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'I'm Only 25 Years Old And I'm Suffering From Type 1 Diabetes'

This is what it's like to be held captive by a chronic disease and be deprived of the perks of being young
by John Paulo Aguilera | Nov 28, 2016
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Of all people, it had to be him.

Dian and I aren’t the type to share personal plights with each other. That’s just the way we roll. Despite having known each other since our since senior year of high school, our brotherhood revolved around making fun of everyone and throwing crazy “What if?” scenarios around to see what kind of laughs we could come up with. Serious conversations don’t happen very often between the two of us—only, maybe, after one too many bottles.

This is the reason why I wasn’t sure if I could pull enough information for a story about him, to get him to talk about his his condition. At 25 years old, Dian has diabetes, which requires him to inject insulin and avoid stress to manage his blood sugar levels.

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I have personally witnessed him break down under the deadly “sugar rush,” after being stressed out during an eight-hour bus trip from Dagupan. The sight of him clutching at his chest while breathing heavily didn’t look good at all.

Hinahabol mo na yung hininga mo. Nahihilo. Kahit malamig yung bus pinagpapawisan ako, namamanhid yung binti ko. Tumataas na yung sugar ko nun,” he recounts. “Yung mga kasu-kasuhan ko parang sinisiksik, iniipit yung buto.”

'Hinahabol mo na yung hininga mo. Nahihilo. Kahit malamig yung bus pinagpapawisan ako, namamanhid yung binti ko. Tumataas na yung sugar ko nun'

That particular episode made me realize that there is more to the disease than simply abstaining from anything too sweet for his own good. The look of bewilderment on my face at that moment summed up my poor recognition of the dire circumstance in front of me.

To commemorate Diabetes Awareness Month, FHM peeks into the life of a young diabetic shackled by soaring blood glucose values to further understand the personal hell of someone suffering from the “beeties.”

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Unwelcome acquaintances

For Dian, a typical day starts at 7:00 a.m. Residing on the fifth floor of an urban housing project in Pasig, his idea of morning exercise is bringing his dog down for roughly an hour of walking. They climb the endless flight of stairs to return to the house and rest up, to prepare for his daily dalliance with a couple of unwelcome acquaintances, Apidra and Lantus—his insulin injectables.

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He has gotten numb from routinely pricking himself because of the two five minutes before breakfast, with Apidra making a couple more appearances ahead of lunch and dinner. When he is not doing household chores, he’s picking up light weights or taking his dog for afternoon walks. He signs off with his most grueling medication, the tablet Metformin, which, according to him, can damage the kidneys.

That is pretty much how life unfolds for him every single day. The unfortunate reality? He could’ve prevented his current sad state.

Piss ants

He had no family history of diabetes. So everything came as a shock for Dian and everyone around him.

He strongly attributes the developing of his condition to the time he briefly stopped attending college and took a three-month vocational course. In the training facility, they barely had anything to drink except for soft drinks, particularly Mountain Dew. “Halos dito na ko sa bahay nakakainom ng tubig,” he says.

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The condition did not reveal itself immediately, although he started noticing signs pointing to it, like, “Pag umiihi ako, may nakikita kaming langgam na itim.” He was waiting for the next semester when his chest area began aching. The stubborn dude that he is, he didn’t pay too much attention because of his pain threshold.

'Pag umiihi ako, may nakikita kaming langgam na itim'

Days before his birthday, he was rushed to the hospital, unable to move a muscle due to immense pain and fatigue. Doctors had to insert tubes into his body to clean out his stomach and assist in his body waste disposal.

He describes the harrowing ordeal as, “Para kang nakahiga tapos binabagsakan ka ng mabigat na bagay, kunwari isang sakong bigas, dito,” pointing to his chest. “Yung pinagdudugtungan ng ribs mo yung pinakamasakit eh. Nahirapan akong huminga, tapos yung paningin ko parang salamin sa CR, yung malabo.”

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At that time, his parents tried their best to compose themselves, but eventually grew distraught upon learning from the doctors that their son had diabetes. The findings, in simple terms were: “Di na kayang i-tolerate ng katawan ko yung taas ng sugar. Kumbaga wala nang pumapasok na bitamina (sa’kin).”

Instead of celebrating another birthday, Dian was confined on January 19 at the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Manila, after fighting for his life.

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Dian was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (insulin deficiency), having acquired it at a relatively young age and because he wasn't putting on weight. But his current physician, endocrinologist-diabetes Dr. Danivic Ramirez, is having second thoughts on the initial assumption.

"Parang may insulin resistance. Hindi siya mataba and yet ang laki ng insulin doses ko, kaya ko inisip, 'Naku, baka kailangan natin ng insulin sensitizers.' Kaya ko binigyan ng tablet. Usually yung mga Type 1 kasi, mabababang dose lang."

He explains that Type 2 is multi-factorial, meaning it can be caused by any of the following: insulin deficiency, insulin resistance, increased glucose production of the liver, increased glucose reabsorbtion of the kidneys, among others. And being the progressive disease that it is, diabetes sets off a destructive sequence that will harm several organs and systems in the body.

In Dian's case, he got it in his early 20s, which doesn't bode too well for him in terms of complications.

