Cynthia Bradley, Patient Partner on Path to Health: Diabetes study

Meet Cynthia. A committed single mom who for several years juggled working 2 (sometimes 3!) jobs, attending classes to earn a bachelor’s degree, raising her daughter, and caring for their home, all the while trying to maintain her sanity. It was no easy feat and stress had taken its toll. “Did I take care of that bill?… Am I going to get approved for this school grant?…Is my daughter safe on campus?” These questions haunted her at night and further compounded her weight issues. She had little to no time for self-care and was running on empty without realizing it. However, a diabetes diagnosis was the wake-up call Cynthia needed to find a new balance in her life, one that put herself on the list of priorities and would ultimately lead to a healthier, less stressful lifestyle.

The life changing moment occurred during a day like all the others, filled with the hustle and bustle that was the norm for Cynthia. She attended a Health Fair offered for employees where she worked at Mercy Hospital in Philadelphia. What was usually a quick and routine screening rapidly escalated to an emergency room visit after the staff nurse measured a dangerously high blood pressure reading, putting her at risk for a heart attack or stroke. It was later discovered that Cynthia also had high A1C values and the diabetes diagnosis shortly followed. It was a whirlwind of flurry, shock, and sting…but she felt the weight of it immediately. As an African American, the odds were stacked against her. Her father’s side was severely diabetic, with her grandmother on insulin for as long as she could recall. There was a lot at stake and getting her health back on track for her daughter became a new priority. “You can’t crawl up in a ball and say it’s over, because it’s not over.”

The same unwavering perseverance that got Cynthia through past hardships prevailed once again. She first sought out mental health, where she learned to get a grip with her diagnosis. “If you’re in denial, you’re not going to do anything about it.” After wrapping her head around it, she reached out to others in a similar situation, finding solace in others fighting the same fight. “I’ve had angels surrounding me throughout my life” and these new friends became her rock. “Together, we could breath”, she reflects. Cynthia learned through this support system how to cook healthier, flavor food with natural ingredients, and incorporate more fruits and vegetables while reducing sugar and salt intake. She followed up on doctor’s appointments and took necessary medications. Downsizing her residence came next and proved to be a huge stress reducer. It not only alleviated a financial burden but also freed up more time for her to join the fitness center located within her new apartment complex. With lowered cost of living expenses, she was able to cut out one job, dedicating more time to her coursework. Like a domino effect, one smart decision putting her needs first led to a series of healthier choices that ultimately rescued her from the crippling cycle of stress she was stuck in.

Cynthia turned trouble into triumph and is currently maintaining her weight and diabetes. It’s something she works at every day. While life stressors still pop up, she is now better equipped to deal with them. She knows when she has too much on her plate, both literally and figuratively. With a completed bachelor’s degree and some coursework under her belt as she obtains her Masters in Health Administration, Cynthia has hope. “You don’t know what you’re capable of until you get there.” Her message to patients who receive a diabetes diagnosis: “Embrace it. You can control it.” She hopes to inspire others through her role as a patient partner and plans to use her degrees to serve as a patient advocate for those navigating through insurance coverage issues. She encourages younger generations to “pace yourself but still reach for your dreams”; she certainly still is.