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Franca Cupello has a beautiful smile that’s a reflection of her positive attitude and personal faith, which have carried her through many challenges. But even these qualities could not have prepared her for the challenges of living with type 2 diabetes. This year marks 30 years since her diagnosis, which has included the loss of her vision—one of several potential complications. “Diabetes was and remains life-changing,” she says.  “It has proven to be the game changer in my health and in my life.”

Learning about diabetes

Within a couple of months, Franca lost 42 pounds experienced bursts of high energy and fatigue, constant thirst and frequent urination. These are all common signs and symptoms of diabetes. But like many people, Franca had no idea what they meant, until she saw her family physician following her return to Calgary. Blood tests immediately confirmed type 2 diabetes.

She knew that educating herself about diabetes was key. “My early experiences showed me that I would have to stand firmly as my own advocate. At the very beginning, the only person who offered to teach me about diabetes was my pharmacist.” Franca eventually created her own team of supportive healthcare professionals. “They allowed me to ask my own relevant questions, and if and when necessary, share information with each other. I am grateful to each of them,” she says.

At the time of her diagnosis, the only other member of her family with diabetes was an elderly aunt who had been diagnosed a few years earlier. Within a few short years, other family, including her parents, developed diabetes.  Says Franca,

It was very daunting to enter this world of diabetes without any knowledge of symptoms, complications, or treatment.

Getting up to speed about her condition

“It was critical to become proactive on all fronts regarding my own health care, especially to protect parts of the body [impacted by] the disease, like my eyes and vision,” says Franca. She soon learned how diabetes could result in complications due to a lack of basic information, a progressive self-care plan, and an understanding of treatments. For her, a simple head cold with quickly turn into a painful sinus infection, or a small blister on her foot would become “a crater-size open wound,” requiring months of regular visits to an orthopedic specialist.

A decade later, Franca developed an eye condition known as “iritis”—which causes painful swelling and inflammation in the iris—that resulted in her first cataract. Two weeks after surgery and an unknown complication, she says, “My eye hemorrhaged, and I was sent to a retina specialist, who informed me that diabetic retinopathy was responsible. This was news to me, as I have never heard those words from my longtime vision specialist.” After multiple surgeries laser treatments, and eye injections, she gradually lost sight in both eyes.

Staying independent

Determined to maintain her independence, Franca leaned on her faith, while learning to live with loss of vision and adapting to a new reality that included bumping into walls, regular falls, and bruises. “For my 50th birthday, I turned in my license and sold my car,” says Franca, who also made the difficult decision to end her career, which she enjoyed. Despite all of these life-altering changes, she says, “I am committed to continuing my journey without fear.”

Connecting with others

COVID-19 has had an impact on many people, including Franca. “I have always enjoyed being an extrovert, but now I truly enjoy my alone time, [without feeling] lonely.” She enjoys spending time with her inner circle of family and friends, and has found new ways to learn and share knowledge.

Five years ago, her endocrinologist Dr. Hanan Bassyouni recommended her to Diabetes Canada as a volunteer, and today, she’s an advocate for people living with diabetes in Alberta. “It is critically important to become your own advocate on this journey,” she says. “Good management of glucose numbers, together with solid information, and the support of dedicated healthcare professionals working as a team, is a great starting place. Learning from our own experiences and those shared by other diabetics or care providers allows knowledge to keep flowing.”

More recently, she has been involved in the development of Diabetes Canada‘s policy about sight loss prevention and diabetes, and the importance of ensuring people living with diabetes have equitable access to eye health care, screening and treatment. “Too many generations of people diagnosed with diabetes lived in fear. We are blessed to have brilliant specialists and researchers, who are making medical advances. This knowledge is powerful.”

Did you know?

May is vision month. For many people with diabetes, eye damage, or diabetic retinopathy, is an all-too-common complication. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness for people aged 20-65 in Canada. Learn more, including what you can do now, by visiting Eye Damage and Diabetes

Author: Denise Barnard

Category Tags: Advocacy & Policy, Community Spotlight, Impact Stories;

Region: National

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