Traversing the diabetes trail

Terri - Diabetes StarOne patient’s advice for taking health into her own hands

When a patient gets a diagnosis of diabetes, or even prediabetes, it can come as a shock. About five years ago, PacMed patient Helen “Terri” Woodrow learned she had progressed from prediabetes to diabetes. Terri credits her PacMed care team for instilling her with the supportive drive to battle her condition and lead a healthy, active life. “Diabetes impacts every part of your life… you have to deal with it every day,” says Terri. “You have to be mindful of so many things—diet, exercise, stress, blood sugar levels—and that can be overwhelming. Fortunately, I have my care team at PacMed to see me though the rough times.”

Terri is one of our Diabetes “Star” Patients, nominated by our doctors to showcase those living well with diabetes. “I thought Terri would be great for the STAR program because she’s tackling the disease from so many angles,” says Dr. Christopher Smith, Terri’s primary care physician. “People with diabetes face many challenges, and perhaps the biggest is an emotional one. It’s a disease that’s intimately tied to your body image, your eating habits, how you spend your free time and how you feel about yourself. Some patients become frustrated and want to give up.

“The thing about Terri is she’s very motivated to make changes to her health. She’s consistent with her appointments, she takes her medications and she’s able to talk about the challenges she faces and work with her providers to come up with solutions. She’s not always successful; in other words, she’s human. But she continues to work hard, even through foot and back injuries that have made it difficult for her to exercise at times.”

Terri admits to being hard on herself occasionally but tries to stay upbeat and finds inspiration in books on how others cope with the disease. Two of her favorites are Bright Spots & Landmines and Diabetes Burnout.

She also focuses on regular exercise, mixing urban hikes with riding on a recumbent stationary bike, stretching exercises, Tai Chi and swimming. When on vacation, she enjoys going on longer hikes.

Currently, Terri is taking an online class from Harvard University on eating properly. As she explains, “I’m not an overeater; it’s just learning to eat the correct things. And portion control is important too. There are times, like during the holidays, that I go off the rails.”

Terri relies on her PacMed diabetes educator, Christine Stirparo, to help her stay focused on her nutrition and blood sugar goals. “Terri has her ups and downs, but that’s normal,” says Christine. “When she’s down I try to give her more encouragement. She’s very committed to making her appointments, sharing her progress and receiving feedback.”

“One time, when my numbers were up, I went in and asked for a good butt kicking—and I got one!” laughs Terri. “Both Christine and Dr. Smith are very encouraging and keep me focused on my goals.”

What advice would Terri give to others dealing with a diabetes diagnosis?

“I would say embrace everything your doctor is telling you. Get your diet and exercise under control. Monitor your blood sugar numbers regularly. And don’t be afraid to tell your doctor or dietitian what’s going on. They are here to help you.”

“This past year, I’ve put more emphasis on self-care,” she adds. “If I’m feeling over-stressed, I’m going to take a day off, drink a lot of water and go walking. You can’t beat yourself up if you’re having a tough period. You just have to stay motivated and keep moving along the path.”

Terri and friend, hikingTerri also shared with us how she modified her exercise routine to stay safe and active during COVID-19. Read Terri’s COVID exercise tips.