Diabetes in Eeyou Istchee is at epidemic proportions. Recently the Nation had a chance to talk to Alan Neacappo and his struggle with the disease.
Alan Neacappo is the Local Administrator for the Cree Hunters and Trappers Income Security Program in Chisasibi. He is 60 years old, single with no kids.
“I was diagnosed with (type 2) diabetes in 1991, but I think I had it for awhile before then,” Neacappo told the Nation. “I started losing a lot of weight and that’s when I had the courage to go see the doctor to find out what was wrong with me. From there my diabetes progressed and I had to get my medication.”
Aboriginals in Canada suffer from diabetes at a rate of two to three times that of the general Canadian population. It’s estimated by the Cree Health Board that in less than a generation, 20 per cent of Eeyouch will be stricken with diabetes.
Neacappo admitted that one of the reasons he had to take medication was because his schedule got so busy, his eating and exercise habits changed and the disease started catching up to him.
“I should be watching myself more carefully because originally I used to be able to control it by walking, but lately I’ve cut down on my exercise regimes. Right now I’m taking six different kinds of medication for my diabetes. I need to bring my levels down and exercise more. I need to watch what I’m eating and control my diet more.”
No one is harder on the man they call “the General” than himself.
“I’ve been told that I had been a good role model because people saw me walking around every day and a lot of people took the initiative to exercise more,” he said. “But I’m a procrastinator sometimes. I’ll start on something tomorrow and then I’ll call it off. I think it’s a bad example of trying to be a good role model, but I find it a little harder to follow up on my diet as I get a little older.”
As with most people, Neacappo gets tired easy and is limited to certain activities. Lifting different objects for example is a no-no.
“It limits me when I’m doing work like heavy lifting. I feel sluggish and tired,” he said.
He gives full credit to the Cree Health Board and their nutritionists in explaining what he should eat. He also credits the elders.
“One elder told me how I can control my sugar level by making a broth out of caribou or bear blood. I have to watch what I eat and the elders are there to help.”
His doctors have told him to stay away from starchy foods like white bread, potatoes and pasta. Soda is also not good for a diabetic.
“They (CHB) recommend wild meat like caribou, bear and moose. You really have to watch the fat of the animals, though.
“I was told that if I follow up on my diet and exercise that I would be able to reduce the pills slowly. Eventually I might not need pills. I have friends who are diabetic but they don’t take pills because they exercise and eat well. People should remember that just because the food tastes good doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy for you.”
Neacappo also wanted to address the question of insulin. “I’m not on insulin myself,” he noted. “Some people think it’s the end of the line for all diabetics and after that they are beyond help. That’s not the case. If you can control your diet you can get to the point where you won’t need any medication.”
Neacappo said that since his walking group has collapsed, he feels very tired, isn’t motivated to walk much and has put on weight.
“People used to say I was a fast walker and they had a hard time keeping up with me. Now I have a hard time keeping up with others,” he observed.
His advice for others with diabetes was simple. “Listen to what the elders have to tell you about controlling diabetes. Listen to the Cree Health Board. It’s up to you to follow up on their needs,” he said.
“The nutritionist and public health rep can’t help you unless you help yourself.”