Cause of blindness - Diabetes

Jane is a 72 year-old mother that lives with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts. At 67 Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer, and after a year of battling, she beat it.

Her daughter and brothers assist her occasionally, but Jane lives independently. She knows the blessings of love and help as well as the hardships of living in solitude with vision loss.

Jane’s first experience with vision loss occurred ten years ago. It began one night when she was driving home from dinner.

“I was having a terrible time, headlights were blinding me.”

She called Renee to tell her the trouble she was having and Renee insisted Jane see her optometrist. So Jane scheduled an appointment to have them figure things out.  

The optometrist examined her but could not figure out what was wrong. So Jane was then sent to an ophthalmologist for more screening.

After more tests, Jane’s blood-work showed that she had diabetes. Her problems seeing were due to diabetic retinopathy as well as cataracts that required removal.

All this came as a surprise to Jane. She was at the hospital, alone, with her eyes dilated. Because of that, she couldn’t rush home or go to Renee. All Jane could do was call her.

When Jane told her daughter, they both broke down. There was no escaping the bad news: Jane had type 2 diabetes.

Jane put great effort into managing her blood sugar. She began keeping a food journal to catalog her diet and blood sugar. It kept Jane disciplined with her choice in food, and it allowed her to adjust based on how her blood sugar reacted to certain foods. As a result, Jane began eating healthier and more regularly.

“Now I eat breakfast and a mid-morning snack. I had never been a breakfast eater before… I’d just drink coffee.”

Once Jane began monitoring her diet and taking better care of herself, Jane’s blood sugar improved dramatically.

Watch your lifestyle. Take care of yourself, because you are important

Although Jane maintained excellent glucose levels after the diagnosis, she became painfully aware that she could have avoided diabetes if she had known how she was damaging her body through her choices in food.

“I never even worried about my blood sugar. I never once thought about it before. Everyday I used to drink a coke. And I think that is one of the worst things you can do. All that sugar… And I loved to bake. Making cookies, and of course eating them too. If I had known, I could have maybe not gotten diabetes.”

“Watch your lifestyle. Take care of yourself, because you are important. Don’t do what I did before I was diagnosed. Take care of your health.”

Now that Jane knew, she began eating properly. She actually controlled her diet so well that she lost a tremendous amount of weight. This dramatic loss of weight had its own challenges.

“I was always hungry. That’s a terrible feeling, let me tell you. I would dream of food. Of pizza and ice cream. So they sent me to a nutritionist, and she told me to eat bread, and eat potatoes!”

That came as a surprise to Jane because bread and potatoes are exactly the foods diabetics are told to avoid. So Jane found a healthy median, between being over-disciplined and having proper nourishment.

Though her vision suffered, Jane knows it could have been a lot worse. She experienced diabetic retinopathy, numb feet, and poor balance, but Jane succeeded in staving off the more advanced complications of kidney failure and amputations.

“With the diabetes, I kept thinking “now what’s going to happen”. But now nothing’s happening, except I’m losing my eyesight.”

“I handle the diabetes well, now it’s just handling the blindness.”

Jane had her cataracts removed shortly after she was diagnosed. After that, she was regularly treated with injections to manage the diabetic retinopathy.

But unfortunately, most of the damage had already been done. Both eyes were ravaged by diabetes, and the treatment was mostly to protect the vision of Jane’s already damaged eye. (ask dad for verification)

Even with treatment, Jane was still slowly losing her vision. Seeing no improvement, Jane and her ophthalmologist put the treatment on hold.

Except for a shunt in Jane’s eye for draining, Jane is not currently treating her retinopathy. She’s lost most of her vision, and she’s learned to live with that.

With the diabetes, I kept thinking ‘now what’s going to happen’. But now nothing’s happening, except I’m losing my eyesight.

“I know where everything is in my house, and don’t you dare move anything! Once I put cayenne pepper on my oatmeal, because Renee had moved my spices. Now that was a surprise!”

