For many, a diabetes diagnosis can bring with it a range of emotions, from shock and feeling overwhelmed, to fear of the unknown, to acceptance of a healthier life path. Dennis Sheehan shared his feelings of being on an “emotional roller coaster” for the first few months after his type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Mona Huff, Community Organizer for the Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency (KIPDA) Rural Diabetes Coalition, had a similar experience, and it fueled her drive to help others living with diabetes.
An Emotional Experience
After a visit with her son in 2004, Mona was bidding him goodbye when she passed out and fell down a flight of stairs. Treated at the hospital for a broken collarbone, Mona was about to be discharged when her brother-in-law, a paramedic, insisted they learn the cause of her blackout. “They did a blood sugar test, and my blood sugar level was 600,” said Mona. “They asked me how long I’d been diabetic, and I said, ‘I’m not diabetic.’ That’s how it started.”
The diagnosis brought a variety of emotions. “At first, I was so angry with myself,” she said. “I weighed close to 250 pounds and I felt like I was educated well enough that I knew better than to allow myself to get so overweight and in such poor health. Then there was the denial; I really wasn’t eating well so I thought perhaps if I watched it for a while, it’d go away. Of course there was some pity – why me? There was just a range of emotions.”
For Mona, fear was the most difficult emotion to manage. “At that point I had not done any real study on diabetes, and anything that I had seen had been very negative,” she said. “I had a family member that had not cared for herself and her diabetes properly. I think probably my granddaughter’s fear was one thing that stirred me. When she came to the hospital, I saw the fear in her eyes and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve got to get well for her.’”
There is power in facing these emotions, according to Mona. “I think as we face any emotions and name what they are, and then try to decide how we’re going to deal with them, it may help make us a stronger person,” she said. “I think that we ought to be teaching folks from day one after diagnosis that it is normal to feel distressed at times. Ask for help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak when you ask for help; it means you’re strong, that you recognize that you need help.”
One person Mona turned to for support was her husband. “He’s a good listener and a good encourager,” she said. “He would take my blood sugar and get me a snack if I needed it. From day one, he said, ‘We were diagnosed with diabetes. We are going to eat what you need to eat.’ If we want a dessert, we will get something away from home and perhaps share something, so it’s not a temptation for me.” Based on his experiences, Mona’s husband has taught classes on how family can help their loved ones living with diabetes.
Mona also had a couple of close friends who provided support, one who lives with diabetes and another who is a pharmacist and a Certified Diabetes Educator*. “They both came to me and told me, ‘This is hard, yes, but you can try to manage it,’” she said. “My friend who lives with diabetes told me to write down everything I ate and note my blood sugar level before and after; she really helped get me into really taking care of myself well.”
At nearly 250 pounds, Mona couldn’t walk to the mailbox at the end of her driveway. After incorporating dietary changes for several years, she decided to start walking. “The first time I walked, I walked to the mailbox, stood there and rested, walked back and sat in my chair for a while,” she remembered. “As time went on, I just kept increasing it a few steps at a time, and one month short of my 60th birthday, I walked my first 5k. I won in my age group. Of course there were only three of us, but I won.” Now Mona aims to walk three miles a day, and has lost 89 pounds.
Raising Diabetes Awareness in the Community
A large part of Mona’s role with the Rural Diabetes Coalition is community education, with a goal of fostering healthier communities. She facilitates Stanford Diabetes Self-Management Program classes, leads American Diabetes Association Live Empowered® workshops through a local church, collaborates with Dare to Care and the Henry County Help Center on cooking classes and manages a walking event in the community. She collaborates with others to run a weight loss competition program which is now in its seventh year. She also facilitates a diabetes support group and organizes educational events with KIPDA Rural Diabetes Coalition.
“I’ve always been a community-minded person,” she said. “When I was diagnosed, there were no community resources in my area. I had a great desire to become a part of that change in our community, so now I try to make sure that there are things available for the people in my community. My job is to get folks together in Henry County, and try to help them understand the importance of health changes that may occur with diabetes.”
Her efforts seem to be paying off. One pastor set guidelines for making church potlucks healthier, and another church put in a walking trail. Class attendees often lose weight and see a decrease in A1C level. The community has started a 501(c)(3) organization called “Communities In Action” which focuses on promoting healthy families, beyond diabetes awareness and education, including education for all age groups regarding mental and physical health. “We will have several specific focuses including substance abuse in young people, all the way to chronic disease and the need for healthy lifestyles to promote wellness in all areas,” she said. “I’m looking to make sure we try to sustain healthy outcomes because they are so related to everything else going on in our lives.”
I was so impressed with Mona’s far-reaching community education efforts. She seems to effectively parlay her experience and the support she has gotten from family and friends into valuable community resources, and I applaud her initiative. Many thanks to Mona for sharing her story.
All the best,
Disclosure: Mona Huff 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.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” is a certification mark owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
Live Empowered is a registered service mark of American Diabetes Association, Inc.