Candy (Bunch) Earley
November is National Diabetes Month.
The disease has become a leading cause of death and disability in America and, if current trends continue, the burden of diabetes will increase substantially over the next two decades.
Diabetes is more than a disease to be remembered just one month out of the year for at least one local resident.
“For me and so many others, it’s not a monthly disease, it’s a second, a minute, an hour, a week, a month, a year, it’s a lifetime and it’s mine and I want to share my story,” Union City resident Candy (Bunch) Earley said, adding recent complications almost made her lose her legs and left her unable to drive.
Mrs. Earley was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes or Juvenile Diabetes on Sept. 12, 1975, one month prior to her fourth birthday. She is now 41. She said over the years, she has “seen years of technology and medications come and go. I am now on my second type of insulin pump that delivers insulin into my body 24 hours a day. It is a small piece of machinery that I must wear all of the time to stay alive. If I did not have this pump, I would be giving anywhere from six to eight insulin injections daily.”
Diabetes is diagnosed when the pancreas ceases to make insulin to break down sugars in the blood stream. In Type 1 Diabetes, daily injections of insulin are given. Type 2 Diabetes can be managed with oral medications and a careful control of diet and exercise, because insulin is usually still present in the body. Insulin injections may also be necessary.
Mrs. Earley said, “On top of daily injections or medications, you must check your blood glucose level. This is done by pricking your finger for a sample of blood to go into a handheld device.” The normal reading should be in the area of 80–120. For a diabetic, a good number depends on the patient and the goals his or her physician has set.
Having abnormally high blood sugar levels over a period of time can affect the eyes, heart, kidneys and nervous system. It can cause blindness, cardiovascular disease, failure of the kidneys and disease of the nerve endings, which can be cause for infection and possible loss of limbs.
Known as the “Silent Killer,” diabetes affected some 62.8 million Ameri-cans in 2011, according to estimates by the Pan American Health Organ-ization/World Health Or-ganization. If current trends continue, this number is expected to increase to 91.1 million by 2030.
People with diabetes can take steps to control the disease and prevent complications, and those with prediabetes can prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 Diabetes through weight loss and physical activity.
Mrs. Earley said growing up, when she was 15 or 16, she was “young and healthy and felt perfect.” She said she thought, “‘Nothing could ever happen to me.’ Boy, was I in for a rude awakening.”
“As I grew up, life became a little bit harder. I was in my early 20s and had two miscarriages. Why? Terrible diabetes control. When I was 25, I finally was blessed with my daughter, the absolute hardest thing my body would go through, at least that’s what I thought. The next few years were good, I slid back into the ‘nothing will happen to me mode,’ I was so accustomed,” she said.
Mrs. Earley continued by saying at age 36 she was airlifted to Memphis to receive the first three of seven stents in her heart that year. Over the next two years, she had three surgeries on her eyes because of diabetic retinopathy and suffered broken feet because poor circulation, caused by the diabetes, allowed the bones to become brittle and break. She has generalized polyneuropathy, which affects her nerves and nerve endings, and has been diagnosed with third-stage kidney disease. Last year, three more stents were put in her heart. This year, she underwent a procedure to open the blockages in her legs. If nothing had been done, gangrene could have set in and she would have had to have her legs amputated. That is still a possibility, she said.
“My daughter is trained to call 911 and her daddy in the event that she can’t get me aroused. The phone numbers are posted throughout the house. My daughter lives with a fear that most young girls her age should not have to,” she said, adding she also has a border collie named Belle which is trained to bring her glucose bag to her and to alert family members if she can smell a low blood glucose from her body.
Mrs. Earley said she’s not looking for sympathy, but for awareness and knowledge of a disease that sometimes is overlooked and forgotten about.
“Generally, people say, ‘Oh yeah, my grandmother has that,’ like it’s no big deal. At our house, it is a big deal. It’s a way of life and, here lately, the disease has made quite the impact, as time has become my enemy.
“Growing up, life was easy and so was my disease. I lived at home, Mom took care of everything, cooking the right things, giving my injections and checking blood glucose levels. My younger brother was also diagnosed with Type 1 and, at times, it was funny, because she would line us up like an assembly line.
“When I turned 16 and could drive myself, wow, I thought, I can do everything myself. I don’t need a diabetic policeman and I also did not need anyone telling me what was going to happen if I drove to the store and got those candy bars that I always wanted. I hid wrappers so no one would know. I was a teenager and there was not anyone who could tell me anything. I was immortal, nothing would ever happen to me. That’s what I thought,” she said.
Mrs. Earley, who has worked in the local education system, said she has seen up-close the diabetics that are in the local schools. “Diabetes is running like wildfire in our children. I want to be the one that redirects that one child from making the same mistakes that I did before it’s too late.
“Parents can sometimes be in denial that there is anything wrong with their child. My dad was always in denial. The funny thing is that he had Type 2 diabetes and, along with being in denial about me, he was about himself as well. With a diagnosis of congestive heart failure and because he was a non-compliant diabetic, his life was shortened to the age of 60.
“I want children to realize this will happen to you, if you do not take control of your illness. Parents, get involved, don’t nag, but encourage.
“I’m scared, confused and saddened at the quality of life that I have in front of me. I have been so blessed to have the opportunities I have had. I want to take this opportunity to help a diabetic, help them from making the mistakes that I have made,” Mrs. Earley said.
Diabetes is strongly linked to obesity and being overweight, which are on the upswing in the Americas and worldwide, according to the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization.
Survey data from countries in the Americas show that rates of obesity, where the Body Mass Index is above 30, in adults range from 15 percent in Canada to 30 percent or more in Belize, Mexico and the United States.
Surveys also show that obesity and overweight are increasing in all age groups: 7 percent to 12 percent of children younger than age 5 and one in five adolescents in the Americas are obese, and among adults, rates of overweight and obesity approach 60 percent.
To help prevent Type 2 Diabetes and its complications, people should:
• Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
• Be physically active, with at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most days and more for weight control.
• Eat a healthy diet, including three to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day and reduced intake of sugar and saturated fats.
• Avoid tobacco use, which increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
• Drink less alcohol.
Published in The Messenger 11.28.12