I am a veteran with Type 2 Diabetes. Here is my story of advocacy through education & policy.

 
Lynda Sardeson,
March 17, 2020 | in Community Stories, Lifestyle Changes, Managing Your Blood Sugar Levels, New Diagnosis

 
Editorial Review Phoebe Stoye, A.B. in Neurobiology, Harvard College
Caretalk

Lynda Sardeson, 73, has lived an incredibly interesting life. She's a single mother to her two sons, and now a proud great-grandmother. She's a military veteran, an international expert in diabetes, and has been sought after by royalty. She also hosts foreigners from all over the world out of her guest room. She has been to over 25 countries and helps build children's hospitals with her missionary group, where she does diabetes counseling. She started a quilting group and loves working in her garden. Lynda seems to have done it all–and she did it after being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

Diabetes awareness is a huge passion for Lynda, who is now retired in northern Indiana. She was diagnosed when she was 40 years old and was shocked to discover the source of her condition was exposure to Agent Orange when deployed with the army in the Vietnam War. Despite the unexpected and unwelcome diagnosis, Lynda, now a nationally certified diabetes educator, takes a hard stance when it comes to how she leads her life. For her, you can either let diabetes take over you, or you can take over it—and she has chosen to be in charge of the rest of her life.

Tell us about your experience receiving your diagnosis. What have you learned or wish you knew?

A big misconception about diabetes is that people assume. They assume that you can't eat sugar. Well, sugar doesn't cause diabetes–it doesn't help it–but it doesn't cause it.

(Editor's Note: Educating yourself about your diabetes is key, especially with misinformation on the internet and through word-of-mouth rumors. See 5 other common diabetes myths here.)

For me, it's been a real challenge to get people to understand that I can make my own choices. That they don't have to go do anything special just because I have diabetes.

For example, if someone is concerned about what to cook when I come over, I'd prefer if they just give me a call and say, "Is there anything special we can do?" I would say, "No, just fix what you want and I'll make my choices." I don't want people to go out of their way to make anything special. If nothing else, I'll call them ahead of time and ask them what they were planning on fixing, and then I'll adjust my day accordingly. But they don't need to do anything special, and I don't want them to feel like they have to.

Something important to share is that you can live to a ripe old age with diabetes, and you can control the complications. You can even prevent the complications, which we didn't know when I was first diagnosed, But now, we do scientifically know that. I'll do anything to control my diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes doesn't have to impact your life negatively—it can if you let it, but there's a lot you can do to prevent all that.

What was it like adapting to your condition? What challenges have arisen?

Well, one is accepting it—that was the primary one initially. Being open and honest with myself and with the people around me, and to let them know that it's not a terrible thing. In fact, I eat healthier because I have it.

The other part I have a problem with is that I'm a nationally certified diabetes educator, so the other challenge is trying to help my patients. To empower them to take charge of their diabetes. To let them know they can either let diabetes control your life, or you can control the diabetes. It's all in your choices. So many misconceptions.

Do you feel like this experience has made you a stronger person?

Yeah. I speak up for people with diabetes. I've lobbied Congress, I've spoken all over the country on diabetes. We got the laws changed in Indiana for insurance agencies to cover diabetes supplies, education, and equipment. Two years ago, insurance didn't cover anything for diabetes. Medicare didn't cover diabetes, and now Medicare does. That's because people with diabetes spoke up. Empowerment's a great thing.

Pete Buttigieg veteran award diabetes

This is me receiving a community service award last year from Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He ran for U.S. President this year.

(Editor's Note: Increasing awareness about Type 2 Diabetes, advocating for policy, and participating in clinical research are all ways that you can take control of your Type 2 Diabetes. Learn more at Caretalk's Get Involved page.)

Would you like to add anything else?

My patients sometimes tell me, "I'm going to die, I'm going to lose my legs, because that's what happened to my mother." Unless you want your diabetes to be out of control, it doesn't have to happen. This is what you do: find a diabetes educator, a nurse, or certified diabetes educator, and go to her classes—because diabetes is not a death sentence. You'll end up being healthier in the long run.

Author with type 2 diabetes in Tanzania

Standing in front of my hut with my Maasai friend in Zinga, Tanzania, East Africa. Andrea is very tall. I'm standing on a step.

Author with type 2 diabetes in garden

My shed and flower garden in the backyard.


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