For Russ Dowling, the diagnosis of diabetes was a frightening surprise. For many years, his doctor had encouraged him to change his diet and lose some weight, but because his lab results were always normal, Russ felt pretty healthy. He tried making diet changes, but didn’t take them seriously. According to Russ, “I would still go out and eat a lot of fast food, especially on my days off. I didn’t worry too much because every blood test indicated that I was ok and didn’t have any health problems. I was living the dream!”

Russ recalls, “The day the doctor told me I had diabetes, my world came crashing down. It felt like a death sentence. I run a printing press and am on my feet all day. I was afraid I would lose feeling in my feet and then lose my job”.

Click here to watch Diagnosed with Diabetes, Embracing Change and Having Hope on YouTube.

Russ was so surprised to hear he had diabetes, he doesn’t remember anything the doctor initially told him about the disease and how to manage it. However, as the shock wore off, he started doing research into diabetes on his own, learning more about the lifestyle changes that help people keep their blood sugar levels in good control. Russ also followed up on his doctor’s referral to the YRMC Pendleton Wellness Center and signed up for Diabetes Self-Management Training, a series of classes designed to teach anyone, whether they have had diabetes for many years or are newly diagnosed, how to manage the disease and maintain good health.

According to Russ, “I was a little nervous about taking the diabetes classes – I was afraid of being chastised for not taking care of myself and getting this disease. The classes aren’t like that at all. The instructors are knowledgeable, encouraging and really supportive. The classes helped me to pull all of the pieces together and I learned that I was actually pretty lucky. I learned that I had hope.”

Life is different for Russ now, in many positive ways. “At my first follow up visit with my doctor, I had lost 25 pounds. Today, I am 55 pounds lighter. My A1C went from 6.5% to 5.7% and my cholesterol is improved as well.”

Russ continues, “Life is an adventure. I have always liked cooking, and now I get to look at food in a whole different way. For example, my big weakness is hot wings. I know deep fried wings aren’t very healthy, so I learned to bake them at home, boiling them first to remove a lot of the extra fat. I also incorporate more vegetables and fresh fruit into meals, and have tried some new things. I learned in class that rutabagas are a great substitute for potatoes and they are now one of my favorite things to eat! I make the rutabaga home fries recipe from YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen or, I just roast them. To roast rutabagas, I first cut them into little cubes and then toss the cubes with olive oil and salt and pepper. Next, I spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake them in the oven for 40 minutes at 4000 F. When they are done, just toss with apple cider vinegar and parsley and enjoy! If you blindfolded me I would think I was eating seasoned country fries at Jamie’s Waffle House!”

Russ even found ways to compromise and still enjoy meals at his favorite restaurants. “If we go to Oliva’s I order a burro and eat just ½ of the tortilla. If we go out for Italian food, I eat a third of the entrée and bring the rest home. I can now enjoy an entrée for two or three days, while I would have eaten the whole thing at one sitting before. I still get a taste for what I love but just don’t go overboard anymore.”

Diabetes Self Management Training also taught Russ that, in addition to the foods he eats, many other things affect his health and blood sugar levels. Exercise, illness and stress can all significantly impact blood sugar control. Russ shares, “Until your classes I had no idea about stress and sugar levels. Watching the news was getting me all twisted up, and the news on the radio in my truck just led to more twisting. I have made a conscious effort to limit my exposure to the news and listen to music while driving instead! Every little bit helps.”

Putting a positive spin on his diagnosis has helped Russ embrace and maintain the challenging changes he has made. He concludes, “I hate to say this, but I am kind of glad I got diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes gives me a reason to make healthy changes and stick to them. It’s all an adventure, it’s really fun, and I feel good about what I have accomplished. Diabetes doesn’t feel like a death sentence any more. This was a blessing in disguise.”

For more information on diabetes education and other services offered at the YRMC Pendleton Wellness Centers in Prescott and Prescott Valley follow this link to Preventive Medicine and Wellness at yrmc.org. You can also call for information by dialing 928-771-5794.