Why A Person with Diabetes Bikes to Beat Cancer

BBC TrainingAs I mentioned yesterday, I rode in the Kentucky Tour de Cure in June. Great ride. Great day! Lately I’ve been training for a couple other rides, especially a century in the Bike to Beat Cancer in September.

I’m a person who has lived with Type 1 Diabetes for more than 43 years. It makes sense to ride in an event to raise money for diabetes research. But why ride 100 miles in  an event to raise funds for cancer? Part of the answer to that question is pretty obvious, but another part—the most important part, I believe—is not so obvious.

Obviously, cancer is a huge issue for many people. I’m guessing you know someone who has or has had cancer. I do, and I have. My mom died 14 years ago from leukemia, a cancer of the blood. My wife and I have had good friends, from our church and from the college we both graduated from, who have lost their battle with the disease or who are in the throes of the battle right now. I hate what cancer does to people who are misfortunate to have it and deal with it. I’m riding to raise some money for cancer research, awareness, and advocacy. I’m riding for individuals and the families of people affected by the disease: Betty, Ed, Carolyn, Yvette, Carole and Steve, Renae, and many others.

As important as those reasons are, however, there’s something else. Over the years, I’ve found that people who live with difficult circumstances deal with them in one of two ways. Some people look inward with anxiety. They usually also look forward with fear. But others look upward with an unexplainable hope, and they look outward with compassion.

Here are two videos of people I’ll be thinking about as I ride 100 miles this September. The first video is of Carole who dealt bravely with cancer; the second is her husband after she died:

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/92523691″>Carole Swoboda Testimony</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/neccwired”>Northeast Christian Church</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p> <p>4.20.14</p>

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/124333331″>Steve Swoboda Testimony – Easter 2015</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/neccwired”>Northeast Christian Church</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p> <p>4.5.15</p>

If the videos do not appear in your browser, please click below:

The lesson I’ve learned over the years is to keep my focus upward and outward—in that order. I find it so much easier to live well with my diabetes when I keep my eyes focused outward, on others. And I’ve also discovered that the best way to stay focused outward is to keep my focus upward every day. It makes all the difference in the world.

I’d love to hear your story. How does your focus affect how you live with the life circumstances that have been dealt to you?

Good Friends Help PWD Live Healthier Lives

People with diabetes need good friends. By good friends, I mean people who are patient, understanding, sympathetic, and, most importantly, have a sense of humor.

By the way, I’m not saying we deserve people to treat us well just because we have diabetes. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me because of my condition. (The truth is, some people with diabetes are narcissists; somehow they’ve gotten the impression that they and their disease should be the focus of everyone’s attention.)

Back from the rabbit trail … I believe friends help us live healthier lives. For me, without my friends, I’d be in real trouble.

KC-Mike 001

KC Mack/Mike Mack, Circa 1981. Suburban Cowboys

When I think of a good friend, I think of KC. Actually, we’re cousins, but we’ve also been great friends most of our lives. KC has laughed with me and more often at me many times over the years. Interestingly, many of our funniest memories involved food.

Curly Fries
We spent most of our time as teenagers playing basketball in a church parking lot. KC could always tell when my blood sugar was dropping, probably by the fact that my shots weren’t dropping. But sometimes, according to him, I’d fake it when he was putting a whoopin’ on me (which was normal) or when I just wanted to take a break and go to Arby’s.

I loved going to Arby’s. Roast beef sandwich . . . Curly fries . . . Apple turnover . . . Angela Moore.  I liked the food, but I really liked Angela, and she just happened to work at Arby’s. We may have been in the middle of a basketball game, but I was thinking Angela. She liked me, too. I know this because she would secretly give me extra curly fries. One time she filled the whole bag with those golden twists of deliciousness. I was so glad Angela cared enough to provide me with those extra carbohydrates my body was craving.

Hot Dog, No Mustard
KC and I also attended lots of basketball games together. At one game, I started having a bad insulin reaction, so KC, as any good friend would, went to the concession stand and waited in line to buy me a coke and a hot dog. Now, we sometimes do weird things when our blood sugar is dropping. When KC brought the food back, I noticed he had put mustard on the dog, so I obstinately refused to eat it. Finally I meticulously scraped off every bit of the mustard as the arena spun around and around and KC sat next to me, arms folded, shaking his head.

Pop Tarts
Camping trips meant  freedom, friends, Frisbees, fishing, fires, and junk food. One time, in the middle of the night, I had another bad reaction. I woke up in a cold sweat, mumbling indistinguishably. KC and my other friends in the tent couldn’t understand me, but then, clear as a bell in a high squeaky voice, I yelled, “Pop Tart!” My friends were literally on the ground laughing (in their sleeping bags) for several minutes before I got my crazy good pastry.

We all need good friends during the highs and lows of our lives. I’m thankful for KC, even though he should know me well enough to realize I don’t like mustard on my hot dog.

