Today I have a special guest blogger here, Elaine O’Keefe who not only had diabetes, but has been able to reverse it.
Since 1988, she has worked as a change agent helping people live authentic, healthy and purposeful lives. Her practice is based in the belief that all of us have the power to open ourselves to new opportunities.
Here is her story.
Having diabetes is hard. I know because I’ve been there.
Let me tell you my story.
After suffering with extremely painful chronic pancreatitis for several years, I developed enzyme insufficiency and the combination was terrible.
I ended up malnourished, having to take opioids 24/7 for pain management and staying in a hospital more than 70 nights in 36 months. I had more than a dozen surgical procedures and what felt like a gazillion tests. On top of all that, I was tube fed and unable to eat by mouth for months.
I lost my dream job as a director at a YMCA and basically lived on the couch.
Eventually, I was told it would take extreme measures to save my life or I could continue the rapid decline and consider hospice.
I was not ready for death.
So, I elected to have my pancreas removed through a procedure at the University of Minnesota called TP/IAT on December 28, 2016,. I was the 677th person to have that procedure at the U of M where it was pioneered in 1977. After they removed my pancreas it was whisked to a specialty lab where technicians removed cells called the Islets of Langerhans – they produce insulin – and infused into a special liquid that would then be injected into my portal vein with the hope that they would build a new home in my liver.
Yes, this is a rare procedure that most people have never heard of and it works about 1/3 of the time. The version of diabetes it leaves you with, until/if the islets wake up is called Type 3C or pathogenic diabetes (meaning the pancreas is dead or missing).
So, on December 28, 2016, I became a full-fledged diabetic. Essentially swapping chronic pancreatitis for diabetes.
Yes, I chose this.
Chronic Pancreatitis was that bad.
Fortunately for me, it was for just one year because my islets woke up and were strong enough to make insulin.I’ve been fortunate enough to have not had to inject insulin since January 6, 2018. But, because I too have insulin sensitivity issues just like a Type II patient, I also manage my condition with diet, mindset work and daily exercise.
So, I check my BG’s daily. Report to my endocrinologist monthly and live life as if I were a person living with Type II Diabetes. With one major difference. Unlike someone who can actually reverse their Diabetes Type II, my body does not have the ability to regenerate more Islets of Langerhans. My supply is limited. The risk of killing them off by the choices I make is very real. But, truly, it is not much different from those living with Type II in that what I – we – choose to put into our bodies really matters!
Today I live well for a 54-year-old without a pancreas, spleen, gallbladder, appendix, part of my stomach and intestine…plus all my female parts they took years earlier for different autoimmune disease.
A new twist on an old career
During my illness and my recovery, I was grateful for family and friends who continued to visit and help me practice gratitude. Being grateful for the little things while trying to get my body and mind working again.
Also, during that time, I was learning so much about the part mindset plays on your health. My caregivers noticed that and saw my potential to be a health coach for others.
They noticed that I am good at incorporating change into my system. That’s partly because I’ve worked as a change agent for most of my life.
With their suggestion and the support of my family who had also been suggesting this as a career path, I’ve since become a Nationally Certified Health and Wellness Coach. I absolutely delight in helping other people living with diabetes prevent their condition from getting worse and in many cases, getting off Metformin or Insulin as they work to bring their bodies back to homeostasis.
It was in teaching a class called Everyday Gratitude that Karin and I reconnected. Technically she is my cousin, but mostly she is my friend. She discovered this part of me when my colleague from the Mayo Clinic (where I trained) asked me to do a podcast on how I infused my practice with gratitude and teach a course called Everyday Gratitude. There are a few versions I teach but all of them are based on the knowledge that YOU are the expert of YOU.
Here is what I’ve learned over the course of my 30+ years in personal change management.
- You are SMART
- You know WHAT to do to stay healthy.
- You have all you need in order to make a transformation inside of you already.
My gift is in helping people figure out the HOW.
- How do I stop the continual stopping and starting BS?
- How do I stop the guilt?
- How do I get a habit to “stick”?
- How do I stay positive?
