Anna Norton’s life with diabetes began the summer between high school graduation and college.
Norton, who lived in south Florida at the time, was working as a camp counselor, drinking lots of water and visiting the bathroom, as you’d expect. She also was losing weight – 30 pounds in less than three months. And after a favorite dinner with her family at home, she became very sick.
After trips to the doctor and the emergency room, Norton finally got her diagnosis on a summer day in 1993: Type 1 diabetes. About 5 percent to 10 percent of people with diabetes have this form. Scientists don’t know what causes the autoimmune disease, but they think genetic and environmental factors, even viruses, could be involved.
And that journey to understood the diagnosis and figure out how she could live with it brought her to Diabetes Sisters, a Durham-based nonprofit that has followers from around the world. It aims to connect women with diabetes – either Type 1 or Type 2 – so they can share information, seek advice and find support.
“This is something that I’ve been waiting for since 1993,” said Norton, who now lives in Cary. “I had given up on the feeling sorry for myself, but this really solidified it.”
Norton’s understanding of the disease and acceptance of it took some wrong turns. She left the hospital in 1993 ill-prepared for what lay ahead.
“One doctor said, ‘I just want to let you know, you’ll never have kids,'” Norton remembers.
She made it through college, but was in a funk by the time she got to graduate school. For 18 months, she didn’t take her insulin shots regularly and landed in the hospital. There, a doctor told her she had a decision to make – whether she wanted to live or die.
“He said to me, “your life is not over because of this,'” she said. “He said, ‘this is not your life sentence.'”
Norton got back on track. She’s started using an insulin pump and now also uses a continuous glucose monitor.
And in 2007, she and her husband welcome their son, now a healthy, happy preschooler. Norton enjoyed a complication-free pregnancy.
Norton hooked up with Diabetes Sisters in 2011 after seeing a pamphlet for the group at her doctor’s office a year before. She attended the group’s conference and never looked back. Last year, Brandi Barnes, another local mom and Diabetes Sisters founder, who I featured last year, offered her the job of operations manager. She took it.
Diabetes Sisters offers online forums, regular meet-ups and more across the country. Norton finds both support and an opportunity to help other women with diabetes.
“It’s nice to be able to ask, but it’s really nice to be able to answer,” she said.
Now, the group is gearing up for its fourth annual conference at the downtown Raleigh Sheraton from May 3 to May 5. The weekend includes a variety of workshops and discussions about living with diabetes – everything from food and exercise tips to emotional issues to a discussion about eating disorders and diabetes. There’s also plenty of time for women to socialize.
In parallel to the conference, there are programs for husbands, boyfriends and partners of women with diabetes where they talk about marriage and relationships, how to support their spouses and other topics.
As part of the conference, Diabetes Sisters will host the 2013 orange:will Diabetes Awareness Walk on May 4. Wear orange for the one-mile walk through downtown Raleigh, which will raise money for Diabetes programs and services.
Watch my video interview to hear more from Norton.
“Life is better,” she said.
Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.