, active partners of Beyond Type 1 at the time of publication.
During our third Community Table discussion, Beyond Type 1 sat down with a group of experts and community members to discuss women’s health and living an empowered life with diabetes within both the type 1 and type 2 communities, and share helpful resources and personal perspectives. Watch the discussion in full!
- Lala Jackson, who served as the moderator for this event, has had type 1 for 23 years, and is the senior project manager: Digital Unit at Beyond Type 1.
- Dr. Apoorva Gomber, who has had type 1 for 13 years, is a physician and member of Beyond Type 1’s Science Advisory Council.
- Lexie Peterson, who has had type 1 for 15 years, blogs online as @divabetic, and talks openly about other health issues like PCOS.
- Marina Chaparro, who has had diabetes for 20 years, is a registered dietician, and runs Nutrichicos, her nutrition practice.
- Jessyka McCaulley, who has had diabetes for five years, and shares her journey online as @diabetic_jess.
Partial transcript of conversation below, edited for content + clarity.
What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you about women’s health and diabetes?
Dr. Gomber: It’s okay to not strike that perfection of 100 percent. It’s absolutely all right if you can’t figure out how to deal with everything, including your hormones. As a person living with type 1 diabetes and as a trained physician, I realized it by trial and error by realizing that hormones are something which I need to adjust, make a balance myself.
Lexie: There are so many things that can affect your body in so many different ways. Nobody ever really explained to me what insulin resistance was, and everything that can come from insulin resistance. I recently got diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) at the beginning of 2020 and it’s been a crazy journey. My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant and for the past three or four years, I’ve had irregular menstrual cycles. I just thought it was normal.
Doctors never put two and two together for me that PCOS and insulin resistance are linked in a lot of cases. Years ago, when I was in college, I had an endo tell me, “Hey, you’re showing signs of insulin resistance.” But he never said anything else. I thought, “Okay. Well, my A1C isn’t that bad so I’m good.” I never made any changes because I didn’t know what that actually meant.
Whenever I was going to see my OBGYNs they never really connected the dots for me either. When I said I was having irregular cycles it was just, “Okay, well let’s put you on birth control.” It wasn’t, “Maybe this is linked to your diabetes.” I never had any idea until I went and did my own research.
Jessica: How many people actually have diabetes, and I wish I would have told myself to reach out to other people with diabetes sooner. When quarantine hit, I made an Instagram just so I could talk to other people because I’m the only one with type 1 and no one in my family has type 2. It seemed like I was an outsider sometimes and I really needed to know that I am not alone in this.
Marina: Diabetes management is much more than counting carbs, then giving insulin, and having a blood sugar of 110. It is so much more than that. It is emotional health, it is wellbeing, it’s so much more. Sometimes we want to have a feeling of control, and we control the food or we control whatever thing we can. That’s really the beauty of what I do is ask how we can have a positive relationship, and a holistic view in how we eat.
What should people know if they’re heading into the age of menopause that might help them out a little bit with that?
Dr. Porter: It is important to understand everyone’s body is going to react very differently to menopause, and you need to be your own advocate with your OBGYN to tell her that things are not going right. They might need to adjust your blood sugar management routine because it’s counterproductive.
When it comes to menopause, there is this one massive hormone called progesterone which acts as a complete monster when it comes to blood sugars. Progesterone actually increases your blood sugars. You need to adjust your insulin regimen to understand how your body is going to react to progesterone. Also, during menopause, there are other additional things that you can incorporate into your regimen like incorporating exercise or yoga. Which will improve your insulin sensitivity and help incorporate that resistance that is coming up with progesterone in your body.
What’s a challenge that you’ve faced that taught you how strong you are as a woman living with diabetes?
Marina: I just bring it back to pregnancy. I think that’s been my most challenging moment because again, I’ve studied. It wasn’t necessarily new to me, but these are new human beings. Once they were born, it was like, “Wow, you’re healthy.” That is all that matters, nothing else. That really proved to me how resilient people with type 1 diabetes are. We really have an extra skill, like we have two brains. We’re able to not just manage our blood sugar, but also be a mom, be a doctor, be a wife, be all of these different things on top of all of the demands of diabetes.
Lexie: There have been different phases years of my life that always reminds me how strong I am. So, the first thing was looking back at the time I didn’t realize it, but Aussie kids, little young kids on Instagram, like giving themselves an injection or changing their pump site. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, they’re so young.” And then I’m like, “Let’s see. You were doing this same thing.” Then I’ve given myself insulin while driving. I inject it, and in my mind, before I would go somewhere, I’m already calculating, “Okay, I’m going to be gone for this long. Let me go ahead and get this number of snacks.”
Growing up with a chronic illness, it forces you to have compassion for any and everybody which has helped me be able to support others. I don’t think I’ve ever really felt more accepted and loved by a community like the diabetes community. It just teaches you to love people.
A question from a community member: “I was diagnosed at age 41. I’m now 44. I also live with Hashimoto’s. I’ve been using Dexcom for a year and the Tandem pumps in September. Will I ever learn my body?”
Jessica: Yes, you will! Obviously my experience is different than yours, but you just got to take it day by day. Again, find someone who is just like you. There’s someone else out there dealing with the same thing.
Lexie: I agree that you will learn your body, but also know that your body is going to change all throughout your life and diabetes is literally a journey. You’re never going to get to like a destination where it’s like, “Okay, I’ve got it. I’m good for the rest of my life.” That’s why it’s definitely important to connect with other people who are going to be with you on this journey literally for the rest of your life. Because your body is always changing. Like everybody has said, it makes such a huge difference to feel like you’re not alone.
Lala: You’ve only had diabetes for three years, you’re a baby. There are things that you’re going to keep learning for a very long time. I’ve had type one for 23 years. As you know, I just learned new things from this conversation. There’s always a learning curve and the learning curve is long. Have patience with yourself.
Marina: Sometimes it just takes either a visit to somebody that knows to say, “Hey, have you noticed this, this and that?” And it might take somebody that might have that experience or that education or that has gone through the same thing to say, “I did not know that.”
So just know that there are people that are educators, doctors, or people that have diabetes that could just help you out in a professional way as well to say, “Hey, look at your Dexcom. This is what’s happening. Have you noticed this?”