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Diabetes Support: A Delicate Dance

Will Ryan & Susanna Opper take a team approach

Laura Kolodjeski of Sanofi US DiabetesLaura Kolodjeski

Last year when we talked with Will Ryan, aka The Joyful Diabetic, we were intrigued when he referred to his wife, Susanna Opper, as his “confidante and coach.” So for this month’s Throwback Thursday post, I thought it would be neat to do a follow-up post with her, to learn more about her role as a “type 3,” and how she supports Will in his life with type 2 diabetes.

Susanna Opper and Will Ryan
Susanna Opper and Will Ryan

Will and Susanna met at a college class reunion in 1990. “I walked into the room and this man was standing there and we started chatting,” she recalled. “Within a very brief period of time, each of us knew that this was something very special. I remember telling him, ‘I have to be careful. I tend to rush these things.’ He said, ‘You do? I already have us married and living in the Berkshires.’ We were engaged six weeks later. When he proposed to me, I told him I was crazy enough to get engaged to him quickly, but I wasn’t crazy enough to marry any time soon. We would be waiting a bit. We didn’t get married until almost a year later.” They’ve now been married for 23 years.

Before she met Will, Susanna didn’t know much about diabetes. “I remember being in skiing lessons many years ago and this guy had diabetes,” she said, “I was just shocked that he could even ski. I had this image that people who had diabetes couldn’t do anything. Otherwise, I didn’t know very much about diabetes. I think my grandfather had diabetes, but he was in his 90s so it wasn’t anything that I learned very much from.”

Now Susanna takes her cues from Will in regards to learning about diabetes. “I feel really educated about it because he’s so educated about it,” she said. “To me, he seems like a poster child for managing diabetes. He gives me things to read or sometimes I’ll ask him questions. Even though I’ve been living with him and his diabetes for all these years, there are still new questions.”

Offering diabetes support can be a delicate dance, according to Susanna. “It’s very tricky as the partner of somebody living with diabetes not to tell them what to do,” she said. “There are times when I have a strong opinion on something about managing diabetes and I know that he doesn’t want to hear my opinion. I will give it to him anyway. He will sometimes get angry with me, but a lot of times will do something about it. We’re pretty much a team on managing anything that is out of the ordinary for either one of us. We also have an agreement if anything is wrong, we tell each other and then the other will kind of watch it. He doesn’t usually ask for my help; it’s just that I’m watching.”

Susanna Opper and Will Ryan skiing in New Mexico
Susanna and Will
skiing in New Mexico

Like many couples, Susanna and Will enjoy being active together. “We like a lot of outdoor activities, like hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing and walking,” she said. “We also enjoy just hanging out in our house. We live in a resort area in the Berkshires. We’re both very active in the Toastmasters® speaking and leadership development organization, which is something that Will has been involved with a very long time.”

One way Susanna supports Will is during their frequent walks. “Our goal is to have an hour walk together every day,” she said. “That doesn’t always happen, but that’s our goal. When we go out for a walk, I am still trying to train myself to ask him, ‘Have you tested and do you have candy?’ There have been times that we’re up the driveway and I remembered to ask him. He’d say, ‘Oh, no. I forgot.’ He goes back to test; I wait. For some reason it’s a hard habit to get into, even though the candies live right at the front door so we can just grab a couple on the way out. We’re still working on that one.”

Another way she supports him is with menu planning and cooking. “I’m the person that cooks and buys the food,” she said. “I’m constantly watching what he eats and how things interact for him. We’re pretty much in collaboration around menu planning. He’ll often ask me how many carbs are in something. I’ll look at the labels for him. If it’s not there, sometimes I’ll work with him to guess. I get involved in helping him to figure out the carbs when it’s not immediately obvious.”

To alleviate caregiver stress, Susanna makes it a point to take time for herself. “I’ll very often go for a walk,” she said. “I garden in the summer. To me, it’s pretty much getting outside. I also spend a lot of time on lunches and phone calls with my girlfriends. That is a really strong resource for me. If there was ever a situation where the caregiving that I was expected to give was greater than what I have to do now, I would certainly look to them as my first line of resource. Fortunately I have not needed that so far.”

I found the story of Will and Susanna’s courtship heartwarming, and love how in tune they seem to be with each other. It made me think of how grateful I am to have a supportive spouse in my life as well. What are some ways your loved ones support you? I encourage you to share in the comment section below. My thanks to Susanna for taking the time to share her story.

All the best,

Laura K.

Disclosures: Susanna Opper received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

Toastmasters is a registered service mark of Toastmasters International.

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