Meet Julie. A daughter, wife, mother, and houseparent to 12 high-school aged girls. Yes, that’s right – 12! Employed at Milton Hershey School for over 28 years and spending over a decade as a part time house parent, Julie and her husband decided 7 years ago to make it a full time gig to care for and guide teenagers who come from various backgrounds and hardships. It’s not a 9-5 job. It’s a commitment, it takes effort, it takes guts; the same qualities that have helped Julie conquer a personal battle with diabetes. Now that she’s on the other side, she shares her wisdom and honest account of what it’s like to fight and overcome.
Diabetes has been a part of Julie’s family history for decades. Both of her parents had Type 2 diabetes. Julie struggled with weight issues for most of her adult life and received her own diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes 12 years ago. Much like the way her father dealt with diabetes, Julie, too, didn’t pay close attention to her diet or her blood sugar levels until she was in trouble. However, once her son was diagnosed with Type 1 juvenile diabetes, things changed. “My son is watching what I’m doing.” Julie needed to be a role model for him. Although oral meds were able to control her A1c for some time, her condition worsened and she feared she would need to become insulin-dependent. “When my blood sugar numbers inched up to the stroke range and there was evidence of adverse kidney issues, I knew I needed a big change.”
Referred to by her husband as the “poster child” for gastric bypass surgery, Julie pursued this intervention and was on her path toward a lifelong healthier lifestyle…one that would take commitment and perseverance. “If you’re at a point where you’re ready to make the change, I highly recommend the surgery. It resets your entire body. You lose a lot of weight really quickly so it’s good emotionally to see results. But you have to be disciplined for the commitment. There’s no turning back.”
The results were striking – 157 lbs. were shed. “I’m about half of the size I was two years ago. Everything in my life changed. My A1c at time of surgery was 8.2. Now it’s around 5.1.” The surgery was a jumpstart to Julie’s new lifestyle, one filled with healthy eating and exercise. “I have so much energy now. I’m much more capable of doing things now that I couldn’t do before.” Like run 5 miles per day. Did this happen overnight? No. Small steps. “Two years ago I could barely walk to the end of my driveway without getting winded.” Julie started by taking short walks. Really short. But soon enough walks turned into jogs and now she has completed 5K and 10K races. Her son has picked up on her healthy eating and exercise.
They’ve even run in races together. And the 12 high school girls that Julie looks after? They’ve watched Julie’s transformation over the past two years, many of them struggling with their own weight issues, so this has been an inspiration to them as well. Julie cooks healthy foods for the entire household daily and models good habits by starting her day every morning with a 5 mile run. She has even run in some races with the girls. “You’re 25 years younger than me – if I can do it so can you!”
Julie recounts that glorious moment at her primary care provider’s office visit when her diabetes diagnosis was removed. “It was a great day. Not having to worry about that now is a whole different life. No more sleep apnea, no blood pressure meds…I don’t want to ever go back there; the headaches, highs and lows.” But she cautions that she has to work at this every day for the rest of her life. “It’s a lifelong commitment. Gastric bypass is a tool but it only works if you know how to use it and what you need to do to make it work. Watching what you eat, getting exercise. Otherwise I could end up right back where I was.” Tracking what she eats and how much she exercises in a day keeps her accountable. Blood draws every 6 months keep her accountable. Helping her son with his highs and lows with Type 1 keeps her accountable. Creating a positive home environment for 12 impressionable teenaged girls keeps her accountable.
Julie’s advice for the summer months: “Take advantage of the weather! Get outside for a walk, in the evening when it’s not so hot. Find something that will keep you interested and motivated. Try some healthy recipes for the grill. Don’t try to get 20 years of bad habits rectified in one day. Little changes lead to bigger changes in your health.”
As for Julie, she will keep on running. Running with diabetes far behind her. Running with a healthier, more fulfilling life in front of her. Running towards her next challenge…the Hershey half marathon perhaps?