March 29– Mar. 29–Pam Roller had just retired from teaching at Southeastern School District (Lewis Cass) last May. Little did she know, at a routine checkup just four months later, she would be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin, a hormone that helps the body metabolize glucose.
Roller, an active person with a healthy diet, truly believed she “was doing all the right things.”
“I went for a yearly exam at the end of September and had some lab work done,” said Roller. “The lab work indicated that I had high sugar levels. There was further lab work done — at first it was thought that I had type 2, because at my age, that’s generally the case — my diabetes doctor and my entire educational team that’s been supporting me through this journey could only shake their heads. They just couldn’t believe I could have type 1.”
The diagnosis threw Roller into a world she wasn’t prepared for — a world that included checking glucose levels, insulin injections, insurance deductibles, strict diet plans and technology of which she can’t be more than 20 feet from at any given time. She says it has been a life-changing experience.
“Once it was determined that I was type 1, I immediately started insulin injections,” Roller explained. “The team that morning spent over four and a half hours with me practicing injections, and going over what my options were as far as treatment.”
Initially, Roller, who is terrified of needles, was injecting herself multiple times a day with insulin — short-acting insulin before every meal and long-acting insulin before she went to sleep.
“I’m not kidding, in my entire life I never took medication unless I had to — a lot of the time I waited too long before going in,” she joked. “I have always been terrified by needles — even just having lab work done, I’d have to look away.”
Roller called her day-to-day life with type 1 diabetes a “24/7 full-time job,” and while she says at times it can be frustrating both mentally and physically, she knows she has to “fight to live.”
She described living with the disease by using the acronym “FEES” — frustrating, exhausting, expensive and scary.
“I don’t say that to scare other people,” Roller said. “That is honestly what I started experiencing.”
Roller says she felt like she was becoming a “human pin cushion” and that’s when doctors, who normally wait before introducing alternative treatment options, mentioned FreeStyle Libre to her.
FreeStyle Libre is a 14-day sensor that automatically measures glucose readings day and night. Roller jumped at the opportunity to monitor her diabetes — which is already complex enough by itself — with a painless scan instead of constant finger pricks.
Roller said that while FreeStyle Libre was a great treatment alternative, she soon after upgraded again — this time to Dexcom G5, the first FDA-approved Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) System.
With the new system, Roller wears a device around her waist that provides her real-time glucose readings every five minutes. Additionally, the system automates her insulin delivery.
Dexcom G5 mobile, the app version of the CGM system, allows her and her doctors to access and/or share her glucose data safely and conveniently anywhere, anytime.
“If I’m feeling a little off one day, I can call my doctors and with this system, they can login to see all of my data, including charts, graphs of my glucose trends. They can see my levels at every point in the day, even while I’m sleeping.”
She is extremely grateful for the advances in technology for treating diabetes, something she says her father — who had type 1 diabetes and passed away at the age of 49 — didn’t have the luxury of.
However, Roller says she doesn’t want to mislead anyone. While she is grateful and wants to raise awareness about new treatment options and advances in technology, like all other technologies, there can be issues including charger malfunctions, synchronization and calibration errors.
“Even with the tech issues, it’s so very worth having,” Roller continued. “I count my blessings every day, I can’t stress that enough. I count my blessings that there is something out there that is so user-friendly, and even if there are malfunctions here and there, it’s so worth having the freedom and real-time access to my information.”
Although Dexcom CGM-based treatment does require finger pricks for calibration, Roller says the advanced aspects of the system make it well worth it.
Roller, who as an educator spent the last several years doing e-learning, joked that that she now works with more technology and does more professional development than she ever has before.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect in Roller’s diabetic journey, however, has been her emotional support dog, Patches.
Patches, of course, cannot replace Roller’s routine glucose testing, technology or tools. However, for when she may feel a bit overwhelmed or indifferent because of her condition, Patches is there to provide something less quantifiable: enjoyment, additional security and love.
“She’s the reason I get out of bed in the morning,” Roller exclaimed. “She always brings me so much joy and puts a smile on my face.”
Patches and other diabetes alert dogs are specifically trained to detect fluctuations in blood glucose and alert their diabetic owner in the event of a sizeable decrease.
Roller says it’s ironic that although she just retired as a teacher, she now has to do “homework” — referring to the daily logging of her glucose levels, insulin dosing and diet.
“Who would have thought a retired teacher would have to do homework every day,” she kidded.
Learning she had type 1 diabetes just sixth months ago lead to a whirlwind of emotions. However, as Roller has learned to manage her condition and build her support system, she remains positive and driven by her educator instincts with the goal of helping inform others.
“It’s so important to get educated,” Roller said. “Before my diagnosis, I was completely ignorant about the diabetic world. There are so many new technologies out there that make living with diabetes manageable. I hope my story can help one person with their day-to-day management or convince someone who thinks they may have prediabetes to get checked.”
Prediabetes is a condition in which individuals have blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetics.
Roller’s testimony comes just days after the American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Alert Day, observed annually on the fourth Tuesday in March.
According to the Indiana State Department of Health, Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in Indiana and approximately 10.5 percent of adults in Indiana are living with diabetes, a 37-percent increase since 2005.
Reach Quentin Blount at [emailĀ protected] or 574-732-5130.
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