We love a good read at our house. Most nights we enjoy a book (or two) before my daughter’s bedtime. I look forward to the time when she gets into chapter books so we can start working our way through some of the classics I remember from my own childhood. My interest in chapter books was recently piqued by the Smallborn series by Martha Zimmer, who lives with type 2 diabetes.
When she was 49 years old Martha suffered a small stroke, which ultimately led to the discovery of her type 2 diabetes. “I just thought I had a bad case of flu,” she said. “I was throwing up and had headaches so I went to the emergency room, where they did their CT scan and MRI and told me I’d had a stroke. They also tested my blood sugar level, which was about 330, and that’s when I found out I had diabetes.”
Her diagnosis surprised her despite her family history of diabetes. Her father lived with type 2 diabetes and passed away from a heart attack at age 54. “I thought I was going to die by the time I was my dad’s age when he died,” she said. “Then I hit 54 and I didn’t die. It’s odd, if you think you know when you’re going to die and then you don’t, it changes things. You have to make decisions about what you are going to do with your life now and what you are living for. So I decided I needed to take care of myself better. I started exercising and really trying to lose weight. Just losing some weight and exercise has done more for me than anything else.”
Martha found it helped to think of her family as she made these lifestyle changes. “I needed a reason to live,” she said, “and it helped that I had all these grandkids, grand nieces and grand nephews. They are so great to have because little children really keep your eyes on something besides yourself. I got a lot of encouragement from my family. I have a nephew who won’t be quiet about things, and he was telling me, ‘You need to get up and exercise. You need to do something or sit there and die.’”
Her nephew suggested she watch “The Biggest Loser®” for motivation. “I started watching, and boy oh boy, was I educated,” she said. “That show motivated me because those people were losing weight, and everybody who was diabetic on that show seemed to gain better control of their blood sugar by the end. You can’t fight that. Now I watch it to keep me motivated while I’m walking on my Gazelle®.”
In addition to exercising, Martha uses the free website MyFitnessPal™ to track her food intake. “The website makes it so easy to track what you eat, how much exercise you do and how many calories you’re burning,” she said. “Journaling my food has helped a lot because it’s too easy to not pay attention to how much you eat. It’s also helped teach me about serving sizes. I didn’t grow up thinking about serving sizes; you just ate what was on your plate.” By tracking her food intake and exercising, Martha lost about 60 pounds last year.
As part of her renewed lease on life, Martha also decided it was time to pursue her dream of writing a children’s book. “I just love to write,” she said. “I started writing when I was a teenager and then I just gave it up. I didn’t realize how big a part of my life it needed to be. When I realized I was going to live, I realized I really wanted to get back to writing. I knew I wanted to write fantasy books for pre-teen children because that’s how old I feel like I still am sometimes.” Martha self-published her first book, “The Smallborn,” in 2011 and has written the second book, but hasn’t published it yet.
“The Smallborn” is about a group of little people who live in trees, and specifically about one young girl’s journey to learn her gift in life. “Your gift is what makes you who you are,” said Martha. “I really would love for young people to know how valuable they are. It’s their gift that gives them value in other people’s lives, and it gives them purpose. My gift is teaching, and knowing that is like the foundation I walk on; everything else just comes out of that.”
Tapping into her teaching gift, Martha created an informational website to educate others about diabetes called A Diabetic Life. Using a keyword research tool, Martha learned what people search for related to diabetes education, and set out to answer those questions. “I wanted to make a website about something I could learn about,” she said. “I figured if it was interesting to me then maybe it would be interesting to somebody else. In targeting each keyword, I learned about those things, because to write a page about each topic, I needed to understand the material.”
From her website, Martha hopes visitors come away with one, basic piece of advice that motivates action. “I really hope that people who have someone in their family who lives with diabetes get their own blood sugar level tested,” she said. “Doctors don’t just automatically test your blood sugar, but you can request it. That’s my number one flag. I wave that flag on all my webpages. Get your blood sugar tested.”
Martha also advises positive thinking for those newly diagnosed with diabetes. “Don’t be afraid,” she said. “Educate yourself about what diabetes is. It doesn’t have to be the end of your life by a long shot. It is possible to live well today with diabetes. Do the things that you’ve really wanted to do; don’t give up on them because of diabetes.”
Martha’s message of finding and believing in one’s personal gift is a powerful one. I expect it’s one that could benefit many adults, as well as children. My thanks to Martha for sharing her story.
All the best,
Disclosure: Martha Zimmer 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.
The Biggest Loser is a registered trademark of Reveille LLC.
MyFitnessPal is a registered service mark of MyFitnessPal LLC.
Gazelle is a registered trademark of Fitness Quest, Inc.