Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Lettuce Talk Diabetes: Interview with Brooke Blasser

I'm so happy to be posting the second interview of my Lettuce Talk Diabetes series! I can't stress enough how important I think it is to feel connected to others with type 1 diabetes and support each other in our diverse journeys to figuring out how to be healthy and happy simultaneously. I really hope these interviews will allow readers to feel less alone and provide an inside look into the questions most of us probably have about each other. It's so uplifting when I meet other people with diabetes and ask "does this happen to you?" and have them reply "OMG, YES!". I hope these interviews can provide at least some level of that for you.

Today I interview Brooke, who I met before I was diagnosed with diabetes. Because of the timing, we never got a chance to really dive in and share with each other about our experiences with diabetes. Now, probably 13 years later, we are still connected - now in more ways than one. I am so grateful to Brooke for opening up and chatting with me about her experiences and perspective. I hope you enjoy our interview!

1 | How long have you been living with type 1 diabetes?

I was diagnosed at the age of 10 and I am now 26 years old, so 16 years.

2 | Does type 1 diabetes run in your family?

Not necessarily, I believe there is a case or two somewhere on my mother's side, but when I was diagnosed they told me they weren't sure if my diagnosis was a genetic case or an environmental/viral case. The doctors at the time expressed concern that multiple children my age from the same community were being diagnosed with type 1 and they said it might have been the result of a virus, which is terrifying!

3 | Who inspires you to stay healthy?

My mother has always been a healthy figure in my life that I’ve looked up to, she currently plays tennis and does yoga. Other inspirations for staying healthy come from a variety of sources: my friends, myself, famous athletes that I read about, etc. In regards to staying healthy with diabetes, I have always had the drive to manage my disease the best I can, and I am thankful for that. 

Surrounding yourself with supportive people will make you want to live a healthier lifestyle, and will also make it easier to do so.

4 | What foods do you find your blood sugar likes the most?

There are actually few foods that I eat that my blood sugar does not like. However, I try to include healthier foods in my diet as often as possible, such as: fruits (in moderation), vegetables, quinoa, low-carbohydrate foods, and low-fat protein.

5 | What kinds of exercise does your blood sugar like the most?

Recently my exercise regimen has been very inconsistent. I will say that my blood sugar does respond well to exercise but it is not as sensitive to it as it was when I was younger. I have noticed that there are times when I do not have a blood sugar response until after a few days of exercising. My go-to exercises are the elliptical (30-60 minutes) and walking on the treadmill on an incline (60 minutes). I also really enjoy playing tennis and do so whenever I get the chance.

6 | What tricks or methods have you found to be helpful in keeping your blood sugar stable while exercising?

Managing blood sugars while exercising can be a difficult task. In high school I played volleyball, basketball, and tennis and experienced a lot of lows following these activities. I would use the temporary basal rate feature on my insulin pump (a really cool reason to get one) and give like 10-15% less insulin for an hour or two after exercise. During some sports games I would take my pump off completely (for about an hour) which would help combat lows. 
Now that I am out of high school and college I do not have a set exercise regimen, but I do take advantage of my continuous glucose monitoring system to see when my blood sugars are declining and treat them before they become too low. My advice with exercising, since it affects everyone differently and there are so many different types and intensities, is just to be prepared for a blood sugar crash (I like sports drinks like Gatorade) the first time or so and you will begin to understand how your body responds to exercise and be able to adjust your insulin levels and prepare beforehand.

7 | What is the biggest misconception about type 1 diabetes that you wish you could clear-up?

One misunderstanding that really bugs me is when people do not understand that type 1 and type 2 diabetes are entirely different diseases. 

There are many people who think they are the same thing and I'll be asked why I can’t just take pills like their friend or family member. I use these moments as educational opportunities and briefly explain that type 1 is when the body no longer produces insulin as a result of an autoimmune response where the insulin-producing cells have been killed off, while with type two diabetes the person affected continues to produce insulin but has trouble absorbing the insulin due to a resistance that has been built up from a variety of factors, often from being overweight.

8 | Are there any words of advice you wish you had been told when you were first diagnosed?

Just because you have been diagnosed with this disease, does not mean your life is over or you have to change what you want to do. Yes, you have the added responsibility of the disease for the rest of your life, but that makes you a stronger person, and you can get through it. 

With type 1 I have gotten through high school playing three sports, graduated with honors from Florida State University, earned my Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing at the University of Florida, practiced as an intensive care unit registered nurse for two and a half years, and am now in graduate school for my doctoral degree in nurse anesthesia at the University of North Florida. 
I recently went on a 35+ mile hiking and camping trip over three days in the Grand Canyon with one of my best friends, and although I was nervous about my diabetes during the trip, I was able to manage it without a problem and enjoy the adventure. You might have to adjust things to fit your diabetes, but it doesn’t mean you cannot do them. You can do anything you want, and embracing your diabetes will help you get through it all.

