Team Diabetes
October 08, 2018 By Neli Avila
Crazy to say, but being diagnosed with diabetes has turned out to be positive

I was diagnosed with diabetes later in life—in 2012 at the age of 45. After I moved into my own home with my daughter, I applied for a 20-year life insurance policy. The medical test [I was required to take] showed that my blood glucose [sugar] was high, and that my pancreas had failed and stopped producing insulin. [Editor’s note: Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA) is a rare type of diabetes that is similar to type 1 diabetes, but often mistaken for type 2 diabetes.]

Although I had often been dehydrated, had to pee throughout the night, and felt super foggy and “off,” I just assumed it was the stress of getting separated. I thought these symptoms, which didn’t seem like reasons to see a doctor, were just part of living.

My diagnosis saddened and overwhelmed me. Life had changed so much—and it seemed so quickly. After a 25-year marriage, I was on my own. I had switched career, taking night-school courses to become a buyer. And now, I had diabetes. At first I hid my diagnosis, not telling my employers or fellow employees, and only sharing the news with good friends. I felt embarrassed to deal with the disease in public—only giving myself insulin and testing in private.  Being a single mother, I worried that I wasn’t going to live long enough to be there for my daughter.

For more than a year after my diagnosis, I took metformin but just couldn’t manage my sugars. After eating, my blood sugar levels would be high, while each day around 5 p.m. on my commute home from work, I’d hit a low. It was exhausting, and I was always frightened by the lows and not getting sugar on time. I switched to another oral medication, which also did not work. In 2014, I started fast-acting insulin; now, I rarely hit lows, and my A1Cs are in range.

I’ve enjoyed running since my teens, and still do today. While waiting to see my endocrinologist, I noticed in an ad for Team Diabetes in a diabetes magazine. At the time, I was training for the 2015 Rock n Roll Vancouver Half Marathon with my running partner and good friend, Randy MacKirdy [both are pictured above]. I mentioned the ad and that I was thinking of joining and fundraising for Team Diabetes. Randy liked the idea and joined me as part of MAD Dashers – Making a Difference for Diabetes TEAM DIABETES. 

We raised $950 from a bowling event, and friends also donated directly to our page for the 2016 BMO Half Marathon in May. After completing the run, I had surgery for breast cancer. I had been diagnosed in January but wanted to wait until after the run.

Randy and I continued to raise funds, and participate in local events, but our big goal was to run in Lisbon, Portugal, in October 2017. It marked my first full marathon at the age of 50 in my home of Terceira, Azores, where I lived until I moved to Canada at the age of six. We’ve experienced many other milestones as we’ve fundraised and participated in events in support of all those living with diabetes, like me, or affected by it. Randy and I created a Facebook page, and today we have more than 700 followers and counting.

Since joining Team Diabetes, I have felt happy and not as overwhelmed. My life changed so dramatically in such a short time that it could have led to depression and self-pity, but I feel more of a purpose to give back. My faith has kept me plunging forward, and I believe God has a plan for me. Running, training and fundraising for events has kept me fit and active. I have met so many new people living with the disease, as well as locals, along the way. The support has been incredible and appreciated by me and by Randy. We continue to run and train every Sunday morning to be ready for our next Team Diabetes event.

Diabetes doesn’t have to manage you; you can manage it. I know that firsthand. Crazy to say, but being diagnosed with diabetes has turned out to be a positive in my life and has led to unexpected happiness.

Neli Avila has lived in Maple Ridge, B.C., since 1993.

What has your experience been like being diagnosed with diabetes later in life? Tell us now.

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