As most of those who know me know, my sister and her two children have Type 1 (or Juvenile) Diabetes. Amy was diagnosed when she was 9, her son Winston when he was also 9, and her daughter Hope when she was 5.

Many who know me also know that Amy is my hero–in a whole bunch of ways. Amy and I had a somewhat difficult childhood and we credit our relationship with each other for not only getting us through tough times, but helping us became relatively normal and mostly thriving adults. Words could never express how much Amy–and her love, support and honesty–mean to me.

Each year, my family participates in the Walk to Cure Diabetes at the Mall of America. This year’s event will take place Saturday, February 26 at 8am. Our team is Hope Win Walkers and I would be incredibly grateful if you supported our family and every family that has been touched by Juvenile Diabetes by either donating to the cause or walking with us.

For much of Amy’s life, she struggled with health and wellness. To the dismay of those of us who love her, she rebelled against her body and the disease rather than making peace with her diagnosis and taking care of herself. Thankfully that changed about seven years ago. She has made significant changes in her lifestyle and diabetes management, and her health has improved accordingly. We recently talked about what wellness means to her.

F: What does “wellness” mean to you?

A: To me wellness means not only physical health, but emotional and spiritual health as well.  Feeling balanced.

F: How has your definition of wellness changed through the years?

A: Well, I really don’t think I had any idea as a child about wellness. As I grew older I think my awareness changed, but not until my 30s did I finally realize that being well was a choice only I could make for myself. It was not about what others thought, not about prior diagnoses, not about a dysfunctional childhood, not about how fat or skinny I was. I alone had the power to choose to be well in all aspects of my life. That was a turning point. It not only helped me stop making excuses, it helped me see more clearly my own beauty and strength. I love who I am and, because of that, maintaining and growing my own wellness is a priority in my life.

F: How has having diabetes impacted your relationship with your body?

A: From the time I was diagnosed I viewed diabetes as the enemy. I hated it and rebelled against it. As a preteen/teenager with a very low self esteem, having diabetes  gave me one more tool for abusing my body–which I did far too often. Long term consequences didn’t seem real. As a child, it was a useful tool for me to use (unconsciously) to get time and attention from parents who were often absent.  It also taught me how I could manipulate insulin and food to give me the short-term goal I was after (weight loss). I am now able to say that the damage that has occurred to my body was due to choices I made. I no longer have vision in my left eye. As difficult as this loss was I can also recognize that there have been good things that have come from this loss. It is also a daily reminder to make choices that honor this body I have been given. It deserves to be honored after all it has had to put up with so far. I no longer feel such anger over being diabetic. In a way, it gives me an added tool to keep balance in my life because if I don’t my blood sugar will tell me immediately that a change needs to be made.

F: What strategies or tricks help you stay on track?

A: Gratitude is my biggest ally in staying on track. I try to meditate everyday, even if only for three minutes, on all the blessings in my life. It took some training to make this a habit, but it now seems easy and a part of my life. I notice that when life gets busy and I start to lose focus, the negative thoughts try to creep back in. This again reminds me to count my blessings and embrace challenges as opportunities for growth.

F: How has eating better, etc. impacted other areas of your life?

A: Eating better has given me more energy than I could have imagined.  The energy and focus I now have has not only benefited me, but I have more to give others as well. I also save money. Although I try to eat primarily organic (which tends to be more expensive), I eat less. I have also greatly reduced how often I eat out. Even if you are making healthier choices when eating out, it is still less healthy than cooking at home.

F: What has been your biggest wellness challenge?

A: I often struggle with how to advocate wellness without being judgmental.  As much as I can recognize that this was and is a process in my own life, I sometimes feel frustration with people who are reluctant to even make small changes.

F: Your biggest wellness success?

A: I am not sure I can say one thing. I feel that since all of the successes have led to the next, there really isn’t one that stands out. It is the journey that will be ongoing–with challenges all along the way. I welcome the experiences life gives me and feel that this is only the beginning.

F: Any other thoughts on wellness?

A: My hope is that with my own love and acceptance of myself and all of my imperfections I can help those around me see the strength and beauty in themselves. We all have so much we can share with each other and I think by making the choice to be wel,l we are better able to share those gifts.

See why she’s my hero? I hope to see you on February 26. Be well!