44 years later, still winning

Diabetes controlled with diet
April 13, 2016

Marcia Armstead has been battling diabetes for 44 years – and mostly winning.

Armstead, now 67, was first diagnosed when she was 24 and pregnant.
Marcia Armstead, 67, relies on her diabetes coach at Memorial Hospital for guidance.
“It was called stress-onset diabetes,” she said. “Doctors said they would leave the disease untreated until after the baby was born.”

Marcia Armstead, 67, relies on her diabetes coach at Memorial Hospital for guidance.
Marcia Armstead, 67, relies on her diabetes coach at Memorial Hospital for guidance.

She wasn’t surprised by the diagnosis – her mother died of complications from diabetes at the age of 49, and the disease runs in her family.  Both of her living siblings, a sister and a brother, also have diabetes, but Armstead is the only one diagnosed so young.

“I was in denial for about a year,” she said.  So she did not go back for further evaluation or treatment after giving birth.

Then she landed an administrative assistant job, which required her to have a physical exam that uncovered high glucose levels. The company would not hire her unless she got treated for her condition, “and I really wanted that job.”

She’s come a long way since then. Armstead, who was born in Jamaica, is now president of The Complete Woman/Man Seminars. She has written two books and she authors, designs and conducts seminars nationally and internationally. You can find her work at www.completeseminars.org.

How she copes

After her diagnosis, Armstead started right away with insulin shots, which she has had to continue administering for the past 44 years.

She also tries to control her condition with diet.

“If it weren’t for watching my diet, I probably wouldn’t be alive,” she said. She also admits that she’s not always successful in watching what she eats.

“My biggest downfall is when I go out to eat at restaurants or at other people’s homes,” she said. “I manage pretty well when I’m at home. But when I go out, I find myself trying to act like everybody else.”

She mostly avoids red meat, and “I’m about 95 percent plant-based in my diet,” she said, but “I’ll eat some salmon once in a while – I like salmon.”

She also doesn’t drink cow’s milk (though she will drink soy or almond milk) and once in a while eats an egg in a baked product.

Her weight is good and doesn’t fluctuate much, she said. Armstead exercises but not as often as she would like. Sometimes, “I do the Betty White program: I have stairs in my house. When I forget something upstairs, after having walked downstairs,  and have to go back upstairs, then that’s exercise for me!” she chuckled.  Walking outside is actually her favorite and most effective form of exercise.

Armstead, who was a volunteer chaplain at Memorial Hospital for about 10 years, also has volunteered at her church for a long time – so much so, “the church has now employed me as a pastoral assistant.”

Getting an award

On April 6, Armstead was honored with the Journey Award, sponsored by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly for patients who have been on insulin for 10 years or longer. Armstead got her 25-year medal (late) and in a few years she will qualify for the 50-year medal.

“My doctors are amazed that after 44 years I have had no major complications from the disease,” she said. Her kidneys are good, her vision is good, her mobility is good, and she’s had no major surgeries. Like many people her age, she does have some hypertension and a little peripheral neuropathy. But she takes no medicines except for the diabetes and hypertension.

At Memorial Hospital, Deborah Hinnen, her diabetes educator, nominated her for the award. Hinnen is an advanced practice nurse and certified diabetes educator on the Memorial diabetes team.

“(Marcia) had never been nominated before, and I am surprised by how many of my patients have not been nominated. They should be honored for their successful self-management and determination.

“She has just been diligent with her diabetes care,” Hinnen said. “Her good health and lack of complications are a tribute to her hard work.”

About the author

Linda DuVal is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs and a regular contributor to UCHealth Today. She has written travel articles for major U.S. newspapers and national, regional and local magazines. She spent 32 years as an award-winning writer, reporter and editor for The Gazette in Colorado Springs.