How This Woman's PCOS Diagnosis Led to Her Being Diagnosed With Type 2 Diabetes
For Briana Roa, the word "diet" has always been part of her vocabulary. "I was always a bigger kid and I remember hitting 200 pounds in middle school," she tells Health. "It was hard because it made me feel lonely to not be able to do some of the things other kids could do easily."
Roa's health was also on her parents' minds. She grew up in Bakersfield, California—her parents emigrated from Mexico to work in agriculture and provide a better life for their children. Roa's doctors told her parents she was prediabetic, or that her blood sugar levels were higher than normal, but high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. With that news, Roa's parents would constantly make comments about what she was eating, and not keep certain foods in the house for her to eat.
"I was just a kid," Roa says. "So I never really understood why my parents were so strict about it."
But when she turned 21, she began to realize why her parents put so much emphasis on her diet. Roa began experiencing a series of complications from being prediabetic. She was also diagnosed with both polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and hidradenitis suppurativa (HS). "My weight really made all of these things worse," she says. "So did my diet."
After years of being told she was prediabetic, Roa was eventually diagnosed with full-blown type 2 diabetes. "It really hit me hard. I thought my life was over," she says. "I thought it was impossible to live a good life with type 2 diabetes because of everything I'd seen and heard from family members who had lost limbs and experienced other serious complications."
Roa didn't immediately tackle her condition following her diagnosis—she didn't even tell her family that she'd been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. "After all the things I'd heard growing up about my diet and my weight, I was very afraid of what they'd say, and I didn't want to hear 'I told you so,'" she says.
It wasn't until Roa reached out to her grandfather, who also has type 2 diabetes—that she began making positive steps in managing her disease. "At first I was just going on the internet and finding some old and dated information about type 2 and what to do," she says. "There was nothing aimed at a 21-year-old [woman] and it didn't really help me. Eventually things got so bad that I confided in my grandpa."
At the time, Roa's grandfather had been living with type 2 diabetes for 23 years. He offered her real-world advice about living with the disease, as well as the empathy anyone newly diagnosed with a chronic illness needs.
"No one really tells you how much your sugars are going to fluctuate and having my grandpa to fill in some of the gaps was such a relief," she says. "One time I called him in the middle of night because I woke up drenched with sweat and my sugar was in the sixties. He told me I needed to drink a coke or something with sugar right away because if I got too low, I could go into a coma."
The more Roa talked to her grandfather about type 2 diabetes, the more comfortable she felt with her diagnosis—which also helped her talk to other family members about it. "He didn't shame me," she said. "He embraced me and told me that my life wasn't over. He said type 2 diabetes needed to be managed, but that If i did the right things, I could live a long and happy life."
In addition to coming clean to her family, Roa also needed to reexamine another thing: Her relationship with food. "I come from a Mexican family and there is always rice and tortillas with every meal. So that's been difficult sometimes, to have to avoid or cut back on some of those cultural foods," she says. But she soon taught herself that she could still eat the foods she loved—just in moderation. "Before I would eat 10 tacos and stuff myself," she says. "Now I have two and I feel good, and I still get to share in that sense of community with my friends and family."
Briana had always had a complicated relationship to food and learning how to change her approach was difficult at first.
"I come from a Mexican family and there is always rice and tortillas with every meal. So that's been difficult sometimes, to have to avoid or cut back on some of those cultural foods. But moderation has been the biggest key for me. Before I would eat ten tacos and stuff myself. Now I have two and I feel good, and I still get to share in that sense of community with my friends and family."
And it's not just her relationship with food—Roa also changed her outlook and approach to exercise. "I couldn't even walk a mile when I started, and now I'm doing five miles every weekend," she says. "I'm able to run and go for hikes and seeing that progress has fueled me to keep going."
Through her experiences, Roa has learned just how important it is to talk about your condition and have a strong support system, and she hopes others can learn the same. "So many people feel embarrassed about having type 2 diabetes, and I was there myself," she says. "It's important for people to know that anyone can be impacted by the disease, not just people who look a certain way, and you need to talk to your health care providers when you're struggling. They can't help you unless you're willing to talk to them."
Now 24, Roa's hard work in managing her condition has paid off. "I'm proud to say I'm no longer on the diabetes spectrum," she says. "It feels great."
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