Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Don't admit defeat, just change your attack

I've never been one for bottles of pills and potions to overcome illness. I don't believe in cough medicine. If I have a headache I drink a glass of water first and reach for the paracetamol later. When I do buy medicines, they often expire before I got a chance to develop that illness for a second time. I believe as much as I can in natural remedies. That being said, I don't reject drugs all together. That probably seems pretty obvious seeing as to survive I rely entirely on a synthetic vesion of the hormone insulin, which I pump into my own body through necessity more than choice, 24/7. I know that without it, I would only have a couple of days to live. But where ever possible, I like to avoid being on any drugs or medications and try to do what I can myself.

So when I was told at the beginning of this year that my cholesterol was just a touch higher than the doctors would like it and recognising that as someone who has put on a few pounds in the years since University, I decided to try and get that level down myself. I fully recognise that I do not have a genetic predisposition to have high cholesterol. I never had it before and in 25 years of diabetes, I was never at risk of it until I got a little *cough* 'cuddlier'. So when being threatened with taking a pill daily for the rest of my life, my first line of attack had to be my diet and exercise. You see I'd love to say I put on weight because I do loads of exercise and am in fact the size of a small rugby player because of my sheer muscle, but the truth is that while I try to embrace the natural natural, I also love Subway. And MacDonald's breakfast. And chocolate, the processed kind. And Subway. And cheese. And did I mention Subway?

So over the last 10 months I lost about 20 lbs, started doing body combat 1-2 times a week, cycling to work and doing cardio DVDs at home. I have tried to change my diet and generally follow a lower carb way of life (although I disagree very vehemently with ultra low carb). I do still have brown rice, potatoes now and then and the occasional slice of chilli bread (omnomnom). Low and behold as my weight and diet improved, so did my cholesterol. Markedly in fact. And I figured I was finally in the clear from the threat of high cholesterol.

That was until my most recent eye exam.

As I sat with the eye doctor I gave her a little run down of my last results as usual; HbA1c of 7%, BP is 90/120, cholesterol is a little high but I am addressing this etc etc.

As she navigated her way around my retina with her painfully bright light which we are supposed to look at, sitting at a distance which in any other situation would be totally inappropriate and bordering on lapdancing, I couldn't help asking her how things were going.

She commented that there was a lot more going on in my right eye than my left, which I was fully expecting. I have had background retinopathy for some time, which is the weakening and dying of veins and capillaries at the back of the eye caused by high blood sugars, which leads to tiny breaks and bleeds (haemorraghes) on the retina. When new veins attempt to grow in order to counteract this, they too will break and bleed. They can eventually lead to blindess but before it does there is huge amounts you can do to stop or at the very least, seriosuly delay it. With the pump and some major work I had managed to get this to a plateau. Things were getting all that much better, but they also weren't getting worse. So imagine my surprise when I asked if there was anything I should be aware of or concerned about:

"Nope. There is evidence of high cholesterol but I would expect that from what you have said."

Ermmm, what? Cholesterol damage in my eyes?? When was that part of the deal?

Call me ignorant, but little did I know that cholesterol has a significant impact on the eyes. I thought the high blood sugars and dying vessels was it. But if that wasn't enough, it turns out that cholesterol plays an enormous role here too. Perhaps this should be obvious seeing as cholesterol causes the blockages to veins and arteries and predominantly sight problems experienced by diabetics are related to vein/capillary deterioration/blockage in the eyes. But I had never actually been faced with this explanantion. It turns out that various veins in my eyes are begining to show 'cotton wool' like evidence that the areas where the veins and capillaries join, are starting to struggle. A good article about it is here, so read if you want to know more about it.

As I do with all things, I go into a state of panic for the first minute. I usually stare blankly at the person delivering the news to me and then start to try and piece together how to tackle it. I couldn't walk away without getting the doctor's thoughts on the Simvastatin, which has been available to me but always refused, for years. I told her all about what I was doing to lower my cholesterol, but asked her for a frank opinion about the pills.

I'm better when things are in plain English.

"Well, a two-pronged approach will always be the best option. Continue with the diet and exercise but in the meantime, why not take the Simvastatin as well? The evidence of high cholesterol in your eyes isn't permanent and can still heal. If you attack this from both angles you will by far have the best chance of stopping this."

"So could I come off them if I manage to get the cholesterol down to a very low level?"


That was the decider. As much as I would love to address the cholesterol issue from every angle other than pills, I am not taking chances with my sight for the sake of pride or wanting to do things 'the natural way'. 'Natural' is not walking with a stick or needing the assistance of a dog. My sight is just too precious to me.

So I decided that rather than view this as a sign of my failure, it is a sign of my determination. After 25 years I have managed to keep all complications at bay. Even the background retinopathy is at a 'young' stage and can still be stopped.

Any war is won by the clever deployment of troops. So I'm sending in some from the North and some from the South. One day I hope to come off the Simvastatin and allow my cholesterol to return to its natural tree hugging status but until then, exercise and diet are my sword and Simvastatin is my shield.

Three weeks in and finally at peace with it.


  1. Anna, did anyone ever tell you, that you have a fantastic writing style? I love reading your blogs. And you are so brave and upbeat about it all too. I have learned a lot from your experiences. Well done too, for losing so much weight! Fantastic!

  2. Hi Daphne, so sorry I have only just seen this! Blogger seems to choose whose comments it alerts me about!

    Thank you for your comments, it's always good to hear feedback. What started as a project to just write the feelings down when going on a pump has flourished into something I really love.

    Stop by anytime and thanks for the weight comments, it is a long journey but a worthwhile one.

    Take care