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Ramirez points out, "The younger you develop diabetes, the possibility of getting complications very early is also high compared to somebody who developed diabetes at a much later age."

'The younger you develop diabetes, the possibility of getting complications very early is also high compared to somebody who developed diabetes at a much later age'

R(est) and r(elationships)

While he was confined, his blood sugar was checked every two hours, and he got insulin shots round-the-clock. His meals had to be measured, even until two months after he was discharged from the hospital.

From then on, he wasn’t allowed to do strenuous activities to steer clear of stress. Following his release, the ban on sweets had just been issued and regular aerobics suddenly didn’t seem too farfetched. But one word soon ate up most of Dian’s schedule post-diagnosis: rest.

The thought of moving to their province of Batanes, where the atmosphere is relatively more favorable, to fully recuperate had even crossed his mind. “[Pero] mas nasanay na ko dito [sa Manila], dito na ko nagka-edad eh. Kumbaga mahirap na namang mangapa sa ibang lugar.”

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His relationships and the people around him had to adapt to his situation in one form or another. For one, his parents have been very particular with his eating habits and insulin intake. He’s used to them badgering him to get enough exercise.

When it came to his friendships, he had to cut down on nights out. “Imbes na gusto kong sumama, susundin ko na lang yung katawan ko, na mas gusto ng pahinga. Ayaw makipagsabayan.”

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And while he doesn’t get annoyed with us constantly reminding (and teasing) him about what he shouldn’t eat, he admits, “Siguro mga unang araw paglabas ko ng ospital, hindi ko pa tanggap na may nagbabago na.

His condition may have had the biggest impact on his last girlfriend, who initially wasn’t aware of the diabetes and even bought him sugary drinks when they first started dating.

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She recalls, “Silly fights would start with me being a pretentious dietician, incessantly nagging him to stop eating sweets and food that are high in fat and calories.” One of her gifts during the relationship was an insulin cooling case for their regular out-of-town trips.

Dian underscored his former flame’s role in the improvement of his health, even fondly referring to her as his “diabetic police.” Nonetheless, he is thankful for her patience, especially “pag lumalabas kami, kahit gusto niyang kumain ng dessert, eh hindi naman ako pwede, hindi na din siya magde-dessert.”

Tumbler turnaround

As expected, work has been hard to come by. After graduating from the University of the East in 2014, Dian’s lone career track record was his brief run as a liaison officer for my father’s design firm.

He recalls applying for an editing job in Eastwood, where he had already accomplished most of the initial requirements...until he was evaluated for his health to see if he was fit to work.

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Sinabi nung head, nababahala sila baka daw kung anong mangyari sa’kin,” he shares. “Kasi hindi ako laging nasa opisina, nag-e-edit, minsan papapuntahin ka sa malalayong lugar para mag-present ng product. Baka dumagdag daw sila sa stress.”

That’s the closest he has come to being hired. He is still seeking employment, and hopes that his future boss would see beyond his health concerns.

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Nearing the end of the interview, Dian blurts out, “Dapat pala nagbaon na lang ako ng sarili kong tubig.” What seemed like a harmless quip turned out to be a cruel realization of how easily he could’ve turned his (mis)fortune around.

True enough, if he had brought his own water to those vocational classes, maybe today, he wouldn't need to pierce his abdomen every mealtime. If he had brought his own water, he could have gained a few more pounds. If he had brought his own water then maybe, just maybe, it’s possible that he and his ex never would've broken up (although this last one is quite a reach).

Beyond beeties

On January, Dian is scheduled for another check-up. For now, Ramirez advises the same thing since he started tending to him: eat healthy, exercise regularly, and take the medicines on time. That includes laying off the sweets a bit.

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"Kasi mas mataas yung sugar content niya. Calories are our basis for everything. Pwede namang kumain ng carbs, protein, fats, pero may limit. Anything in excess na hindi mo mabe-burn, additional calorie for the body."

Diabetes is known to be incurable, but there's a way to control the blood sugar and its long-term negative effects, Ramirez attests. But Dian's family, especially his parents, is still bullish on the possibility of him being fully liberated from the ailment.

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Sila ermat kasi, ang pananaw nila, gagaling ako kasi wala naman sa’ming may diabetes. Kumbaga nagkaro’n ka niyan sa maling paraan, babalik sa dati kung itatama mo yung gagawin mo.”

Ramirez, for his part, believes that nothing could prevent Dian to live his life to the fullest, even his chronic condition. He then tells the story of one of his patients who has diabetes, which doesn't stop the latter from participating and finishing the grueling Ironman Triathlon.

The man in the spotlight admits that, these days, he doesn’t get to take his meds religiously, only medicating when his body tells him to. There are nights when he sorely lacks sleep. He also has a hard time resisting temptation—Sour Brite Worms and DQ Blizzard sometimes becoming the devil in disguise.

You can't really blame Dian for sometimes relapsing into these bad habits. He's struggling to reclaim normalcy while entrenched in such an arduous lifestyle.

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The important thing is that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. There's always a way around even the most insolvable cases, like the silent killer that diabetes is. And for Dian, it's in the form of an organic diet, bike rides, and a couple of needles. We, the people around him, just need to continue nagging him about what he should and shouldn't do.


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