I count myself lucky to work with a number of people who share a sense of purpose, putting their skills and natural talents to good use to try to improve the lives of those living with diabetes. Their passionate dedication helps keep me motivated as I continue to connect, share and learn. My colleague Mike Glickman, for example, frequently plays to his strength in connecting with people as he participates in health fairs. In the same light, I recently met a woman who also has a strong sense of purpose, and is similarly committed to the cause of diabetes awareness.
A Nurturing Nature
From the time she was a little girl, Maxine Phillips has had an interest in and talent for teaching. When playing with her 11 brothers and sisters, she always had to be the teacher, assigning them lessons and creating certificates to award them for their efforts. “I always wanted to help people excel in life and be the best that they can be,” she said.
That nurturing nature served Maxine well when she took on the role as primary caregiver for her husband Greg, when he was in poor health related to complications associated with type 2 diabetes. Based on her experience with him, when Maxine started experiencing increased thirst and frequent urination herself in 2008, she knew a visit to her doctor was in order. The doctor confirmed a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, with an A1C level of 16 percent. “I knew I had a choice,” she said. “I could either continue to not take care of my body and then possibly find myself getting worse, or I could start doing things differently.”
A Healthier Lifestyle
She decided to take a hard look at her diet and adopted some healthy habits. She added more fruits and vegetables, ate six small meals a day, and tested her blood sugar multiple times a day to help gauge how certain foods impacted her blood sugar level. Then she started looking at how she prepared her food, eliminating white flour and sugar, and substituting zucchini “noodles” for pasta.
To add more activity into her day, Maxine turned to her Nintendo® Wii™ for help. Now she enjoys Wii bowling, tennis, walking, jogging, dancing, kickboxing and yoga. She shoots for 30 minutes a day, sometimes breaking the time into 10-minute sessions. She also enjoys walking and playing with her grandkids outside. When she attends their sporting events, Maxine sometimes walks around the nearby track. When grocery shopping, she parks at the far end of the parking lot so she walks farther. As a result of her lifestyle changes, Maxine has lost seven dress sizes.
“I wanted to make changes that I’m going to be able to continue to do, not do something as a fad,” she said. “If I do things in moderation, then I can continue to keep up the habits no matter where I go. Even if I’m out of town, I can still keep it up.”
Helping People Excel in Life
After some upheaval in her professional life, Maxine enrolled in a business coaching certification program at North Carolina State University in 2009. As a part of her coursework, Maxine’s mentor asked her, “What could you do that would make a huge difference in your life right now, that you wish you had already started doing?” Maxine instinctively knew she wanted to start her own business offering life and career coaching services to help others identify their gifts and purpose.
She immediately began discussing ideas with her husband, who enthusiastically supported her plans. Yet when her husband passed away several months later, Maxine found herself at a crossroads. “I had a choice at that point,” she said. “I could give up or I could continue to move forward. What I shared with him, that would become our legacy. It was time to step out and just move forward. I’ve never looked back.” She spent 2010 planning and in 2011 Maxine formed GAMMS Unlimited, a name which includes the first initials of her late husband, their daughter April, herself, their son Marcus and their first grandson Sean, as a remembrance of the legacy she and Greg created together.
In honor of her husband, Maxine gathered friends and relatives to form Team Greg Phillips to participate in the American Diabetes Association’s (the Association) Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes®. Team members wore shirts with Greg’s picture on the front, and the number 60, his age, on the back. Maxine expected perhaps 25 people to join her, but 62 people participated. She thanked everyone with a luncheon in her backyard.
Maxine now participates in the walk behind the scenes as well. In 2012, the Association invited Maxine to join their Executive Team as the mentor for the Team Captains. If the Team Captains needed assistance or encouragement, Maxine offered tips, techniques and strategies to help. Maxine moved on to serving as the Team Captain chair for several years, and this year is serving as 2014 Walk Chair and Team Mentoring Chair. In addition, Maxine hopes to recruit 100 people for Team Greg Phillips, to celebrate their fifth year of participating in the walk, with a goal of raising $10,000 for the Association.
Part of Maxine’s role with the Association is to help raise diabetes awareness. She frequently volunteers to speak about her experiences with diabetes at corporations, churches, community colleges and community centers. “I love doing it,” she said. “I feel like this is still a part of my calling to help people excel. When I’m coaching, it’s about the whole person. I not only talk about your interests, skills and career, but I also talk about your health and wellness. I ask, ‘What can you do differently that’s going to give you that energy that you’re going to need in order to do some of these other things in life?’”
When she speaks, Maxine begins with two thoughts. “I am who I was born to be, and I have diabetes, but diabetes does not have me,” she said. “I try to give them that hope. I try to give them the possibilities of what may happen when you make modifications in your life. People often thank me for sharing my story, saying now they know some things that may help not only themselves but also their mother or father or aunt. That’s what it’s all about, helping the next person. If you keep the information within yourself and you’re not willing to share it, what good does it do? I want to leave a legacy that I touched as many lives as I possibly could.”
I found I could really relate to Maxine’s dedication to her family and vision for helping others. Her positive attitude was refreshing, encouraging and infectious. This is a dedicated woman who has big ideas, and I look forward to following her adventures. My sincere thanks to Maxine for sharing her story and passion.
All the best,
Disclosures: Maxine Phillips 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.
Nintendo and Wii are registered trademarks of Nintendo of America Inc.
Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes is a registered service mark of the American Diabetes Association, Inc.