Who is a close friend who has been there for you in your highs and lows? Go ahead … share the story.

20 Assessment Questions to Ask When You’re at the End of Your Rope

rope02I often hear people say they are at the end of their rope. If you’re feeling that way, here are some important assessment questions to ask yourself. I encourage you to work slowly through these. Reflect on them, not only with your mind, but also your feelings and spirit. Write your responses in a journal.

  1. What is the other end of this rope tied to?
  2. Where is this rope supposed to be taking me?
  3. Is it tied to the right things, the right values?
  4. Am I sure I’m at the end of my rope or do I just feel that way?
  5. Is it possible there’s still more rope beneath me, but I’m too afraid to look down?
  6. Why do I feel I’m at the end of my rope?
  7. Am I losing my grip because I’ve been working so hard at climbing with my own power? (See my post on using all five fingers to hold on!)
  8. Who told me I’m supposed to climb this rope anyway?
  9. Is it possible this rope-climbing activity is a waste of time?
  10. Do I really feel safer holding onto this rope? Why or why not?
  11. Is there something better in life than rope-climbing?
  12. Would I want to die, still clutching this rope?
  13. What would happen if I let go of the rope I’m clinging to?
  14. Who would catch me if I let go?
  15. In my quiet moments, do I ever hear an encouraging voice saying, “Let go. Come to me you who are tired of climbing. I will catch you and hold you and give you rest”?
  16. Do I trust this one who would catch me?
  17. What would life be like if I were not holding onto this rope?
  18. Do I trust my death grip on this rope more than the one who will catch me if I let go?
  19. Who in my life will help me let go and encourage me in my catcher?
  20. What will it take to let go, to release this and throw my hands up in surrender?

What questions do you get “hung up” on? I encourage you to use #19 to talk to someone you trust–a good friend, a counselor, a clergy member, or a doctor, for instance. Talk through your responses to these questions. And don’t forget: your goal is to let go of it!

What Do You Do When Life Isn’t Making Sense?

questioning GodWhen you are walking through a dark valley or when the circumstances in your life are not making sense, it’s vital to ask the right questions. What kind of circumstances? I’m talking about living every day with a disease such as diabetes or cancer, relationship issues, or any other life difficulty.

I was reading through the psalms in the Bible one day and came across a very relevant passage. It seems the people, in the midst of difficult and seemingly unfair life situations, were dismayed and confused. “Does God realize what is going on?” they asked. “Is the Most High even aware of what is happening?” (Psalm 73:11, New Living Translation).

This is the question many people still ask. I’ve found through my experiences that this is especially true for those who follow God from arms length, people who may associate themselves with God somehow, because of their upbringing, perhaps, or maybe simply because they would not call themselves atheists. The same is often true for the Sunday-morning church-goers who have never counted the cost of being an authentic follower of Jesus.

People look at their circumstances and ask, “Where is God in all this?” But when we ask such a question, it reveals more about our own hearts than it does about God.

Let me explain what I mean. When I am walking closely with God–making my relationship with him my #1 priority, I don’t ask that question. I know God knows what’s going on, because I’ve talked to him about it, and I know he was listening. I know he is aware of what is happening because I know he knows everything. I know he cares about the situation because I know he is my loving Father; he is a compassionate shepherd who wants to give us peace and rest. I know he can change the circumstances if he chooses to, because he is all-powerful. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have questions. I do.

And so this raises the question that I do ask. This comes from my journal during a particularly tough time during my life:

God, I don’t understand. In my human understanding, I don’t know how this is all going to work out and I can’t see how you are working in this. What are you doing? How are you going to work all this out for the good? Please, Lord, show me just a sliver of your plan and purpose.

 Regardless, Lord, help me to hang on and to continue to trust in you, to continue to trust in your timing….

The interesting thing is that the questions I ask God can actually draw me even closer to him, which, I believe, is part of God’s big-picture purpose when we walk through these dark valleys. Later in that same psalm, the writer said, “Yet I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand” (v. 23). I love that image. Even, perhaps especially, when life circumstances are hard, God is that close. He’s holding my hand.

Are you struggling? Talk it out with God. Discuss it with a godly friend. Find a group who will support you and allow you to ask tough questions. Stretch out your hand. Let God hold it … and you. You are not alone.

Diabetics in Love

Kim was my first real girlfriend, and by “real girlfriend,” I mean we made out in the front seat of my 1967 green Rambler, a car we called the Rolling Rock. Like me, Kim had type-1 diabetes. In fact, that’s what brought us together, besides the fact that she was really cute, and I had a car.

When we first met nearly 35 years ago, we were somewhat normal teenagers, except we carried syringes, went to the bathroom constantly, and sometimes exhibited erratic behavior. Kim thought it was funny that I carried sugar cubes in my pocket. The correct remedy, according to her, was hard candy.

Chamberlain Park SignI liked having Kim around me. Most of the time, we hung out at Chamberlain Park, tossing Frisbee, swinging on the swings, kissing under the picnic shelter or on the park bench by the old cannon. We were teenage sweethearts.

