Janice Soprano has not had an easy life. And, although she says she's nothing like her character, Aida Turturro who so effortlessly played Tony Soprano's older, if not wiser, sister on the HBO hit “The Sopranos,” is no stranger to struggle either. The Emmy-nominated actress is challenged every day of her real life as she deals with managing her diabetes.
Now with her final episode behind her, Turturro will continue to get national attention in her new role as a spokesperson for the illness that affects the lives of nearly 21 million Americans, more than half of whom are not in control of their diabetes.
“When I was first diagnosed, like most people, I didn't understand what it meant,” recalls the actress. “I went into denial,” she admits. “I want to put the word out about what this is. The numbers are growing because we're not educating ourselves and we're not taking care of it.”
It's all about controlling blood sugar, says Turturro. “People don't understand the complications if you don't control sugar. If you can control it with diet, great; if you need insulin, don't be afraid,” she says. “It doesn't matter what you take to control it; what matters is that you control it.”
Turturro's personal journey began with a diagnosis of “pre-diabetes,” a condition affecting 54 million people not included in the total number of diabetics mentioned above. When she was finally prescribed an oral medication and told to watch what she ate, she mostly ignored her doctor's warnings.
“I didn't even realize why I was cranky and had mood swings,” she says now, explaining that she was exhausted from taking care of her ailing father who passed away soon after. In hindsight, the actress now sees that she was hurting herself, and putting herself at risk of even more serious complications.
So, more than merely controlling her diabetes now, Turturro has taken charge. She continues to take an oral medication, and her doctor has also prescribed Lantus® long-acting insulin. Lantus is the only once-daily insulin so one dose provides a slow, steady release of insulin to help control blood sugar levels around the clock. “For my body it works well,” she says, noting that she still has to watch her food and excerise.
An added benefit of using Lantus insulin is that it's FDA-approved for use with the OptiClik® pen, an easy reusable insulin delivery option that ensures proper loading, dosage and injection. The OptiClik pen is especially handy for those on the go, but it is also a convenient alternative to using a vial and syringe at any other time as well.
“Everyday, you have to take care of yourself and monitor yourself,” she says, “but I've got it down now.” Turturro admits it took a while, but has become so routine that even her grueling schedule and frequent travel don't present a problem. Still, there are lots of concerns, she says.
“Some days you don't want to think about the details, but you have to,” she insists. “You have to plan what and when you're eating, when you're taking insulin and how much.” Exercising is also crucial, she adds, because it helps your body use insulin better.
Turturro points out that there is no blueprint for diabetes treatment. It's individual for each person, with so many factors to be considered, and that is why it is so important to see an endocrinologist about effective ways to manage the disease and to start educating yourself.
To learn more about this disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, she also strongly recommends visiting the various websites that offer information, particularly diabetes.org and lantus.com.
“Learn about food, exercise and medication options, and do whatever you need to do,” she advises, adding you may even need a nutritionist and a therapist in the beginning. “You have to take charge. When you need help, you should reach out.”
She also encourages diabetics to get support from their families. “You can't be alone with this,” she says, suggesting team efforts like getting family members to join you in exercise programs, as well as helping make a sugar-free cabinet in the kitchen.
“I understand how scary it gets, and how much work it takes, but I hope awareness will help people start helping themselves,” says Turturro. “Sure, it's made life a little harder for me, but I'm glad that I get to help people by talking about it to them so that somehow we can create more of a community of diabetics,” she continued. “It's a battle everyday and it never goes away, but if you work at it, you can live a very healthy and happy life.”
Could you have diabetes and not know it?
According to the American Diabetes Association, there are 20.8 million children and adults in the US with diabetes-and nearly one-third of them (or 6.2 million people) do not know it! Take the simple Diabetes Risk Test at diabetes.org to see if you are at risk for having or developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. If you are a member of one of these ethnic groups, you need to pay special attention to this test.
You can reduce your risk for diabetes by:
Keeping your weight in control
(or losing weight if you are overweight)
Staying active most days of the week
Eating low fat meals high in fruits, vegetables
and whole grain foods
Some diabetes symptoms include:
Unusual weight loss
If you have one or more of these symptoms, see your doctor right away.
Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they almost always have “pre-diabetes”-blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. There are 54 million people in the United States who have pre-diabetes.
Pre-diabetes is a serious medical condition that can be treated. The good news is that the recently completed Diabetes Prevention Program study conclusively showed that people with pre-diabetes can prevent the development of type 2 diabetes by making changes in their diet and increasing their level of physical activity.
For more diabetes information, call 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383) Monday through Friday, 9 am-8 pm (EST) or visit diabetes.org. Only your health care provider can determine if you have diabetes. At your next office visit, talk to them about your risk for diabetes and how you can reduce it.