Type 2 diabetes is often referred to as a lifestyle disease. Even so, it can be a lot to manage, with injections and closely monitoring blood glucose levels throughout the day, as well as closely managing food intake to make sure levels don’t go off-kilter. But is it reversible? Some say yes, with a healthy lifestyle and most especially, with weight loss. One woman managed to remove the disease from her life when she underwent bariatric surgery and lost weight in the process. Here, Jo-Anne Campbell’s story of how she could reverse type 2 diabetes.
It started with tumours
My journey started very strangely, with my sister having a dream in 2010 that I would die in January 2011. She has a foresight for these things. I put this dream of hers aside just to be confronted with a hard reality in January 2011. It was a very hot day as I remember and I decided to drink my husband’s last beer in the fridge. After falling asleep for a few hours, I woke up with pain in my abdomen and found that it had swollen significantly. I looked nine months pregnant.
After seeing specialists and having tests and scans done it was determined that my liver was the issue. The scans showed my liver, which looked like pencil holes punched in it. It contained 43 tumours called adenomas in it. Each tumour has a possible 3 percent of becoming cancerous. One of the tumours had bled inside itself and became hard. It measured 5 by 7 cm in size.
At this stage, I developed diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. My specialist did not know what the tumours were exactly or how to treat them. Fortunately, I was referred to the best liver specialist in Africa. He could only remove four tumours – the liver and the tumours were fused together. There were just too many and because it was my hormones causing these tumours, I could not receive a liver transplant as my body would only make more tumours. The specialist did the surgery and it was successful. After one to two years, I managed to lose 20kg. I regained all and more weight over a span of five years and just accepted all the weight for another three years until I felt unwell again. I started eating increased portions and dropped all the exercise completely. That combination allowed the weight gain to increase. I weighed close to 110kg.
Spiralling out of control
With this increase in weight, my diabetes spiralled out of hand and no medication could help bring the sugar levels down. I was at this point very unhealthy and had to manage my increased blood pressure and diabetic medication. Every time the diabetic nurse saw me, she recommended to my doctor that they increase the insulin. In the end, I was on 120 units of insulin per day.
I was plagued with exhaustion, not only physically but mentally as well. I became anxious when my sugar levels increased as well as my insulin medication at each visit with the diabetic nurse. That’s when I realized I was in a bad space regarding my health when one Sunday afternoon my left leg went numb and experienced heart palpitations. I thought I was going to have a stroke. That’s when I decided I was dying a slow death.
I spoke to my doctor and told him I felt like I was dying and I knew I would not make it to 50 and my youngest child was only three years old at the time. With that, he gave me my last and most invasive option. Bariatric surgery, better known as a gastric bypass. That surgery happened in 2019 and has been very successful thus far. My diabetes disappeared within four days, as well as my high blood pressure and cholesterol.
My lifestyle changed drastically after the surgery. I lost 35kg in ten months, a rapid change because of the reduction of my food intake and only managing to each certain food. After the operation, I could only manage a few tablespoons of soft foods a day. Then I could manage half a cup or 125ml three times per day. I drank a supplement most of the time. Now, I can manage about a 200ml of food but I must remember to eat slowly. I increased my exercise by two hours per day and started running.
Jo-Anne Campbell who worked to reverse type 2 diabetes.
Now, I’m in a much healthier space. The bariatric surgery was by no means a quick fix. Life as I knew it changed drastically for me, especially after losing 35 kg in 10 months. I am able to do things like running, weight lifting and many other physical activities I never thought I would attempt.
Today I feel like my past was a terrible dream that I woke up from. My confidence and energy levels have spiked instead of my glycaemic levels. I have a new love for life and have discovered that I should make the most of the health that I have gained during this time. I have no regrets about starting this journey as I can be alive to see my family grow and not have the fear of leaving them due to my health.
Jo-Anne has written a book about her experience, called Memoirs of a Diabetic Survivor, available soon. More