“I still like to cook. But I have to plan ahead, I can’t just run to the store. I start early, and get everything prepped. I go to my kitchen table with my lamp and glasses, and I get to cutting very carefully.”

All in all Jane has learned to live with her vision loss. Her only real hindrance is not being able to drive anymore.

“One of the hardest things was giving up driving. That was losing so much of my independence, having to ask if someone can bring me. It’s still hard for me to depend on people like that.”

“I always vowed I wasn’t going to be that old person driving when they really shouldn’t, but I never dreamed at 65 that would be me.”

Jane is wary not to abuse the kindness of her daughter and others close to her, but of course her loved ones are more than willing to help.

“I have other people that are more than happy to drive me. But I do get embarrassed asking people to help me. I think they get tired of helping me.”

Jane has two brothers that often help her out. One comes by every week to help mow and prune the yard.

“He’ll read to me. And so will Renee. They’re glad to help.”

Both of Jane’s brothers redid her backyard. She spends time there everyday, tending to her garden and enjoying the fresh air.

“I can go sit in the shade. I have a hummingbird feeder. I can hear them, those little dark figures.”

Jane cannot see birds clearly anymore, but once some time ago Jane was in her backyard, and the lighting struck a humming bird perfectly.

“Against the dark blue sky I could see the ruby throat, it was very exciting!”

Jane loves the birds that visit her backyard.

“But to me they could never be pets, I like them free.”

Jane appreciates that freedom, as well as her own independence.

“There are these beautiful trees around my house, but because of their roots the sidewalks are horrible. With my balance issues and poor sight I’m afraid to go walk by myself. Renee says to have faith in myself… but she doesn’t know what it’s like for me.”

Jane’s cane helps, but still the risk is too great. Jane chooses her battles carefully, something she has had to learn managing both diabetes and blindness.   

“My goal is to stay as long as I can in this house. I know where everything is, I can do everything myself.”

Jane began taking much better care of herself once she knew about the diabetes, but tragically the worst had yet to come.

“It seemed like right when I got the diabetes under control, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”

The call from the doctor was heartbreaking, but the hardest moment had yet to come.

“When my hair fell out, I couldn’t stop crying. That was surprisingly hard, that’s when it was real.”

“Just when I was finally starting to feel good about myself, this happened to me.”

That year of surgery, chemo, and radiation was the hardest year of her life. There was all the stress and chaos, and the treatment itself sent Jane’s blood sugar numbers out of control.

“We were actively trying not to care. Renee suggested I just not worry about what I eat. So I didn’t eat too much, but I ate what I wanted.”

Renee went through that all with me. Mother and daughter went through everything and made it through

Then, at the hardest point in her life, Jane couldn’t help but feel sorry for herself. But that self-pity never became despair.

“I cried by myself, because it bothers people. I still got up everyday, I kept my routine. I got dressed, ready to start the day.”

“I felt that if I stayed in pajamas all day watching soap operas feeling sorry for myself, that would be no good for me. So I got up and did the best I could.”

Jane persevered with that mentality, and after months of treatment Jane beat cancer.  

“I got through it all, I handled it all. But I did everything I was asked to do, and it was all okay.

February 2017 will be five years. They say after five your chances of remission are back to zero.”

“Renee went through that all with me. Mother and daughter went through everything and made it through.”

After fighting off cancer and managing diabetes for so long, Jane is in much better spirits.

“All in all I’m healthy. I like to joke with people: I don’t get sick, I just get diabetes and cancer.”

“Now after it all I wear my hair short. I never had my hair this short my whole life, but it’s okay, I adapt. I can’t undo what’s been done, so I just go from here. I don’t know what future will be like, but I’ll accept it, for whatever it is.”

Having conquered cancer, Jane is prepared to live independently with vision loss for as long as possible. She’ll get help from her brothers and from Renee, but for the most part Jane cares for herself.

“Renee needs to have her own life, and she does. That alone makes me so happy.”


To learn more about Jane's condition, continue here.