Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I remember the day clearly. I remember the sound of her voice over the sound of the tinny Christmas music playing on the mall speakers. I remember my heart thudding and my palms sweating. I remember so many details and the exact words she used: "The doctor says to tell you you have diabetes." That's it. I asked her what I was supposed to do. She said the doctor says diet and exercise for three months. Then come in. Have a good day.

It was a bombshell. I was in shock. I remember thinking "I am 26 years old. This can't be true." I remember feeling impatient for my friends to finish in the store so I could go have a cigarette. I remember the shame of telling my girlfriend and my parents. I remember the fear mixed with an odd sense of relief that it had finally happened. It was no longer something just around the corner, no longer something to fear. Now it was something to be faced and dealt with.

Since graduating college I had been waiting for that call. I was overweight in college, but put on over 50 pounds in 4 years. I had noticed the reduced range of motion. The shortness of breath I attributed to my 1.5-2.5 packs of cigarettes a day. I knew my diet wasn't the healthiest...ok it was awful. I was a couch potato punctuated by periodic bouts of guilt that drove my to the gym for 2 weeks before I grew bored or overwhelmed and ended up back on the couch. I knew I had issues but I never could quite work up the motivation to face them.

The next few days passed in a blur and finally I was home from the holidays and faced an irony as soon as I stepped in the door. Between the actual Dr. appointment and going home I had gone to the library and gotten several books on eating real food. They were waiting for me like the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse when I walked through the door. I read 3 of them that week. I started talking with my girlfriend, Becca. She's a bit more of a planner than I am so I needed her help. We revised out eating plan, starting shopping at different stores, cut out most of the fast food. I thought back to previous attempts to get well--the various tests, prescriptions, diets given by nutritionists. None of that worked for me. I knew I didn't want to be on medication my whole life, but knew my doctor would put me on some at my next appointment. I thought of the myriad of diets that had been prescribed and the rigorous task of fitting the actual act of eating into guidelines of x amount of fiber and x calories per day and so on and so forth. I couldn't make myself do all that again.

I started looking for a homeopathic doctor while tackling the diet on my own. I had discovered the world of “real food” and it made sense. I connected with the idea on a very deep level and devoted myself to it. I was determined to beat this without medication for life. I was so scared. I finally found a naturopath and set up an appointment. Then 3 days before the appointment I told Becca that I was going to quit smoking. I just couldn't justify spending money to see a doctor not covered by insurance and then continue to kill myself for hours a day. I was smoking 30-45 cigarettes a day. That is 3.5 hours a day devoted just to smoking. I was so scared to quit. I was also ready to quit. I remember I made a big deal of it. I went to the park by the lake and I remember being very aware of everything around me. I remember the rocking dock and the gray sky and a small white feather floating nearby. I remember walking off that dock thinking over and over again “I will never smoke again.”

I went to the doctor appointment and was pleasantly surprised to find she supported the way of eating I had discovered. We came up with a plan and she went over the blood work with me. She said that I was technically 2 points away from being diabetic. That did not relieve me. I remember her asking questions and as I answered realizing how my body was already being vastly affected by my lifestyle. I had been oblivious. She did a sensitivity test on my feet. I was not allowed to look as she asked can you feel this can you feel that. I didn't feel anything, but I glanced over at Becca and saw her wincing. She later told me that the doctor was piercing my foot with a needle. I didn't even feel it. That's called neuropathy—nerve damage from the high levels of blood sugar. That scared me. A lot.

Anyway, that first few weeks was a pretty crazy time for me. I get home from work an hour before Becca. I usually spent that time reading and smoking and drinking coffee. Well, I cut out the smoking and the coffee. Becca would come home and find me in the kitchen with all the cupboards contents strewn about or in the bedroom with everything that had once been neatly placed in the closet all over the room. “What are you doing,” she would ask. “Feeling manic” I would reply. It was a very productive time for me! I got through the worse of it and starting trying to work on the other parts of the plan. That included exercise (yes, I am finally getting to the point of the whole story!). The plan called for 4-8 hours a week. Right.

