Treva Alston, MS, Patient Partner on Path to Health: Diabetes study

Meet Treva, a retired government employee of 34 years, who held positions at the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Defense (DOD), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With a Bachelors of Science degree in Chemistry and a Masters degree in Environmental Management, Treva understands the science behind healthy eating. “You don’t have to tell me about carbohydrates”, she states knowingly. Yet, Treva represents one of 86 million Americans who are pre-diabetic. Diabetes runs in the family; her grandfather became blind from having type 2 diabetes, her aunt was on dialysis, and her mother was insulin-dependent. Given her genetic predisposition to developing diabetes, increased incidence among African Americans, and her personal weight struggles, Treva is well aware that a diabetes diagnosis is within arms reach. “It’s one of the things I’m supposed to get. It’s on my DNA according to the stats.”

Yet, like the other 1/3 of the US population, Treva is in a position to take control of her health. She has not yet received the official diagnosis. Although her A1c has been elevated in recent years, she hasn’t experienced the cardinal signs, such as increased thirst, frequent urination, or blurred vision, all typical symptoms of diabetes. While the “whistle hasn’t been blown”, Treva realizes it’s up to her to make sure it never is.

So how does she do it? For starters, Treva is well aware that losing weight will help decrease her chances of developing diabetes and also improve her overall health. Therefore, she is starting to make healthier food choices. Admittedly she has a sweet tooth and realizes this points her in the direction of becoming diabetic so she knows she has to be careful. Although she frequently dines out, she can now go to a restaurant and avoid overeating. She is becoming a smarter shopper too. “There was a time I wouldn’t go to the grocery store without getting at least of 5 Ocean Spray juices”, she recalls. “One day I got smart and read the label and saw that it was loaded with sugar. Now I don’t even bring them in the house.” Instead, she now consciously reminds herself to drink more water. She refers to the holidays as “carb city” and finds it extra hard to make healthy choices then but knows she has to be diligent or the pendulum could swing in the wrong direction.

Where Treva struggles, as do so many at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, is with getting enough physical activity. “I’m not a lover of exercise. I got a D in college gym class because I wouldn’t change into my gym clothes!” She knows she needs to do more exercise to stay healthy and keep her A1c in check. Entering into the 7th decade of her life, Treva has already experienced a longer lifespan than her father. With every new year comes a boost in motivation, and Treva plans to use that as a springboard to exercise more. “The light bulb has come on. I know that I have to do this.” A big motivator for her is not wanting to be on meds or become insulin dependent, like her mother was. “My biggest fear is the needles”, she admits.

Treva’s advice to patients at risk of developing type 2 diabetes: “You have to be your own advocate for your health. You have to be in control.” Seeing her doctor 3-4 times per year keeps Treva accountable. She also keeps abreast of the latest diabetes research and has recently taken on a more active role by participating as a patient partner for our PaTH to Health: Diabetes study, where her voice and perspective is shared throughout each phase of the study to inform the research and enhance patient-centeredness. Additionally, she serves as a member on both the Executive and Steering Committees of the PaTH network, an electronic health record (EHR)-based data infrastructure across three states (Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Utah) that allows for collaborative research.

In her spare time, Treva enjoys traveling, going to the theatre, and attending lectures. A pipe dream she plans to realize is to start a small baking business, and we look forward to seeing what diabetes friendly delicacies will appear on the menu!