9 | What is your weapon of choice in bringing up low blood sugars?

I always have those miniature Gatorades around and those are my usual go-to's. Recently though, I have been trying to be healthier and will have some fruit, for example an apple, to bring up my lows.

10 | What’s your favorite food right now?

My favorite food right now is sushi – I am absolutely addicted. One problem, however, is that my blood sugars go crazy when I eat it, much like what happens with a lot of diabetics and pizza. Unwilling to give up my favorite food, I have found ways to manage these crazy spikes with combination boluses on my pump and getting the sushi rolls made with brown rather than white rice when I can. The brown rice has a lower glycemic index which helps with the spikes and overall is a healthier choice so it is a win-win.

11 | Do you follow any specific dietary guidelines that help you with blood sugar control?

Over the years it has been difficult for me to eat a special diet because of my busy lifestyle. I do try to order healthier foods when given the opportunity, like getting brown rice with my sushi, or eating wheat bread rather than white for a lower glycemic index. I would not consider myself an unhealthy eater – I rarely eat fast food and pizza, and thankfully did not inherit my mother’s sweet tooth – however, there is a time and place for those foods and I have figured out how to manage my disease while still being able to eat them. I try to count my carbohydrates as strictly as possible, which allows me to eat mostly what I want while also having good blood glucose control. The insulin pump has also been a wonderful addition to my life and has expanded the number of things I can eat while having good control.

12 | What are your tools of choice (pump, pens, syringes, cgms, glucometers, etc.)?

Currently I use the Animas Ping insulin pump along with the Dexcom G4 continuous glucose monitor. I have had an insulin pump for probably over ten years now and it was the best decision I ever made. 

I was very stubborn about not wanting to wear an insulin pump at first, but I can tell you it is the main reason why I have been able to live a relatively normal life. 

The best advice I can give to anyone is to give it a shot, even if you are scared. My life is not controlled by eating schedules and having to carry shots around with me all the time. I started using the cgm when I became a registered nurse back in 2013. I had heard about the device long before but wasn’t sure about wearing another device and felt like wearing the pump was enough for me. What made me start using the cgm was the fact that I would be doing 12 hour+ shifts in the hospital and there would be times I would not be able to eat lunch or check my blood glucose levels, and I needed additional monitoring to help me get through these difficult situations. It not only benefits me, but also the patients I am taking care of so that they can have the healthiest and safest nurse possible. Although I have been told to not rely solely on the cgm – and I do not; I still continue to manually check blood sugars – my device has been extremely accurate and I do have a lot of trust in it.

13 | Have you experienced “diabetes burnout” yet? If so, how did you overcome it?

I have never wanted to stop managing my diabetes, because I understand the importance of it. However, many times in the past 16 years I have asked the question "why me?" and thought of life without type 1. The reality is, this is my disease, and if I don't manage it then I will not be able to live a normal life. 

I get by knowing that the better care I take of myself, the longer, healthier, and happier life I will live.

14 | Was there a time when you felt self-conscious about having diabetes? If so, how did you work to overcome that?

Of course! It's easy to feel self-conscious when you have all these devices attached to you and sometimes feel like a robot of sorts. However, this is me, and so far I haven’t met someone who didn’t accept me for just that. Living in Florida, I also dread the summer and swimsuit season, where my insulin pump and cgm are out in the open for everyone to see. But, no one has ever said anything negative about these devices I’m attached to. 

Sometimes people ask questions, but I just view those situations as opportunities to educate people on the disease and all the cool devices that help us live normal lives.

15 | Where do you find support?

My mother is my biggest supporter, along with the rest of my family – father and brother. My friends have also been huge supporters of me and have never judged me or made me feel any different than them.

16 | What do you want to say to the #T1D community?

Participate in type 1 community events and groups because they will help you see that you are not alone in this. I also like to follow diabetes Facebook pages like LBD, and others that share funny memes, or news about advancements in the search for a cure, and feel like that helps me feel a part of the type 1 community and up-to-date on advancements. 

17 | Where can we keep up with you and your journey?

The main way I keep in touch with people is through Facebook or via email. I welcome any and all questions/conversations about my journey and anyone else’s.

Thank you, Brooke! And thank you to anyone that took the time to read our interview, I really hope this series serves as a source of support and connection for the #T1D community. If you missed my first interview with Chelsea Moffett, you can find it here. Stay tuned for more interviews!


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