I thought it was cool that we had this condition in common. We understood each other. She laughed when I asked her in public if she was high … the first seventeen times.

After the first day or two of our romance, however, we almost forgot about the diabetes connection. It became a teenage love connection. We walked hand in hand in the rain, drove around in my car, sat in the park late at night staring at the stars, and kissed—we kissed a lot. She cheered for me as I played baseball. We sat on the steps of her front porch across from the firehouse and I listened to her stories about her family. There was our song: “I’m in You,” by Peter Frampton. We’d talk on the phone for hours about nothing.

Diabetes was the furthest thing from our minds. But I was glad it brought us together … for those three glorious weeks. Then Greg came along and took Kim away. I saw them at the park one day, walking along the railroad tracks together. That was it.

Yes, people with broken pancreases have some unique highs and lows in life, but mostly we experience life like everyone else does, including romance and broken hearts.

People come and go in our lives and many of them make an impact on us. Chamberlain Park still holds special memories, and to this day, I prefer hard candy to sugar cubes.

Successful Diabetics Own Their Diabetes

“After the match I went to the doctor who diagnosed my diabetes.”
– Jeff Bennett, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for 50 years. Quoted from an article in the CRANBOURNE LEADER, “Cranbourne South man shows how to live with diabetes and make most of life,” July 6, 2014

I’ve noticed something about people who have lived successfully with diabetes over the long run: They OWN their condition. They regularly say “my diabetes.”

“I think keeping active and taking care of general health and the things I eat and having a wonderful family around me are major contributors to life,” said the 68-year-old Bennett, who recently received the prestigious Kellion Victory Medal from Diabetes Australia.

DrEvilBennett and other people like him are not victims of diabetes, as if it were some outside diabolical, villainous antagonist, a kind of Dr. Evil who is constantly scheming to terrorize their bodies.

I don’t know why I ended up with diabetes (it doesn’t even seem to run in our family). It’s simply the hand I’ve been dealt (I must admit, cards aren’t my bag, baby). All of us, whether we deal with diabetes or some other illness or circumstance in our lives, now have a choice: to own it and take control or to be a victim and let it be in control.

My diabetes: it’s mine to be responsible for, invest into, live with, and give my best to.  Until, that is, a real cure is available. And that will be quite groovy.

Tribute to a Diabetes Hero

Many of my heroes as a teenager were athletes; Their Sports Illustrated covers plastered the walls of my room. Heroes like Pete Rose, David Thompson, and, well, Christie Brinkley. Oh, and Ron Santo, a Chicago Cub who, like me, lived and played baseball with Type-1 diabetes. And did I mention  Christie Brinkley, who, as far as I know, didn’t have Type-1 diabetes, but she always looked so happy playing whatever sport it was she played?

I took those magazine covers down from my walls a long time ago, and some of those heroes have fallen on their own. I’m not a huge fan of elevating other humans to superhero status, because not one of them (or us) is perfect (although Christie was pretty close). Every single one of them (and us) needs second chances. And, to tell the truth, not one of them truly impacted my life. But one hero has influenced my entire life.

My mom and me in Idaho, about one year before she left earth

Her name was Betty. She’s been gone for more than twelve years now, but my mom’s impact on my life, especially my life with diabetes, lives on. My mom is the person who gave me the courage to live a normal life, regardless of the highs and lows that would come along with diabetes–or any other circumstances of life. She gave me lots of grace and second chances, more than I deserved! And she taught me about God, the ultimate Giver of Second Chances.

I think my mom understood how to live with (or despite) the circumstances that life threw her way. She grew up during the Great Depression with an alcoholic and abusive father. Her own mother died when she was a young teen. My mom often went to the store and got a soup bone, took it home and boiled it with any vegetables or scraps she could find (if they were lucky), and that was dinner. Mom was a strong and yet very loving woman who loved life and never complained about her circumstances but made the best of every situation.

I wrote a tribute for my mom and read it to her at her birthday party a couple years before she died. Here’s part of it:

Mom, you were my hero when I was diagnosed with diabetes at age 11 and I spent three weeks in the hospital. You encouraged me as I made adjustments. You were my strength through it all. You gave me my shots when I couldn’t do it myself. You taught me how to care for my health. You made sure I went to a diabetes camp so I could see I wasn’t alone. Years later, when I went to a special diabetes seminar, I learned how well-adjusted I was. There was only one reason for that: my mom.

Maybe, like me, a parent was or is your hero, your support and encourager along the way. Or maybe it has been another relative, a teacher, or a friend.

Or perhaps you are that parent who is caring for a kid like me with diabetes. Thank you!

Who is your biggest hero when it comes to living with diabetes? Share your story about them in my comments section! I and others would love to hear about them. Better yet, tell them yourself in your own tribute. And then share your tribute here and tell us how it went!