These 3 Siblings All Have Type 2 Diabetes—Here's How They Manage the Condition Together
The family hopes to take care of their health to pass on old traditions—and continue making new ones.
When the Cambron family moved from Mexico to Little Village, a Chicago neighborhood with a large Mexican American population, in 1978 they left behind family and friends in search of more opportunities for their children. It was a difficult transition, but they tried to bring their traditions with them.
"We didn't really know anyone outside the church," Fabian Cambron, 45, who was 2 years old when the family arrived in Little Village, tells Health. "Eating together was always a big deal for us. Food was kind of out love language. If you didn't eat what my mother made, it was like rejecting that love."
Fabian's siblings—Carlos Cambron, 37, and Liz Cambron, 30—have those same memories. "I loved my mother's food. Especially her mole," Carlos says. "I can still smell the smells, and feel my eyes burning from all the peppers she used to use," Liz adds. "Even now it brings me right back to watching her in the kitchen."
But while most of the Cambron family traditions were lighthearted and fun—family dinners, working on cars, listening to Metallica—another kind of tradition was a bit more insidious and posed a risk to the family's health: type 2 diabetes.
Rosa Cambron, the siblings' mother, was the first in the family to be diagnosed with the chronic condition. "From a young age, I would see her checking her blood sugar and going to the doctor for checkups," Liz says. "We all had to learn pretty quick how to spot the warning signs." Rosa's mother and sister also had type 2 diabetes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Hispanic or Latinx Americans have a 50% chance of developing Type 2 diabetes over the course of their lifetimes—that's compared to a 40% chance of non-Hispanic/Latinx Americans. They're also more likely to develop the condition at an early age, and they have a higher chance of developing complications from the condition, like kidney disease or failure, and blindness.
Fabian, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at 21 years old is beginning to experience one of those complications: diabetic kidney disease, which occurs when, over time, excess blood sugar damages blood vessels in the kidneys, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
"I haven't always done the best job taking care of [my diabetes]," Fabian says. "Now the doctor says that I'm starting to lose function in my kidneys and I'm going to need a transplant. We've started trying to get ahead of that and get on a transplant list."
But it's not just Fabian who struggles with the chronic condition—both Carlos and Liz, and Fabian's oldest son all have type 2 diabetes as well. "I haven't dealt with the kidney issues Fabian has but I am often exhausted no matter how much I sleep and have experienced some vision issues and tingling in my feet," Carlos says. "Mostly though, it's when I'm not taking care of myself [or] doing a good job of taking my medication."
According to the NIDDK, type 2 diabetes is caused by a few different factors, including: being overweight or obese, lacking physical activity, insulin resistance, and/or genetics. Both Fabian and Carlos believe that the food they grew up eating—and are still drawn to today as part of their culture—may have contributed to their condition.
"It's a lot of rice and fatty foods," Carlos says of the dinners he shared with his family. "But that's the food we've always eaten so it's hard to get away from that." Fabian added that water was often missing from the family's diet. "It was always soda, which obviously wasn't the best choice," he says.
When Liz, the youngest of the siblings with type 2 diabetes, got diagnosed, she tried to make lifestyle changes—and though some were successful, they were made difficult by her desire not to be alienated from her culture.
"I started working out and got into the Beach Body program," Liz says. "And as far as what I was eating, I tried going vegetarian which was really hard to explain to my family. My mother would be like, 'What do you mean you don't want my food?' It was hard for me to balance wanting to take care of my health with wanting to feel like I was connected to my culture."
Still, her brothers recognize and appreciate the effort Liz has put into her health—and theirs. "Liz is definitely the healthier one," Carlos says. "And she tries to share tips and recipes with us for healthier options."
That help is important for Fabian especially, who, with a kidney transplant on the horizon and two children at home, has a renewed motivation to manage his health. "I want to be around for them," he says. "So I have to take care of myself better."
For Liz, who's getting married this summer, it's not only about keeping herself and her brothers healthier, too—it's about keeping family traditions alive, and the opportunity to make new ones. "I lost my father fifteen years ago but have been so lucky to have three brothers who are all like a father," she says. "I want them to be around when I have kids someday. I want them to have their uncles."
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