GREENVILLE — What does it take to change a life? Landing a new job, winning the lottery, finding true love?
For Diana Junulis-Gay, it was 40 pounds. In her case, that 40 pounds not only changed her life, but undoubtedly has extended it considerably.
In February 2012, Gay — who was at the time classified as obese — received a phone call from her doctor’s assistant, a call familiar to about 10 percent of Michigan residents: she had type II diabetes. That call was, for Gay, the first step on what would prove to be a long journey back to good health.
“It was kind of a strange beginning, to be told over the phone that I have diabetes,” Gay says. “I had no idea what to do. The first thing I did was have a pity party, I guess.”
That party didn’t last long. Gay decided to be as proactive as possible. Unfortunately, she quickly discovered the next available informational diabetes class in the area would not be held for four months.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I just started reading up on diabetes and getting all the information I could on things I could do for myself.”
In the course of her research, Gay discovered a Reader’s Digest book titled, “Reverse Diabetes: A 12-Week Plan for Lowering Your Blood Sugar by 25 Percent.” She scoured that book from cover to cover and began making changes in her diet and her life.
Gay raided her pantry, but this time with the intent of throwing out every bit of unhealthy food her cupboards contained. As it turned out, that was almost everything.
“Out went the chips, the cookies, the box potato mixes,” Gay said. “I switched over to olive and coconut oil and started practically living on veggies and eating a lot of non-meat things, like Boca Burgers. I just changed my whole way of thinking.”
Coworkers and relatives cheered Gay on and gave her moral support whenever possible. Her coworkers at Stafford Group in Greenville — where Gay helps manage the shipping department — provided much needed encouragement.
As the pounds dropped away, Gay felt her energy level rising. No one was more surprised by her success than her husband, who was stationed with U.S. Army in Afghanistan during this time and was unaware of her condition. Gay had elected not to tell him, for fear he would be worried.
“While he was gone I went from a size 16 to a size 4,” Gay said. “When he came home for a short leave, he looked around and asked my sister where I was. She said, ‘That’s her in the driveway.’ He didn’t even recognize me. He kept staring at me the whole week he was home.”
Gay admits the road to a healthier lifestyle was not an easy one. Even now, she sometimes has to “slap her own hand” occasionally.
Gay’s coworkers, like administrative clerk Elle Reeves, haven’t been able to miss the change in Gay’s attitude and energy level. Even though she’s experienced some potentially life-altering setbacks in the past couple years — both her mother and husband died — she remains positive and looks forward to each day.
“She’s pretty amazing,” Reeves said.
Diabetes, particularly type II, which is often diet- and exercise-related, is particularly common in both the county and state. A recent survey showed that about 10 percent of Michigan residents have been diagnosed with the disease.
According to Gay’s doctor, Dr. Shawn Ruth of Spectrum Medical Group in Greenville, he’s also seen an increase in patients willing to make the changes necessary to regain their good health. Some of this he attributes to surgical fixes like gastric bypass surgery. In other cases, he gives credit to an increased understanding of the disease and patient tenacity.
“Type II is the most common type (of diabetes),” Ruth said. “You see it often in patients who are either obese or not exercising enough.”
Other factors, unrelated to diet and exercise, also come into play, he added. But the willingness to make lifestyle changes cannot be overemphasized.
Ruth calls diabetes a “partnership” between patient and doctor. If both don’t work toward treatment, chances of a full recovery can be tenuous at best.
“If you don’t follow a diet and exercise and do the things needed to keep your sugars down, things like taking your pills, eating right, getting enough exercise and enough sleep, there just isn’t going to be any control,” Ruth said. “Ms. Gay took control for her part and did a wonderful job. She lost a lot of weight and no longer requires medication.”
For her part, Gay acknowledges that her battle with diabetes is one in which she must remain ever vigilant. During the past winter, Gay admits, she regained a few pounds. In the past few weeks, she began taking them off again. She is unwilling to give up any ground gained through her diligent efforts.
Moreover, she wants to be around for a long time, to — in her words — “live long enough to drive my grandkids crazy.” She also hopes to serve as a role model to other dealing with similar diabetes-related problems.
“If hearing my story can help just one other person,” Gay said, “then it’s all worth it.”