Never take your health for granted. When Francis Perry woke up feeling weird one morning, he just put it off as something that happens when you near 40. No big deal. But since he was working at the UNB Faculty of Nursing, he decided to ask some of the students to check his blood sugar just to be on the safe side. The reading came back high—high enough to warrant a trip to the ER. That’s when Francis received news that came as a complete shock to him—he was diabetic.
“It’s shocking to go from thinking of yourself as a normal, healthy, middle-aged person, to two days later finding yourself in a diabetic education,” recalls Francis. Little did he know that this diagnosis would mark the beginning of his wellness story.
The Diabetic Education made Francis realize that even though he had maintained a healthy body weight throughout his life, he needed to make changes to his lifestyle. It was particularly important given the increased risk of heart attack and stroke that comes with diabetes.
Francis is by nature a doer, so he took responsibility for his own wellness. “You have to live with diabetes, you can’t let diabetes live you or take you down. You have to control it, but don’t let it control you.” He worked closely with his health team and services in the community to educate himself on how to manage his disease. This team of people helped him understand the challenging world of diabetes.
Over time, Francis managed to control his diabetes, and his biggest change was incorporating more exercise into his daily life. Francis, like many, felt like he didn’t have time for exercise, that it would be expensive, and that he couldn’t muster up the energy at the end of a workday. But then, one day, a friend who was going to the gym at lunch invited him to come along.
At first, he found the gym intimidating. But he started slowly and learned a little each time he went. Soon the gym became a comfortable place, and Francis began to notice that both his body and his mind felt healthier.
As time passed, Francis felt ready for a new challenge. So one lunch hour he joined another friend for a run. Being flatfooted, it seemed running would always cause pain, and in the beginning, his feet and legs were sore. But running felt good so he went to get insoles, which fixed the problem.
As a diabetic runner, Francis faced very specific concerns. Before going on a run, he had to know his blood sugar level and decide whether or not to eat or inject. He also had to worry about whether the effort of the cardio would trigger a drop in sugar that could lead him to fall ill on the trail. To overcome these challenges, and because Francis was and still is determined not to let the disease affect his ability to live life to its fullest, he opted for an insulin pump. He has also learned more about what his body needs and when.
Despite all the ways Francis managed to educate himself, he still had a lot of questions and thought getting together with other diabetics would help. When he started looking for a group of fit, diabetic adults, he realized no such group existed. So he took matters into his own hands and started his own.
The group now meets regularly. And while they do talk about topics related to their diabetes and share tips and tricks of what they’ve learned over time about managing their disease, the focus isn’t just on diabetes. It’s also about living and socializing—having dinner, talking, and working out together. “It’s nice to have a group of people who understand what you’re going through,” says Francis. “And we have each other’s backs in emergency situations too.”
This group, along with his Horizon Health team, Diabetic Education team, and the people he met at the gym, were instrumental in supporting Francis as he navigated through the challenging reality of living with diabetes.
Nowadays Francis always looks forward to his runs along Fredericton’s trails—which he describes as a cross between running and meditation. And he continues to set goals for himself. Last year he vowed to run five 10km runs before he turned 50. He managed to do seven, which he’s pretty proud of. It’s these personal challenges, a solid support network and incremental goals that have gotten Francis into the best shape of his life.
“I always tell people, ‘Just start.’ You would be surprised what you can accomplish. Add a little bit more and challenge yourself.” And Francis’s wellness story is one where despite living with a health condition, regular exercise and eating healthier have him feeling better in every aspect of his life.