Turning the Tides of Diabetes and Heart Disease
What happens when diabetes and heart disease interrupt your life? For a Cape Breton fisherman, you don’t stop looking to the horizon.
Weldon, a 72-year old fisherman at heart from a small fishing community in Port Morien, Nova Scotia, lives with Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. His daughter and caregiver, Nancy says of their health journey, “I didn’t realize that cardiovascular disease and diabetes could go hand in hand.”
Diabetes is a life-long condition where your body cannot produce insulin (Type 1) or your body cannot use the insulin it has effectively (Type 2). Your body uses insulin to ensure your blood sugar does not get too high. Sugar (glucose) is a major source of energy for the cells in your muscles, heart and brain. Having too much sugar in the blood for long periods of time can damage organs and blood vessels, which in turn increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. People with diabetes are three times more likely to die of heart disease.[iii]
Weldon had been a fisherman all his life, but nearly twenty years ago his heart disease made it untenable, a bitter pill to swallow for the Cape Breton native. For many who live on the coast, fishing is not just a profession but a way of life. Both Weldon and his daughter struggled with new life changes. Nancy, a fourth-generation fisher, can relate to her father’s loss. “He can’t be in the boat, but his heart is still there.” Her father’s condition also meant that Nancy needed to take on some responsibilities in her father’s care. “It took a long time to get to the place where we could accept the way things were going to be,” she says.
Part of the process of accepting the new normal of diabetes and heart disease is finding ways to manage the conditions and improve quality of life.
Diabetes and heart disease share many risk factors, which can include family history, genetics, being overweight, and living a sedentary lifestyle. There is no cure for diabetes, but a lot can be done to keep complications, including heart disease and stroke – at bay. Developing healthy lifestyle habits can help minimize the risk of a cardiac event. Medication can also be prescribed, depending on the person’s circumstances.
Weldon’s lifestyle had to drastically change to keep both conditions in check. To control his blood sugar, he has altered his diet by eating more vegetables, opting for leaner cuts of meat and cutting back on sweets. To keep active, most days he takes a walk, often down to meet Nancy’s boat when it returns to the wharf around noon.
Nancy continues to fish, leaving before dawn, but she still finds time to touch base with her father daily, look after his medication, join him for appointments, and help with housework. Nancy notes, “There was a lot of trial and error, maintaining a diet, but I think we’ve finally latched onto a regime that’s working for him.”
Nancy’s face fills with palpable relief when she talks about the positive effects of managing her dad’s health. When he is doing well it impacts the quality of life for both of them.
“If you can get a handle on it, it can be managed,” says Weldon. “Don’t give up, keep going. This is just the beginning.”
His fishing days may be over, but he is still charting a steady course, albeit in new waters.
[i] Diabetes Canada, Risk Factors. Available at: https://www.diabetes.ca/en-CA/type-2-risks/risk-factors—assessments. Accessed on August 12, 2021.
[ii] Heart & Stroke, Risk and Prevention. Available at: https://www.heartandstroke.ca/heart-disease/risk-and-prevention. Accessed on August 12, 2021.
[iii] Heart & Stroke, Diabetes and Heart Disease. Available at: https://www.heartandstroke.ca/articles/diabetes-and-heart-disease. Accessed on August 12, 2021.