- How do I make healthy choices more appealing?
I get it. It’s tough to know that no one else can do it for you.
Living in a society obsessed with fast food, sugary drinks, diet drinks, alcohol, and “relaxing”, of course it’s overwhelming! And, marketers have us believing that everyone but us is FINE doing those things. So, I guess there is one more how to add to the list…HOW do I resist all of this marketing?
How I do it…
First, I was blessed with an inquisitive mind that my family nurtured. As a child I had an imaginary husband, Marhrerah, and dreamed up great adventures for us. As a hospital patient this skill served me well as I used visualization to see myself living in a pain free body, eating food, celebrating holidays and enjoying family fun, traveling and working in a career I adored.
With much effort extended, and a lot of therapy, I was able to endure the 11.5-hour surgery to evict the offending pancreas and the other organs that needed to go to prevent complications. It was a slow road to recovery and even now, 3 years post-transplant, I get tired, I have moderate gut issues, and I still experience some pain but it’s minor compared to having chronic pancreatitis.
The main thing that helps me get through tough times is having a robust and well-rounded resiliency tool box. The foundation of my tool box is a daily meditation & gratitude practice. Add teaching the Everyday Gratitude Course and coaching people who earnestly want to change – to improve their lives – to be there for their loved ones, heck, to be there for THEMSELVES – that keeps me ALIVE and THRIVING.
Something I ask people living with diabetes…
Let me ask you, when did you stop loving yourself?
If we don’t love ourselves, how can we ever truly love another?
And, if I truly love myself, why would I feed myself poison?
If I love you, why would I feed it to you too?
Hmmm. That’s a lot to think about, right?
Let’s go back to gratitude…
One discovery I made after doing a ton of research was that in a study done by Dr. Robert Emmonds who found practicing gratitude can actually boost the immune system. There are many aspects of whole life wellness that are improved by practicing gratitude.
Feeling depressed? Write a letter of appreciation to someone who you don’t believe you’ve thanked adequately, and hand deliver it to them.
This experiment, which has been replicated multiple times, found that those completing the task were happier and had fewer symptoms of depression than the placebo group for up to a month! Here is a YouTube video of a replication of that study – I needed tissues for it so be forewarned!
So, whether you keep a gratitude journal, write letters of appreciation and hand deliver or mail them, record 5 things you are grateful for in your calendar…or any of the other creative ways you can practice gratitude, know that it has the power to change your life.
We all have decisions we need to make every single day.
Some are hard, like consciously deciding to remove your pancreas and accept that you may be a brittle diabetic for all, some or none of my life.
Some are easy, like making a decision to practice gratitude in your own unique way.
And some create a beautiful space where they converge, and mental and physical wellness collide creating a life that is more amazing than you ever imagined.
Yes, it’s a fact that tomorrow I could become a brittle diabetic. Today I choose to take care of my body, mind and spirit as best I can so I have a shot at another day living in control. Truly and fully loving myself, I joyfully accept the fact that I’m here, just like you, doing the best that I can with the information I have right now.
Elaine O’Keefe is a Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach and National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach with over 30 years of experience as a change agent. When a health crisis hit her in 2014, it changed her life for good. Recently celebrating 3 years post-transplant, Elaine recognizes that mindset, and specifically gratitude, played a huge role in her miraculous recovery. Feeling called to share the gifts of gratitude, she developed a course called “Everyday Gratitude” which has caught like wildfire and she has shared the content internationally.
Elaine O’Keefe is a Licensed Social Worker and Health & Wellness Coach and is the Principle at O’Keefe Solutions Inc. She enjoys creating new programs and opportunities for her clients to stretch and grow.
If you would like to know more about Elaine, check out her website at:
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About the author
Karin Nauber, is a professional journalist who has worked in the newspaper business for the past 24 years. She is also a grandmother who, along with her spouse, is raising one of their granddaughters. Karin has nine grandchildren with whom she enjoys spending as much time as possible. Karin also was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about 12 years ago and has faced many challenges with the disease. If you would like to contact her, please do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org.