In the summer of 2001, the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay conducted a study of diabetics living in Chisasibi and Waskaganish, focusing on how they maintain control of the disease and the difficulties they encounter. The people were asked what the most difficult thing was in trying to control diabetes; how and where they find their motivation; how they manage to control it, and what tips or advice they had for other diabetics. The goal of the report was to help health care professionals and patients living with diabetes to achieve better control of their blood sugars. Our goal here is to provide readers with words from diabetics in your communities in hopes that you can contribute positively in this fight against a disease that affects so many of us. Knowledge is power and the more you know, the more you can help in whatever small way.

A lack of diet-friendly foods and a regular regime of exercise are seen by many as major stumbling blocks in maintaining good control of diabetes. With the abundance of junk foods available and the lack of healthy foods at local stores or at work, people find it hard to always maintain a strict and healthy diet. The social customs of attending feasts and eating what is offered (rather than insult a host) can also wreak havoc on a diabetic diet. It’s important to remember that changing a 30, 40, or 50-year-old eating habit is difficult to do but essential.

Trying to incorporate a regular period of exercise is not always easy to do because of jobs or age.

Denial is another thing that many people reported as an initial hindrance. Denial is probably the most natural response by anyone faced with being told they have a life altering and potentially life threatening disease.

The fear of long-term complications such as amputation and blindness and the fact that people want to see their children grow up is what many reported as their primary motivation. Education is seen as a very important motivational tool; the more you know about diabetes and how to control it, the more you can actually do to fight it.

In terms of helping to achieve control, once the obstacles are identified and the motivation is there, finding solutions is the next step. The most important source of support mentioned by all was from the family, as well as support from the medical community. Maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise and taking medication on a regular basis are all part of achieving control of the disease.

The participants were asked what tips and advice they would give to other people living with diabetes. They gave examples of activities for exercising and lots of encouragement.

Ultimately it is important to know that if you have diabetes, you are not alone; there are people out there who know what you are going through and there are lots of people who can help you. It is a controllable disease. Do not be afraid to call on people, even if you just need to talk about the day-to-day things or more important things.

In their own words, here are some of the responses.

“I told the nurse once, here in Chisasibi, people invite you to feasts and gatherings and Natives don’t refuse what is given to them. If a person gives you to share, if you don’t eat it, it’s an insult to this person. That’s the hardest thing.” “I do nothing, I’m too old and I have shortness of breath.” “When I first knew I had it, I said it’s not me, I’m not diabetic.

I would miss appointments for blood checks.” “What motivated me was the damage it can do to your body, the long term complications of it. What scared me most is the amputation… and the blindness, the fact that you can actually go blind; lose your sight if you’re not careful. When I see someone with diabetes really sick, it makes me realize that it could be me so I better take care of my body.” “I don’t want a cane. I don’t want to use the needles..,. Sometimes you get so scared you want to be healthy.” “ I began to walk more by hunting and cutting wood. I organized the heavy work to divide it every day not to work too hard and have breaks. For example, I would take one day off and cut wood one day-so I would do in six days the work I could do in three.” “ Well, I would tell them to get out of that vicious cycle of tiredness. The circle never ends, if you don’t feel like doing anything, you’ll be more tired, if you’re more tired, you won’t feel like doing anything.” “Don’t let diabetes take over yourself. It’s the easy way if you do nothing about it. Diabetes is not the end of the road but you have to take care.” “Believe in yourself. Believe that you can do it everyday. It’s hard sometimes but if you want to be healthy, that’s the way to do it.” “It will never go away. You can do it. It is possible.”