Diabetes Canada volunteer Mirjana Rakic credits her husband of more than 20 years, Dejan, with seeing her through the many diabetes-related challenges she has faced. Mirjana, who is 46, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was nine, and immigrated to Canada from Belgrade as a teenager. She returned to Serbia to marry her husband, who later joined her in Vancouver. A former psychiatric nurse, admits she did not always manage her diabetes very well—she smoked and neglected her body, and felt her diagnosis was a burden to those around her. “As a kid I looked at the struggle my family had trying to help me and I felt so guilty,” she says. “I didn’t take care of myself. And I didn’t care about harming myself because I thought that would allow me to die sooner and I wouldn’t be a burden.”
But her parents and her husband stuck by her. “It got to the point where my husband said, ‘I don’t know how to help you anymore and I can’t watch you not take care of yourself.’ ” That was the wakeup call Mirjana needed. She began seeing a family doctor regularly and worked on making positive changes to her lifestyle, including seeing a spiritual healer, doing yoga and meditation, journalling and walking regularly.
In 2004, she experienced one of the potential complications of diabetes–chronic renal failure, also known as chronic kidney disease, which meant her kidneys stopped working. As a result, Mirjana could not have children, and had to stop working two years later. Giving up an income as a nurse was a financial challenge, and the couple moved from their townhouse to a one-bedroom apartment in Richmond, B.C. In 2011, when she needed a kidney transplant, her husband was the donor. “He was the perfect match—in more ways than one,” she says.
I am fortunate to have a lot of love around me, especially from my husband, whom I’ve known since I was a teenager. He helped me change my attitude from feeling like a victim to being someone who could take control and responsibility for my diabetes.
Ten years later, in 2014, Mirjana also received a new pancreas, and again she had her family’s support as she underwent this complex surgery. She also had peace of mind and a commitment to expect the best on her side, and today, she no longer needs to take insulin. She says, “My husband and parents, and other family and friends are still in disbelief at how I was able to go through such challenges with grace and humour. I simply could, because my attitude changed from seeing myself as a victim to accepting myself as a creator of my life and accepting the consequences of that.”
Her positive attitude served her well as she again faced health challenges in July 2019 in the form of a mild stroke. “It was difficult at first, as I lost control of my left leg and my balance,” she says, “but I managed to overcome yet another life challenge with persistent work and good faith. I am recovered now.”
She adds, “Chronic illness can seriously ruin close, intimate relationships, but it can also make them immensely strong. Knowing I had love, care, compassion, and tolerance from my family throughout the most challenging moments of this illness created indescribable gratitude and joy in me. They loved me unconditionally; they loved me even when I refused to love myself. Thanks to my parents, and especially my husband, I lived to love them back and even heal.”
Did you know?
2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin. Today, more Canadians have diabetes than ever before. Diabetes or prediabetes affects 1 in 3 Canadians. One in 2 young adults will develop diabetes in their remaining lifetime. We can’t wait another 100 years to End Diabetes. #LetsEndDiabetes Visit 100 Years of Insulin to learn more, including how you can support those living with or at risk for the disease.
This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Spring 2015. Photo by Richard Lam Photography.
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