I love being outside so we started taking long walks. Becca was running at that time and suggested I come with her. HA! I think it was her brother that suggested I could bike while she ran. I am by nature a cheapskate so I immediately started looking on Craigslist for a new ride. I found a gorgeous, and more importantly, old bike that fit the bill. I was so excited for that bike. It needed some work, which I had planned on doing myself. So I bought another cheap bike—it wasn't old but it was functional and I had devised a plan to get Becca to bike with me instead of running. Before long the old Sears 3 speed was up and running, no thanks to me. We started with greenways. God bless greenways. Smooth, mostly flat. We picked the longest ones we could and I struggled with even 6 miles. Especially on the trails with even slight hills. Soon it dawned on me that perhaps a single speed cruiser and 3 speed might not be cutting the mustard for us. Hey, cut me some slack, I was (am) new at this. The last bike I had was in high school and to me a bike was a bike was a bike.

So I sold them both and bought two more beautiful Craigslist finds. This time 10 and 12 speeds. They were old which was actually a criteria on my list. An old Puegeot and Fuji. And guess what? Gears make a difference. We started riding some on the roads around our house. We were doing a lot of hiking at this point, spending sometimes an hour after working cruising the local parks. These were gentle hikes, but we tried to get out on weekends and do some more intense stuff. And we liked to mix it up with biking. Before summer's end we we pretty confident on 2 different routes around our house and when we finally went back to our favorite greenway it was not even challenging! We reached the end and decided to hop on the road and ride a little while. It was such a victory and such a confidence boost to have some tangible progress.

With biking as a big part of my exercise, my health has really improved. I have lost 25 pounds. Oh and I am still smoke free nearly 8 months later. And breathing is a good thing when you like biking. I would even call it important. At the 6 month mark my blood work showed that I was no longer even prediabetic! My blood sugar was low middle range, my fatty liver had been reversed and my cholesterol levels had dropped dramatically. Now I think a lot of that is the diet I have chosen, but I know that the weeks I stopped exercising I stopped feeling good. Biking has played a huge part in regaining my health. And as the commercials say, that is priceless.

Bookmark and Share


Anonymous said...

that is seriously inspiring. i had no idea that you had been diagnosed with prediabetes - i didn't actually know that prediabetes was a condition. anyway, yay for bikes! can't wait till yours arrives!

bikeolounger said...


I happened on your blog because I work for a Globe dealer, and recently assembled a bike for this blog project (Robert's Live 2, if it matters to you). I'll be watching several of these to see how folks are doing, and yours is likely one I'll watch.

One reason for this is that a friend of mine was a racer in the Race Across America last summer, on Team Type 2--all the racers on that team have type 2 Diabetes. My wife volunteered to crew for them, and spent a week getting very little sleep helping make sure the racers could ride, ride, ride!

The point of Team Type 2 (and their companion squad, Team Type 1) is to show that, even with Diabetes, you can manage it, and do amazing things (like participate in a 3021-mile bike race)!

Many people are quite successful at managing the condition by doing what you are doing--eating carefully and exercising. I wish you the best results as you travel through and enjoy your life (with your new Globe bike!).


Dan Nguyen-Tan said...

Brenda: I look forward to following how your health improves through bicycling. Bicycling is certainly the primary reason I feel healthy since it's my main form of exercise, even when I'm just casual riding from one place to another as part of my everyday transportation in the city.

Doris Lambert said...

Way to go, girl! So proud of you! Yeah for bicycles- and just think, it all started with those crazy Big Wheels! :)

erika johnson said...

i'm in awe of the self-love and the determination . . . we need to get together and ride together my friend, i misses you way mucho. xoxo

Loren Berdequez said...

It has been an honor and a privilege to witness the transformation you have undertaken over the past several months. I can't wait to see what the future holds for you!