‘Managing diabetes means lifestyle change’ says young diabetic, Shanice Sutherland
The average high-school student is likely to be burdened by concerns about their studies, getting into the right clubs and colleges, all while balancing their social lives. It can be hectic, but imagine doing all of that and finding out that you have diabetes as well.
That is exactly what happened to Shanice Sutherland.
The 21-year-old was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, otherwise known as ‘juvenile diabetes’, when she was just 16. Her body was not producing enough insulin and was unable to change foods, especially sugars, into energy, which resulted in really high levels of blood glucose (sugar).
Telling the story of how it all began, Shanice said, “When I was in grade nine at Immaculate Conception High School, one day I had PE class but I didn’t carry my things so I was just by the changing room and I realised that I started getting hot, I was sweating, I was getting dizzy, I couldn’t breathe and it was just overwhelming.”
Doctors told her she was pre-diabetic; her blood glucose was higher than it should be but not quite in the range of a diabetic’s. A year later, she was diagnosed with diabetes.
For Shanice, this meant a drastic change in her life. Suddenly, her morning routine included checking her blood sugar levels every morning. And she had to get insulin, which helped to normalise her body’s blood sugar levels – one dose in the morning and another dose immediately before each of her two biggest meals.
And in addition to injecting insulin into her body, she had to change her diet. She had to reduce the amount of foods rich in sugar and carbohydrates, such as rice and pasta, both of which she loved to eat. She was also implored to exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
Lamenting the entire tedious process, Shanice explained that she must constantly check her blood glucose levels throughout the day. And with her already overwhelming schedule as a final-year actuarial science major at The University of the West Indies, engaging in career advancing club activities and working as a peer adviser, she shared, “I really don’t think I’m managing it that well.”
She said that dieting and exercise are a struggle, and coupled with another condition that she has, Shanice has been gaining weight as the years go by. And while she noted that it is difficult for her to manage, she knows that type 1 diabetes is life-threatening if not managed or controlled well. And it is a constant source of fear for her.
“I’ve actually seen it, because my uncle passed away in early September. He was sick for like 12 years and it was from complications from diabetes. He got two forms of cancer, he was on dialysis due to kidney disease, and he was partially blind and partially deaf,” Shanice shared.
But despite struggling to manage, she has come to grips with the fact that this is now her life and she plans to get control. Grateful for an “accountability partner” in her mother to check on her progress, she intends to join a support group and sign up to see a dietician moving forward.
“Hopefully, I can get back on track and be in a good condition because I know that if I’m not controlling it now, I might not be feeling the consequences now but I know I will be feeling it later,” said the young lady.
In addition to finding continued support for herself, she hopes to partner with the Diabetes Association of Jamaica and the Jamaica Moves Campaign to reach out to other diabetics, young and old, and lend her own supporting hand to less fortunate diabetics and to let people know about the free services the association offers to young diabetics.
When asked what she wished to share with Jamaicans for World Diabetes Day (which will be commemorated tomorrow), Shanice said, “To pre-diabetics, ensure that you take the necessary steps to ensure that you don’t become diabetic, because when you get it, it’s a lifestyle change, not just a one-off sickness.”
Jamaica Moves is the country’s coordinated national response to the increased incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Through education, engagement and the building of supportive environments, the campaign hopes to reduce NCDs by 25 per cent by the year 2025.